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Having weathered multiple years of nearly constant crises, chief operating officers (COOs) now have the opportunity to prioritize growth — even with ongoing economic headwinds. Improving operations is an ongoing process, and COOs are using hard-won lessons to inform their next moves.
When you’re not putting out fires all day, you can turn your attention to fireproofing. You can strengthen operational and supply chain resiliency through the implementation of digital solutions and rethinking or streamlining related processes. This often means taking the long view, strengthening capabilities today to bring about incremental improvements that can set up your organization to succeed in the future.
While the sources of supply chain disruption may change, your supply chain should become more agile and resilient. To achieve true end-to-end supply chain visibility, you need a combination of technology, streamlined processes and accurate and reliable data.
You’ll also need to work closely with stakeholders within your supply chain. Start by structuring data and building shared visibility capabilities to help improve service, recover quickly from adverse events and build transparency. Consider also whether your operating model should be updated to provide visibility into costs, speed and sustainability impacts. Next, scrutinize your supply chain network through a customer-centric lens to identify other areas for improvement, such as a need to enhance the physical design of manufacturing or supply processes, while collaborating closely with partners to address bottlenecks. Finally, integrate cross-functional planning to respond quickly and efficiently to changes in demand as well as supply shortages.
End-to-end visibility is critical because it builds the essential foundation for strengthening and transforming your supply chain to weather the next disruption.
Digital transformation is seldom easy or quick. But COOs know that digital solutions can help make operations more efficient despite challenges like ongoing supply chain disruptions. Integration of certain technologies and processes across operations is critical to building an intelligent digital ecosystem for your enterprise. For consumer markets in particular, connected supply chains are key to unlocking omnichannel growth by offering customers the ability to make purchases from anywhere with flexible delivery and pickup options. In manufacturing, smart factories combine the power of robotics and automation with data-driven insights and decision-making.
This kind of transformation can set you up to go beyond supply chain management basics like increasing efficiency and managing costs to pinpoint value creation opportunities in digitization, sustainability and new business models. Successful transformation can also lay the groundwork for a more resilient supply chain.
Workforce issues — particularly skills shortages and productivity — are top of mind for operations leaders. You understand the importance and nuances of hiring and retaining skilled workers — and you’ve felt no small degree of pain around higher-than-average turnover among supply chain employees in particular. To manage workforce costs and enable productivity, consider investing in capabilities to automate repetitive manual tasks while improving accuracy and worker efficiency.
In addition to benefiting from automation, you can help retain employees and attract new talent by upskilling workers to address particular digital or supply chain skills gaps. Expanding your people’s skills and automating time-consuming manual tasks can help your teams work smarter, not harder. With remote and hybrid work, you need to monitor and fine-tune the technology that enables remote collaboration and enhances productivity. Work with your chief information officer (CIO) and chief human resources officer (CHRO) to confirm that both remote and on-site employees have the tools and platforms they need to work efficiently, including collaboration solutions and on-demand data access.
Take a multifaceted approach to drive growth by streamlining operations, lowering costs and focusing digital investments in a variety of areas, including product development, customer experience, manufacturing execution systems and supply chain planning. Automation of manufacturing and distribution centers plays a key role, as do digital transformation and business process optimization.
As you look to make the most of digital investments, focus on integrating what worked over the last few years and learning from what didn't. In addition to finding more ways technology solutions can save money, consider simplifying product lines and improving inventory management.
To remain competitive, many companies are also shifting to new business models, some of which involve diversifying their offerings — for example, moving from selling traditional tangible products to digital solutions. Consider whether transformational M&A investments may make sense for your business or industry to achieve these goals.
Technology is a top priority for COOs: 79% of companies globally are increasing their cyber budget in 2024. It’s just as important for you to be able to trust the information coming from technology solutions — inventory data, for example — and that the data is secure, with built-in safeguards and access controls.
Strengthening trust starts with your vendors, whose solutions supplement your strategy with critical capabilities that facilitate procurement and supply chain risk management and help manage overall spend. Stay on top of data governance, which is important not only for operational resilience but also for compliance as US and global regulations increase in number and complexity. The implementation of technology solutions and controls should help facilitate the compliance process.
Consider also the potential risks posed by third parties in the supply chain. Only about one-third of executives said increasing resilience is a top objective when investing in supply chain technology.
COOs often oversee a global physical network, so the tax and tariff implications of managing a geographically diverse ecosystem of suppliers and partners are top of mind. With trade agreements in flux and the potential for higher global taxes on the horizon, it’s crucial to align with tax leaders to stay on top of local jurisdictions and trading lanes that could provide tax advantages now or in the future.
Nurture relationships with tax colleagues to better understand what geographic moves might be advantageous from a tax perspective. Together, you can identify critical trade-off decisions that could make or break costs, better monitor and interpret the implications of global tax policy and create pathways to advantage — whether as a temporary response to disruption or a more permanent path forward.