As the protracted effects of public health and geopolitical crises continue to pummel global supply chains, consumer-facing companies have begun adapting to find new ways to improve resilience, efficiency and sustainability as they work to satisfy customer demand.
Digitization is a key component of that initiative. In fact, 60% of corporate leaders report that digital transformation is their most important growth strategy for 2022.
First steps at digitizing supply chains have already yielded more streamlined supply chains, according to PwC’s Digital Trends in Supply Chain Survey. Consumer markets (CM) companies expect further payoff: reducing costs and increasing efficiency tops their list of priorities for the year ahead, well ahead of all other tasks.
For CM leaders, who have spent the last few years combatting a series of especially thorny supply chain scenarios, our survey reveals a complex picture of challenges, aspiration and action.
The bottlenecks in transnational supply chains that continue to threaten the timely delivery of goods have caused many companies to rethink their supply chains. A major component of that redesign has been digitization, which can bolster resilience.
One risk factor to digitization, however, lies in the capabilities of suppliers. Nearly three-quarters of CM leaders tell us they’re concerned about supplier operational issues, while two-thirds worry about suppliers not being up to the technological challenges of digitization — and the follow-on effects that could impede their own efforts.
As CM companies continue to digitize their supply chains, budgetary issues top their list of concerns, with nearly one-fifth calling it their biggest challenge. Next on the list is change management: providing the right mix of skills and incentives to implement new ways of working for existing teams.
They are also concerned about the challenge of attracting, developing and retaining employees who are well-versed in tech and data analysis: known as “digital-native” talent. Grappling with supply chain challenges, some CM companies are building digital situation rooms in which cross-functional teams can interact with a common set of data, workflow and communication methods to collaborate on system challenges.
While emerging tech adoption across supply chain operations varies considerably among CM companies, nearly half have taken significant steps toward cloud and Internet of Things (IoT) adoption. Almost a third have implemented artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning.
Eighty-eight percent are currently using or intending to use at least one form of emerging technology to automate and enhance execution for supply chain planning over the next 24 months, while 84% say they will do so for supply chain delivery.
Cloud leads planned investment, with almost a third of CM companies planning to commit at least $1 million to cloud technology over the next 24 months. And approximately a quarter intend to invest more than $1 million in third-party spend analytics tools, IoT and AI technology.
However, despite the promise and significant level of investment, roughly four out of five CM leaders tell us their investments in supply chain technology are not delivering the results they expected, which holds true across all sectors.
The main reason they cite is lack of support from external tech vendors, followed by poor planning, lack of internal skill and technologies that don’t provide the right capabilities.
Well aware that it takes more than data or advanced technology to optimize supply chains, meet customers where they are and spot risks before they affect results, CM leaders are also focused on talent. They recognize that they need skilled internal teams willing to transform processes across functional lines.
A total of 37% of CM executives “completely agree” that their supply chain teams have the necessary skills to meet future goals, compared to 23% in all industries. But, like their peers, nearly a quarter say they will need to invest in upskilling staff.
Although CM companies are confident that they can further develop staff skills for greater effectiveness, more than a third of them (37% versus 26% across sectors) face higher-than-normal turnover in their supply chain function.
As they digitize their supply chains, CM leaders acknowledge they will need more talent, especially those with digital-native skills. They also plan to increase their reliance on outsourcing. Meanwhile, a scant 9% expect to need fewer employees.
The growing interest in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues has put supply chain teams broadly on the alert for challenges that will arise both today and in the coming years. CM executives tell us that their immediate supply chain ESG challenges involve:
They are also planning to tackle these challenges in the years ahead:
Most CM companies identify regulatory issues and supplier risks as immediate challenges, suggesting that they might still be finding their balance on the scope of ESG issues. Companies able to act now and engage proactively across the components of sustainability and purpose have an opportunity to gain a decisive edge over competitors.
Amid growing public health and geopolitical uncertainty — as well as fluctuating inflationary pressures contributing to a volatile overall economy — CM companies are confronting supply chain challenges more complex than ever before.
In response, they are focusing on increasing efficiency and managing costs while also seeking out longer-term transformations designed to build resilience into their operations for the future. PwC analysis illustrates that a digitized supply chain can deliver an estimated 43% increase in revenue over the long term. In addition, greater efficiency can lead to a 10% decrease in operating expenses across the board.
Digitalization provides not only efficiency and cost-effectiveness but also enhances the ability to manage risk. Proactively understanding supply chain risk, sustainability impact and operating performance can empower CM supply chain leaders to respond to challenges and bottlenecks more nimbly while transforming supply chains into intelligent digital ecosystems.