COO and operations leaders

Latest findings from PwC’s Pulse Survey

With tech a top target, COOs are ready to invest in a choppy business environment 

Supply chain disruption. New ways of working. Labor uncertainty. The continued digitization of operations. These are just several of the challenges facing COOs in their efforts to drive profitable growth and ensure stability as 2022 unfolds. That reality is clear in our latest PwC Pulse Survey.

While worker shortages and employee turnover was cited as the top operational challenge in 2022, the survey revealed how varied the tasks at hand are for COOs. There’s the people element—not just having enough employees but enabling them to work efficiently during the persistent pandemic. There’s the technology test — confirming your operations are optimized in an increasingly digital world. And underlying everything is supply chain oversight—not only managing frequent disruptions but equipping them to deliver consistently for the long term.

What’s also clear is that COOs are committed to addressing these challenges in multiple ways. While no one area of investment dominated, technology emerged as an area ripe for changes amid continued uncertainty.

An array of challenges await COOs


Worker shortages and employee turnover
%
Digital transformation initiatives
%
COVID-19 variants extending the need for remote or restricted work
%
Continued global supply chain disruptions
%
Making our supply chain more sustainable
%
Rethinking our real estate footprint
%
Inventory management
%
Integrating new acquisitions
%
Increasing investment in compliance functions
%
Global trade and regulations
%
Reducing our carbon footprint
%

Q: What are the biggest operations challenges you expect to face in 2022?
Source: PwC Pulse Survey, January 27, 2022: COO base of 99

Transformation isn’t easy, but it isn’t optional either 

Digital transformation may be a top challenge, but COOs clearly believe it’s worth the commitment. Among the actions COOs plan to take in 2022, investing in digital capabilities and technology transformation are at the top. And tech is a factor in other areas, such as staff interaction and culture, connected products and services and digital tools for supply chain visibility.

External forces are having a hand in COO decision-making as well. Among potential policy shifts that are moving them to make the most changes to their businesses, technology and data regulation is cited by more than half of COOs—the most by far. And more than a third say the evolving global tax environment is leading their companies to accelerate digital transformation initiatives and make sizable technology investments.

These technology deployments, if well-planned and executed, can benefit businesses in many future scenarios and be a strong hedge against the ambiguity that has been a defining characteristic of the 2020s so far. The hope is to capture real-time demand and pricing signals and provide end-to-end visibility to create clarity in confusing times.

COOs know that if they make the business more efficient, they can succeed despite the ongoing pandemic and other forces outside of their control. Evolving isn’t optional—it’s essential. That may be why 53% of COOs tell us increasing agility in the face of a turbulent business environment is very important for their company to grow in 2022.

COOs turn to tech


Investing in digital capabilities
%
Digital tools for supply chain visibility
%

Q: How do you plan to manage uncertainty in the business environment in 2022?
Source: PwC Pulse Survey, January 27, 2022: base of 678, COO base of 99


Technology transformation for efficiency
%
Technology for staff interaction and culture
%
Connected products and services
%

Q: In which of the following areas do you plan to make changes in 2022?
Source: PwC Pulse Survey, January 27, 2022: base of 678, COO base of 99


Where to grow and work? COOs consider options

Despite lingering ambiguity due to the pandemic, COOs aren’t hesitating to explore growth paths for their companies. Nearly half expect to expand into new markets in 2022, and 57% say developing new products and services in response to new consumer behaviors is very important.

There’s also the matter of physical location. Roughly a quarter of COOs are planning new facilities, relocating facilities or pursuing acquisitions. In the same vein, more COOs cite nearshoring and reshoring over offshoring when it comes to where their facilities are located, suggesting that operations leaders may be looking to pull supply lines closer. Overall, 60% of COOs are considering changes to their operational footprint—a signal that flexibility will continue to be necessary. Indeed, a company’s physical network strategy can be transformational in nature and often leads to integrating third-party providers (e.g., contract manufacturers, third-party logistics) into a company’s overall network ecosystem.

The pandemic also continues to be another big factor in where people work. More than a third of COOs said their biggest operational challenge this year will be COVID-19 variants extending the need for remote or restricted work. Given the increased mobility of workers between jobs today, missteps by companies in handling this new work environment can be costly. That may be a reason why 68% of COOs say hiring and retaining talent will be very important for their company’s growth in 2022.

Footprint changes in focus for COOs in 2022


Expanding into new markets
%
New facilities
%
Acquisitions
%
Relocating facilities
%

Q: In which of the following areas do you plan to make changes in 2022?
Source: PwC Pulse Survey, January 27, 2022: base of 678, COO base of 99


Nearshoring operations
%
Reshoring operations
%
Offshoring operations
%

Q: How do you plan to manage uncertainty in the business environment in 2022?
Source: PwC Pulse Survey, January 27, 2022: base of 678, COO base of 99

With supply chains, sustainability joins resilience as a goal

If all this weren’t enough, COOs still must confirm their supply chains not only remain resilient but are more sustainable going forward. While it may not have ranked as high as talent or COVID-19, continued supply chain disruptions and vulnerabilities was cited by 27% of COOs as the biggest risk to their company achieving its growth goals in 2022. Given that, it’s not surprising that four out of five executives say improving supply chain resilience is either somewhat or very important for growth this year, and three-quarters say their company plans to invest in supply chain resilience. Nearly one-fourth have planned to increase supplier diversification.

Looking beyond the current disruptions, 28% of COOs tell us that making their company’s supply chain more sustainable will be their say their biggest operational challenge in 2022, while 17% cite reducing their company’s carbon footprint. This mirrors the move by many companies to declare net zero emissions targets in the coming decade or two. 

SEC Chair Gary Gensler has expressed a commitment to promulgating new environmental, social and governance (ESG) disclosure rules, with more specifics expected in the coming months. COOs know they’ll be taking on this new dimension of responsibility, managing the business both profitably and sustainably in 2022, with 45% saying that championing ESG issues is very important for company growth.

If COOs succeed in addressing these challenges and opportunities—from tech transformation to sustainable supply chains—their companies will emerge from 2022 in a stronger position, enabling them to deliver more value for stakeholders.


About the survey

Our latest PwC Pulse Survey, fielded January 10 to January 14, 2022, surveyed 99 operations leaders from Fortune 1000 and private companies, along with other C-suite executives, about business priorities, investment plans and concerns as they think about the year ahead. Find all of these insights in our PwC Pulse Survey.

Contact us

Matthew Comte

Matthew Comte

Operations Transformation Practice Leader for Consulting, PwC US

Dr. Deniz  Caglar

Dr. Deniz Caglar

Principal, Strategy&, PwC US

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