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COO and operations leaders

Latest findings from PwC’s Pulse Survey

COOs emerge with an approach to confront market challenges

Between rising energy and input prices, supply chain disruption and the unheralded dynamics of the labor market, COOs have had a lot of uncertainty thrown their way over the past few years. After having been in reaction mode, they’re now taking stock in what has worked and what may still be left to do.

So what’s the plan? According to our latest PwC Pulse Survey, COOs are shaping multi-faceted approaches to help their companies thrive. They’re turning to automation (especially in manufacturing and distribution centers) and digital transformation to stabilize operations as well as to digital investments across their enterprises to drive profitable growth. They’re also looking to add resiliency through optimized product supply chains, and they’re doing all this while keeping a watchful eye on potential disruptions — perhaps in the form of global tax increases or a recession.

COOs look to reduce workforce dependency

With talent tough to come by, COOs are looking to manage cost and increase resiliency through digitization and automation.

71%

of COOs have implemented — or plan to — changes in processes to address labor shortages.

Building resiliency and a path forward through automation

Challenges in the labor market have strained operations, and COOs are seeking to implement changes to manage the cost of the workforce. For many, that means investing in capabilities that will reduce the dependency on the workforce while improving efficiencies.

With COOs in the pinch of finding enough quality talent to power their organizations, most aren’t interested in discarding resources — just 20% plan to reduce overall headcount over the next 6-12 months to manage costs, a pivot from previous periods when conditions were ripe for recession. 

When asked where they’ll focus most to improve resiliency over the next 6-12 months, the workforce comes in on top. Meanwhile, technology appears to be the chosen path forward. Many COOs are eyeing investments in digital transformation and increased automation as ways to ease reliance on physical bodies. Ironically, these developments also require a smaller number of highly technical roles. To accommodate the transition while they otherwise struggle to find specialized talent, companies will need to reshape their current workforces to find the appropriate balance of digital acumen and technical experience to work alongside automation and deep learning capabilities. Taking these actions now will both help you be more fit for current market realities and help position you for the future. 

What you can do: Assess the skills of your current workforce against the skills you need to be successful for the current market. Recognize that you may have to reshape your workforce mix to get the right people with the right skills. Look to digital capabilities to promote resiliency while saving costs.


COOs eyeing broad digital investments

COOs are enthusiastic about putting dollars into digital, with considerable investments expected across the business.

56%

of COOs plan increased investment in IT in the next 12 months.

Embracing post-COVID realities, COOs dive headfirst into digital

Digital transformation and automation aren’t the only areas garnering attention. When it comes to digital investment, COOs are looking broadly across business units and opportunities to boost capabilities.

Nearly three of four (73%) COOs expect to increase their digital investments in product development over the next 6-12 months. At least two-thirds say the same about customer experience, manufacturing execution systems and e-commerce, in addition to automation.

Notably, results are strong across all 10 response options, signaling that COOs continue to see digital as a way to build agility and drive growth.


Supply chain disruptions propelling COO decisions

Driven by supply chain disruption and materials shortages, COOs are investing in product development as a way to build resiliency.

73%

of COOs say their company will increase investment in product development in the next 6-12 months.

COOs meeting supply chain difficulties on two fronts

Before the pandemic, COOs were set on expanding product and service portfolios. Now it appears they’re taking a different tack — pumping digital investment into product development while working to simplify product line complexity.

COOs have spent the last two years dealing with materials shortages and worrying about their ability to fulfill orders on time. Many pivoted away from global just-in-time manufacturing after experiencing critical shortages due to production issues. Now they’re taking action to streamline product line complexity, the second-most popular change the group is looking to make over the next 6-12 months. That could take the shape of new innovation to allow for alternative materials and components, inventory management, supplier management/partnerships and practices to reduce complexity. By rethinking product development, COOs can get in front of future product challenges by designing in more resiliency on the front end.

Digital investments in product development can help companies improve product design systems, including improvements in technology tools and platforms. These investments create the short-term upside of allowing COOs to deal with immediate supply chain disruptions while building in greater resiliency for the future.

What you can do: Assess your product portfolio and determine where to streamline or expand. Consider adding tools to help better track inventory, get a firm grasp on material availability and possible substitutes, and see what you’re able to procure or make in various regions of the world. Smart executives are also reflecting on which investments made in response to the pandemic should be kept and which should be wound down.


COOs watching global taxes closely

With a physical network that is often global in nature under management, COOs are observing tax trends carefully.

83%

of COOs say global tax is on their company’s radar.

On par with tax leaders, COOs have global tax trends top of mind

COOs are keenly focused on global tax trends, to an extent far beyond their peers in the C-suite. In fact, while just 46% of CFOs say they’re taking action or closely monitoring global tax as a policy area, 83% of COOs say they are — a number equal to that of tax leaders.

COOs have become more in tune with opportunities to leverage tax structure to create investments that boost the bottom line. And they often have a global physical web to keep track of, so it’s likely their focus stems from the tax and tariff implications of managing such a geographic network. With trade agreements in flux and the potential for higher global taxes on the horizon, COOs are busy keeping track of local jurisdictions and trading lanes that could provide tax advantages now or in the future. Those could come in the form of new materials sources, new from-to shipping lanes, or even a new site for manufacturing.

As COOs start to unwind the localization of the supply chains they implemented because of the pandemic, they’re considering expanding their geographic presence and possibly boosting real estate investments as a result. Nearly half (47%) cite real estate as an area in which they’ll increase investment over the next 6-12 months (versus 31% overall). While it’s tempting to think of a company’s real estate footprint as just the office space they occupy, COOs understand that real estate has a broader meaning, including production facilities. Depending on the location of these new investments, keep in mind the potential tax consequences. 

What you can do: Consider the tax implications of potential changes to your supply chain. Look to your tax colleagues to better understand what geographic moves might be advantageous from a tax perspective. Continue to monitor global tax policy issues.


About the survey

Our latest PwC Pulse Survey, fielded August 1 to August 5, 2022, surveyed 722 executives and board members from Fortune 1000 and private companies about the current business environment, the risks executives are facing and the impact those risks have on company strategy and growth plans. Of the respondent pool, 90 are operations leaders.

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Matthew Comte

Matthew Comte

Operations Transformation Practice Leader for Consulting, PwC US

Carla DeSantis

Carla DeSantis

Partner, PwC US

Brian Matthew Houck

Brian Matthew Houck

Connected Supply Chain Leader, PwC US

Russell Rasmus

Russell Rasmus

Partner, PwC US

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