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The Power Of People: A Critical Factor For Digital Supply Chains

Written by Al-Azhar Khalfan

Supply Chain 4.0, also known as the Digital Supply Chain, a digitally enhanced version of supply chain, incorporates multiple technologies and algorithms. The concept has existed for some time. Yet only recently has adoption of these technologies accelerated to its current pace. This growth is owing to evolving customer demands and business requirements in an environment beset by geopolitical risks, competitive pressures, stakeholder expectations, natural disasters, industry regulations and other impediments.

Yet how many Canadian supply chain leaders are truly equipped to embrace this change? The integration of digital technologies into supply chain means it’s more imperative than ever to hire, train, and retain the best supply chain talent. Organizations need an enhanced digital workforce with a combination of change management skills, a deep understanding of the business and a working knowledge of technical capabilities.

However, not many supply chain leaders acknowledge the importance and ROI of investing in this enhanced digital workforce. According to a recent study by PwC, only 19% of supply chain leaders are prioritizing the digital upskilling of their employees. As well, only 23% completely agree that their supply chain teams have the necessary skills to meet their goals.

Too many organizations believe that digital transformation is a function of technology only. While technology plays a big part, so do people and the processes that those people drive. Whatever an organization’s digital maturity, the success of a digital supply chain strategy depends on its people.

In my earlier column, I talked about the need for senior supply chain executives to empower their employees in supporting strategic mandates. This helps to address the talent shortages and retention issues that organizations wrestle with today. Implementing an effective digital transformation is a similar process. Supply chain leaders must build a high performing, enhanced digital workforce that can unlock the potential of an effective digital implementation.

Developing the leadership and employee skills needed to create and operate a digital supply chain is essential. Traditional supply chain skills aren’t enough to support the demands of operating in a dynamic, real-time digital environment. According to a recent study by Forrester, one in three tech execs will tackle talent challenges with alternative partners. Why not make the same investment in building the tech muscle within your existing supply chain team?

Supply Chain 4.0 has gained momentum only in recent years. Therefore, very few candidates will have the education and/or experience to match the job description completely. The optimal resource is a combination of multiple skill sets, a specialized expertise, and the potential to becoming a digital enabler. The right approach to developing a digital workforce involves:

  1. Identifying the short-term capabilities already within the organization. These capabilities fit customer needs and can help design the organization’s scalability plans.
  2. Mapping the long-term capabilities needed to meet rapidly changing customer needs.
  3. Leveraging HR teams for a supply chain resource strategy with a short-, mid- and long-term view.
  4. Identifying the right talent, investing in their upskilling, and building the right training and development engine. This is essential for supply chain resilience and a digital ecosystem.

Supply chain is a critical value lever for future business models that support digital capabilities. Our leaders have the opportunity to be trailblazers in global supply chains, inspiring a digital mindset and bringing to fruition effective digital transformation within their organizations. Mike Mortson, founder of Supply Chain Game Changer, noted in a conversation that this opportunity represents supply chain’s “moment of truth”. Organizations will either launch into a digital future or remain stuck in outmoded, traditional ways of doing business.

I encourage supply chain leaders and their teams to attend SCMAO’s Leadership Series 4.0: Digital Transformation of Supply Chain on November 15, 2022 and hear from other industry leaders including Walmart, P&G, LCBO, Brystol Myers Sqibb and more about their successes, along with what worked for them and what didn’t.

Digital transformation is a vast landscape and we’ve only begun to scratch the surface. There will probably be no future point when one organization will have a full suite of capabilities. Therefore, building the right team and establishing strong training and development will be as important in digital implementation as the technology itself.

Al-Azhar Khalfan is President and CEO of the National Institute of Supply Chain Leaders (NISCL).

Email: [email protected]