In brief

In brief

  • Supply chains are powering revenue growth and creating new customer experiences in ways we haven’t seen before.
  • The transformation to an intelligent supply chain requires people with the right skills and motivation to support the change to more digital operations.
  • Only 38% of supply chain executives feel their workforce is mostly or completely ready to leverage the technology tools provided to them.
  • Companies need to place people above technology and give employees the skills and support they need, or digital transformations will fail.

For the first time, intelligent supply chains are in reach

New technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), digital twins, the internet of things (IoT) and the cloud are changing the game in supply chain.

Just look at the COVID-19 pandemic. Analytics allowed companies to quickly repurpose their operations to make and distribute critical medical supplies. Many businesses used digital technology to expand curbside pickup and reduce in-person contact. Others reimagined their talent strategies using AI for a new approach to skill matching as labor needs changed.

In short, human + machine intelligence completely changes the way companies engineer, plan, source, manufacture, supply, service and reclaim/recycle goods.

What does new technology mean for the supply chain workforce?

Companies are actively investing in these new technologies to make their supply chains more digital and intelligent. These changes will affect the supply chain workforce in a big way.


of C-level executives we recently surveyed said they’re making moderate to significant investments in AI

Workers need new skills to succeed in new digital roles

Workers will need new skills to adapt to a more digital and automated supply chain. Digitally fluent organizations are winning with their customers and workers and are leaders in innovation and operational efficiency.

Advantages of digitally fluent organizations


Are considered a great place to work by their employees


Lead their peers in customer satisfaction


Lead their peers in innovation


Lead their peers in operational efficiency

New technology means big changes to existing supply chain roles

Traditional roles will move from executing manual tasks to monitoring, interpreting and guiding intelligent machines and data. Large portions of employees’ day-to-day activities will be automated, and their jobs will require more innovation, creativity, collaboration and leadership.

How roles will change within three key domains

Procurement professionals will need to be able to interpret AI-generated insights and use digital technologies to solve business problems. They’ll also need a strong business sense and the ability to build relationships with ecosystem partners.

Factory managers will be supported by algorithms, which will help them optimize the plant’s operations based on a flood of data. They’ll have far more information available, and they’ll need to be able to understand it to make the right decisions.

AI algorithms can accurately predict and identify trends and patterns in ways humans can’t. So, AI will make most of the planning decisions, with humans managing alerts or anything the machine can’t decide. As a result, planners will be able to react more quickly and accurately with a better understanding of what’s happening across the supply chain.

Leaders understand they can’t succeed in deploying intelligent technologies if they forget about their people while doing so.

Leading companies recognize that to succeed, they need to put people first

Most of the companies we speak to say they’re moving fast to become more digital. But many have forgotten they need to help people through the changes new technologies bring. Without the right skills and support to work in the digital supply chain, employees are unlikely to adopt new technologies. This wastes the investment and prevents companies from pursuing new opportunities.

But some companies are getting it right. How? By putting people first—before technology.

3 ways to place people before technology in digital transformations

1. Develop new skills at scale using AI and analytics

Leading companies are using advanced digital tools to learn what it takes to build new in-demand skills, both within and between industries. Many are using AI tools to match similar skills from old roles to new roles to enable responsible skilling across the supply chain. And they’re using predictive talent analytics to make data-driven talent decisions.

2. Foster the traditional skills that are still valuable to the organization

Leading companies are mindful of how important some existing skills are. They recognize that in the race to equip workers with new skills, they also need to invest in traditional skills and roles that still have a key place in the business.

Ensuring access to institutional supply chain knowledge is critical, even for companies that pivot to highly automated work.

3. Involve people in initiatives from the start

Leading companies foster engagement and ownership at the beginning. They create employee teams to provide input into the implementation of the new tools and the design of the new ways of working. And they give employees ownership of initiatives that encourage them to think like owners and innovate.

Build a powerful workforce to transform your supply chain

Technology innovations have been transforming industries and companies for decades. But the latest wave of intelligent machines will fundamentally reshape what kind of supply chain work gets done, how and by whom.

Companies that can most effectively use the combination of human ingenuity and intelligent machines will be best positioned to achieve the competitive agility they need to win in the years ahead.

Inge Oosterhuis

Managing Director – Strategy & Consulting, Talent & Organization, Energy

Kristine Renker

Managing Director – Strategy & Consulting, Supply Chain & Operations, Global


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As businesses create intelligent supply networks, many are forgetting about their people. With the right strategy, supply chain leaders can ensure their entire workforce has what it takes to work effectively in the future supply chain. Here’s how.

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Supply chain workforce of the future 2021

Find out why people are the most important part of a supply chain transformation and what you can do to prepare them for a digital future.


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