Any seasoned sailor will tell you that cross-currents can be dicey.

For example, the Labrador Current and the Gulf Stream meet near Cape Hatteras on the coast of North Carolina. The Gulf Stream is a warm current but the Labrador Current is cold. The clash between the two temperature extremes creates heavy turbulence, so much so that the area is known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” Its many shipwrecks are a testament to the danger.

Yet, some boats make it through these cross-currents with nary a scratch. It’s possible, if you can navigate with pinpoint precision.

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As I help Chief Operating Officers (COOs) and Chief Supply Chain Officers (CSCOs) navigate the future of their company during this pandemic, it feels a bit like we are at the intersection of multiple cross-currents. And while no one has a crystal ball, Accenture research points to some no-regret actions that make sense regardless of where these currents take us. Collectively, they may be the key to that pinpoint navigation everyone is looking for.

Where they can, organizations are reinventing themselves as they reopen, taking actions that will help them emerge stronger: becoming more digital, data-driven and in the cloud; making their operations more agile and their cost structures more variable; and delivering greater experiences for employees and customers.

Amid renewed uncertainty about the pandemic, however, assumptions companies previously used to shape scenarios and set their strategic course are now in question. Leaders are reevaluating how the pandemic’s progress, strength or recurrence in different geographic markets impacts their recovery strategies. This means adjusting those assumptions, reevaluating all scenarios, and strengthening their capability to predict and respond accordingly.

What we’ve sailed into

Now, companies must take their bearings and course correct on a continual basis against a set of potential cross-currents impeding their journey. At Accenture, we see three major cross-currents at the moment:

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1. A material shift in people’s attitudes.

As strict containment measures abate, we move from policy to choice.

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2. An acceleration in regional divergence, and a rapidly growing risk of disorder.

Multinationals face different regulatory regimes and challenges across their markets.

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3. A dramatic shift in fiscal stimulus.

Policymakers are removing short-term fiscal support in favor of long-term stimulus.

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Not all companies will experience these cross-currents in the same way. Industries that have more complex supply chains and those more dependent on face-to-face interaction will be impacted more. For instance, Consumer Goods companies will be far more impacted than Comms & Media companies.

Impact varies by industry

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Equipping your company for many possible journeys

As companies have moved to reopen and reinvent themselves for the new environment, some have embraced “no regret” strategies—strategies that are smart regardless of the currents.

Other companies that did not have the same foresight told us they wished they were further along in building the business capabilities they need, using strategies that include:

  • Being more digital and data driven—and more in the cloud. The pandemic has heightened the urgency for companies to scale their digital foundations. Our latest supply chain research showed that leading companies contribute 3x more to company revenues, averaging a 13% growth rate. One of the reasons is that they have invested in the digital architecture that serves as a foundation for innovative collaboration.

  • Establishing a variable cost structure for their operations.

  • Having stronger, more integrated ecommerce capabilities—and I would of course add “making sure those capabilities are integrated with your supply chain.”

  • Using more automation and AI. In supply chains, that is showing up as everything from forecasting based on machine learning, to demand-driven material requirements planning, to predictive asset maintenance and warehouse automation.

  • Adopting collaboration tools. This trend seems to support information from our latest survey of 700 C-suite executives: 75% of COOs, CSCOs and Chief Procurement Officers (CPOs) expect major shifts in work, design, culture, and mindset.

  • Access to modern, resilient and faster IT without legacy IT debt. We found that 38% of COOs, CSCOs and CPOs are accelerating investments in digital transformation due to the pandemic.

You’re not alone

I speak to companies across the globe and everyone is looking to navigate the pandemic. 

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Even the companies doing well during this time have their own set of new challenges to conquer. But those I see coming out ahead are proactively making changes now as they can.

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During COVID-19, Walmart is using its modern systems to collect data that is not only helping them better serve customers now, but also in the future. As its general manager/senior director of supply chain shared in our recent supply chain report: “We’re seeing customer buying patterns that we’ve never seen before, but that’s giving us better forecast insight than we’ve ever had. If we’re to have something again like this, we’ll be able to utilize that type of data to better forecast what we can do to get in front of it.”

Steve Bergfeld, CIO of Blue Diamond Growers has moved to planning-as-a-service: “In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were looking to create alternate sources to counter demand shifts and move from weekly to daily planning for deployment to fulfill our changing supply chain network needs. Accenture and SAP’s joint scenario planning-as-a-service is a timely and invaluable service that will benefit Blue Diamond Growers in these uncertain times. We are in the process of reconfiguring our supply chain network with our partners to meet the changing demand landscape.”

It's this type of proactive strategy—embracing technologies and supply chain methods that might be new to your teams but also are more crucial than ever for success—that is helping many companies stay afloat. And beyond staying afloat, it’s helping them surge ahead on a journey that will ultimately bring growth beyond the pandemic.

If you’d like to talk about how your company can better do just that, please reach out. That’s a conversation I’d love to have.

See more on Supply Chain and Operations.

Kris Timmermans

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

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