I recently returned from a few days in Phoenix at the 2019 Gartner Supply Chain Executive Conference. The web page calls this event the most important gathering of supply chain leaders. While that description is a bit of marketing hyperbole, I can say that attendees tackled important issues—the kind that keep supply chain executives up at night.

What impressed me the most about the event was the depth and quality of the conversations during presentations, one-on-ones and in the exhibit hall. The nearly 2,500 attendees—most of whom were senior supply chain executives as opposed to suppliers—were clearly there to learn.

Tracking the buzz

So what were people talking about? Many of the topics of conversation rolled up nicely into the theme of this year’s event—A New Era: Converging the Physical and Digital Supply Chains.

The reality is that traditional companies are facing what for many is a fight or flight moment. They should support their legacy, bricks-and-mortar businesses while digitizing their supply chains. Add to that the pressure of markets and technologies that are evolving at hyper-speed and digital-native competitors with amazingly adaptive global supply chains. After all, what company isn’t living under the shadow of Amazon in one way or another these days?

Not surprisingly, conversations focused on creating truly global, multichannel supply chains, improving supply chain visibility, enabling real-time inventory tracking, resolving issues proactively, creating digital road maps, harnessing supply chain technology platforms, and exploring emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain.

I was also struck by the emphasis on human capital challenges. For example, there was a lot of dialogue around the evolution of supply chain roles beyond traditional functions like distribution, transportation and planning. Supply chain executives were interested in pinpointing future skills profiles and identifying the right talent pools to fill these new roles.

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What issues are keeping #SupplyChain executives up at night? And how can they start tackling them?

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Walking in their shoes

For someone like me who works with supply chain executives across industries every day, this event is a great opportunity to validate trends and emerging ideas in the space.

I also like to put my client hat on when I reflect on the takeaways. This comes naturally because I worked on the commercial side myself for years. I consider what supply chain executives will be thinking when they return to their offices after the conference. The truth? If I were in their shoes, I would be overwhelmed.

Cutting through the noise

Why overwhelmed? There is so much complexity—noise—to cut through to get to the New in supply chain operations. This makes it extremely difficult for decision makers to know how to prioritize which challenges to tackle and how to operationalize the solutions. The risk of analysis paralysis is very real here.

The good news is that getting to the “how” in solving supply chain operations challenges is something that Accenture does well. In fact, it is fundamental to our perspective on supply chain transformation more broadly.

Our view is that to thrive in this new era, companies need a supply chain that is a true growth engine for the business. It should be asset-light, digitally-powered and capable of providing responsive, personalized services.

While technology enablement is a critical lever here, technology alone is not the solution. Real transformation takes full alignment with the business, and the right strategy and talent. That’s the only real way to get from the noise to the New.


Edward Sands

Global Leader - Supply Chain BPO & Procurement Services

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