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The Changing Role of the Supply Chain Leader

The role of the supply chain leader is changing…

For instance, according to research from IDG[1], new marketplace demands mean that 85% of food and consumer goods supply chain leaders believe their role has become more complex over the last five years, especially when it comes to product range and route to market. In addition, 71% report that their job responsibilities have become broader, and that this change poses a particular challenge because it coincides with a decrease in workforce resource of around one third.

So, why are businesses expecting so much more from their supply chain leaders, and what can those leaders do to make sure their organisation remains profitable and their supply chain remains efficient, despite the additional day to day pressures they face? The answer to both questions may lie with increased digital capabilities.

Meeting the needs of digitally connected customers

IDG tells us that supply chain complexity is ‘here to stay’. It’s being driven by increased consumer expectation, digital connectivity, and a ‘need it now’ mentality. For today’s businesses, omnichannel fulfilment requirements and the desire for unlimited choice sit alongside an unprecedented need for speed, with customers also increasingly having sustainability requirements, but often being unwilling to compromise on price. It’s creating a pressurised environment for supply chain teams, who are overstretched and under resourced – and it’s an issue which echoes out across all sectors; no longer limited to retail or fast-moving goods.

The good news is that it’s not just the role of supply chain leaders which is evolving, their status within organisations is also seeing dramatic change. No longer a strategic afterthought, supply chain management is fast becoming central to broader business strategies. With organisations increasingly called upon by consumers, stakeholders and investors to provide transparency on provenance, environmental impact and ethics across their supply chain, the role of the supply chain leader is now being recognised as a commercial one; one that has the ability to influence the future direction of a business and enable growth. It’s a fact that’s demonstrated by some of today’s leading retailers incorporating supply chain capabilities into their brand identities; think Amazon and fast-fulfilment, Tesco and minimised food waste, Tony’s Chocolonely and elimination of modern slavery, Carrefour and transparent provenance[2]. These are just some of the business which have recognised that good supply chain management is key to securing ongoing commercial success.

The role of technology in future supply chains

Just as digital capability is increasing the complexity of the supply chain leader’s role, so it has the ability to help them optimise operations and drive new efficiencies for their organisation. Technology can make supply chains more responsive, data systems can make greater visibility possible, and analytical software can help to relieve the administrative burden of supply chain management.

As supply chains become more globalised and more complex, so more businesses are looking for digital ways to streamline their processes. Leading research company Gartner believes that this trend is set to continue, going one step further to report that, ‘Innovative technologies, such as blockchain and AI/machine learning, can potentially and significantly disrupt existing supply chain operating models’[3]. In the future, it is likely that more and more supply chain and logistic decisions will be made by AI and that advanced analytics will be employed to make our supply chains faster and more profitable. It’s therefore crucial that businesses stay well informed on technological advancements, to be sure they are fast to implement the solutions that best suit their needs.

While human judgement can never be replaced, digital capability and an understanding of the role which artificial intelligence, blockchain technology and the internet of things could play in your supply chain operations will be essential to optimising processes and making sure businesses can adapt to changing demands, unlock new opportunities and create sustainable growth. According to IDG, almost half of all supply chain leaders are already prioritising the development of a data-driven culture. They go on to say that ‘it may be that some businesses survive without a data-driven culture, but they will increasingly be the exceptions.’[4]

For those who lack the capital to invest in new technology or who need help preparing for a more complex future, it may be worth outsourcing some elements of supply chain management to a specialist partner. Performance and compliance remain at the top of every supply chain leader’s priority list and are harder to achieve as supply chain complexity increases. At Altius, we have the software and the expertise to help…

[1] and reported at

[2]Supply Chains for Growth Report:


[4] Supply Chains for Growth Report:

Best practice guide to supply chain compliance now available as a free download.