CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
December 17, 2017
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Now hiring: supply chain analyst, inventory specialist … anthropologist?

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The "digital supply chain" will require different jobs and skill sets than supply chain organizations currently look for, one Gartner executive predicts.

The new "digital supply chain"—which the analyst group Gartner defines as involving a combination of the Internet of Things and advanced analytics—is rapidly transforming how businesses operate and, as a result, the type of talent they need.

Today's supply chain organizations are clamoring for people with skills in such areas as sales and operations planning, supply chain strategy development, and analytics. Two years from now, said Gartner Senior Vice President of Research Peter Sondergaard, they will instead be hunting for employees who are skilled in "orchestrating the customer experience," providing digital business integration, and creating innovation through partnerships with external parties. Speaking during a keynote address at the recent Gartner Supply Chain Executive Conference, Sondergaard noted that this shift would be driven by new technology that relies on intelligence and sensors embedded in products and assets. These intelligent products and assets will allow every aspect of the supply chain to be monitored, right through to the end customer's daily use of a product, he said.

Sondergaard then pushed his predictions a step further, predicting that by 2020, supply chain organizations will need cybersecurity experts, data scientists, and possibly even anthropologists and sociologists, who will be able to look at customer data on a local level and interpret what it means in terms of behavior, trends, and improving the customer experience.

Bimodal supply chain

Sondergaard also believes that supply chain organizations themselves must be restructured. In order to keep up with innovations driven by the digital world while continuing to provide traditional products and services, he said, companies will need to adopt what Gartner calls a "bimodal" business model.

In the first, traditional mode, the supply chain is structured to support proven, mature products and to serve as a "caretaker" that optimizes operational cost and excellence. In the second mode, Sondergaard explained, the supply chain organization supports the CEO's quest for growth, helping the company experiment with digital technology and advanced analytics. Many of these experiments will fail, but the new supply chain organization must be able to quickly learn from these failures and move on, he said.

According to Sondergaard, many high-tech companies already operate a bimodal business. But the model also can be applied to more traditional businesses. He cited the example of the chemical giant BASF, which has created a new organization called BASF 4.0 to evaluate the opportunities for digital technology to remake its products and business models. This year, the organization will launch 10 "digital exploration efforts" and quickly determine whether they are a success or failure. This new organization will need to operate very differently from the supply chains that are focused on more mature chemical products. As a result, BASF 4.0 is completely separate from the traditional supply chain organization and even has its own, separate culture, Sondergaard said.

To watch a video of Sondergaard's thought-provoking presentation, click here.

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