10 Lessons from Supply Chain Leaders

The words “best practice” can be one of the many management jargon phrases that almost pale into insignificance due to their overuse. However, for this article, we’re diving deep into supply chain excellence amongst some of the world’s most ambitious companies – so it is an authentic use of the term for once!

The Gartner Supply Chain Top 25 is a renowned annual ranking of the world’s superior supply chains. From financial and corporate social responsibility data and community opinion, they identify,  celebrate and profile companies demonstrating excellence in supply chain management.

In 2022, the list of leading companies is as follows:

  1. Cisco Systems
  2. Schneider Electric
  3. Colgate-Palmolive
  4. Johnson & Johnson
  5. PepsiCo
  6. Pfizer
  7. Intel
  8. Nestlé
  9. Lenovo
  10. Microsoft
  11. L’Oréal
  12. The Coca-Cola Company
  13. Nike
  14. Walmart
  15. HP Inc.
  16. Diageo
  17. Dell Technologies
  18. Inditex
  19. BMW
  20. AbbVie
  21. Siemens
  22. AstraZeneca
  23. General Mills
  24. British American Tobacco
  25. Alibaba

Each year, Gartner analysts research the supply chains of hundreds of companies. Through this work, they note what leaders are focusing on, where they are investing time and effort, and what can be applied broadly.

We’ve taken a closer look at this insightful and detailed study and we’ve delved into the trends by analysing the word frequency throughout the report. We’ve found 10 key recurring themes that transcend some of the huge multinational, C-suite findings they present that you can actually focus on day to day.

Top 10 themes from the Gartner report:

1. Sustainability

It’s probably no surprise to see the prevalence of sustainability being a key determining factor in the designation of supply chain global leadership. We’ve written about sustainability being much more than “green credentials” before – as the mix of environmental, social and governance (ESG) starts to drive the agenda for business leaders and investors.

The insinuation from the report is more about leaders authentically delivering sustainability in the truest sense.

This is the practice of having a minimal negative impact or potentially a positive effect on the global or local environment, community, society, or economy. Real leadership in the supply chain is developing a business that strives to meet the triple bottom line.

2. Digital

We may be biased of course, but one of the recurring themes in the report was the companies being named as global leaders were embracing digital technology. Digital transformation doesn’t just mean moving from a pen and paper, it’s clear that to gain competitive advantage and leadership status that companies have to focus on the four elements of DX.

These are people, process, data and technology.

Digital transformation isn’t just about digitally doing the same things, it’s a wholesale cultural movement of the organisation and the true supply chain leaders know how powerful this shift can be in achieving productivity and significant commercial advantage.

3. Data

Building on the above digital transformation theme, data is a core decisive factor in supply chain leaders. A common enterprise view of data is essential, as is embedding data-driven insight into the decision-making process if you are going to join the ranks as a supply chain leader. There’s never a better time to look at how your organisation collects and stores supplier data, what you collect, how it’s used, what is missing and how you can start to achieve your data utopia.

There is also the impact this data-focus has on the people and competency framework within your organisation – but more on that later.

4. Resilience

In the midst of some of the largest supply chain disruptions in modern memory, you can be forgiven for dealing with issues as they hit the desk. The focus has been on surviving, not thriving – reacting rather than planning.

For many supply chain professionals, the day-to-day pressures of business resilience and continuity have taken the fore and it’s clear this has been the case for leaders in the industry too. The top 25 companies have all taken steps to balance capital investment with cost optimization as supply chains have been rocked across industries – especially in tech manufacturing. Despite this, there are still many tech giants on the list and resilience has been a major focus for them over the past 2 years.

5. Visibility

Another word very frequently used in the report was visibility. If you can’t see it, you can’t act on it. Supply chain leaders are demanding more visibility and actionable, data-led intelligence to drive decision-making and manage risk profiles.

We’d add here two more words – clarity and connection. Having visibility is great, but absolute clarity of the data and supply chain base is even better and when this is used to connect your company with your suppliers on one cloud platform – it makes for a more collaborative, synergistic working relationship.

6. Analytics

When analysing the leaders profiled in the Gartner report, we found a recurring theme of analytics too. This is clearly linked to the digital and data themes, but worth pulling out nonetheless. Great analytics gives you real-time information to cut into various ways and analyse as you strive for excellence in your supply chain.

We’ve also noted this in our own client base in the last 24 months. This is not just a demand for analytics, but also the blending and connection of data from multiple sources. Both owned and third party. This has led us to develop an entirely new module for the platform (called Connect) that brings together data to make it work better together and provide innovative dashboards and BI analytics.

7. Innovation

We know innovation is another one of those buzzwords that’s wildly overused but in this case, as we look to people driving the industry forwards – it’s warranted.

From the report, it’s clear that 2022’s supply chain leaders are innovating in a useful and practical way to implement new products, services and processes and they are spending their time and energy on technological and process innovations in order to get ahead.

They’re not relying on tweaks to an established system, they’re asking the big “what if” questions and redefining their supply chains accordingly.

8. Agility

The most apparent reflection over the last couple of years and one reiterated in the 2022 report is the sheer amount of disruption that supply chain teams have had to face. Just when one crisis seemed to disappear, level off or at least calm down a little… another one raised its head.

Such is the extent of supply chain disruptions, these problems have crept into the mainstream news and are massively affecting the commercial prospects of companies too.

This has meant that true leaders in the supply chain industry have been dedicated to making their business more agile than before – a practice tied into resilience-building but one that can also work contrary to this exercise. As leaders strive for agility, this may mean tricky decisions around stock holding and cash flow whereas the risk-averse members of the team want to stockpile as inflation rages and lockdowns and logistics threaten upstream supply.

When making these decisions, we’d refer back to our digital, data and analytics themes – as they are inevitably part of the same process and make these difficult calls easier for this forward-thinking list of pioneers.

9. Customer

The penultimate theme we discovered amongst this list of best practising supply chain superheroes was a relentless dedication to the customer and customer experience. We’ve been discussing the delicate interplay between supply chain and sales before, and this is echoed throughout this report.

This focus and dedication drive the leaders to their rightful position as elites in the game. They recognise the importance of customer-centricity and balancing the internal needs of the business with the ever-changing customer demands. The report intimates they are led by guiding principles that are around “making it work for the customer” and asking “why” continuously, whilst also matching this to capability, competency and commercial benefit.

10. Transformation

The final word we discovered was incredibly frequently used in the report was transformation. This can also be overused and we also know reinventing the wheel and change for the sake of change doesn’t often achieve results. What the report implies however is more that these supply chain innovators set a target, then they are willing and able to transform their teams, functions, roles, people and business to get to it. Sometimes hitting hurdles and other obstacles on the way, but never losing focus.

We also believe this is linked to digital and data too – as part of the cultural transformation that going digital requires. It’s far beyond using spreadsheets or BI tools more effectively, it cuts to the core of who you employ and how you develop them into the supply chain roles you’ll need over the next decade.

In Summary

Learning from the best in the business is always a great idea and although they may not operate in your specific industry, be a giant with an almost unfathomable budget or already have a significant market share we hope there has been more than enough food for thought in the above list.

We’ve tried to elevate these themes to make them identifiable and usable for your teams and within your business.

Are there any themes we’ve missed?

We’d love to hear from you about your supply chain challenges, as we believe SourceDogg can help you transform into a leader with our digital, data and analytics technology platform.

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