Enterprises almost always look to external partners for consulting and technology acumen to accelerate and de-risk supply chain transformation journeys. But too often transformations fail to deliver on their full vision and business case. Frequently that’s because the “last mile” of the transformation—business process operations (BPO)—didn’t get fully activated. To address this, sophisticated transformation leaders are picking consulting partners who can deliver from advisory to operations, bringing deep operational expertise and capacity to truly forge a trusted partnership for the journey.

Consumers today expect a global supply chain to operate seamlessly, transparently and without fail. Supply chain leaders are yearning for real-time insights and a skilled workforce to design, build and run processes that automate and scale their operations and improve customer satisfaction.

However, the human capital in supply chain talent is both disrupted and scarce. A generational shift is under way. Senior leaders are retiring at an accelerated pace. A new generation of early professional hires seeks to work with data and AI, best-in-class SaaS solutions—not Excel and transactional ERP systems. It’s never been a more challenging time to attract and retain the best talent.

It’s time to stop looking at supply chain BPO providers as lower-cost FTE capacity, and instead look to them as strategic sources of diverse talent needed to navigate an increasingly complex operating environment. Supply chains now offer an opportunity to fuel strategic reinvention. The next generation of supply chains will do more than efficiently move material from one place to another; they’ll model and underpin resilient, agile and sustainable business operations.

Here are three keys to maximize the impact of supply chain business process operations:

1. Don’t try to excel at operating both the “old” and the “new” supply chains

Excellence in supply chain execution is all about the discipline of staying focused on the operations and metrics that drive the right outcomes. However, one of the biggest challenges in today’s complex world is the immense number of business model pivots that directly impact supply chains.

As an example, most auto makers currently need to grow and manage their internal combustion vehicle supply chains, while simultaneously standing up a whole new supply chain and supplier network for battery electric vehicles.

Additionally, many companies who previously built and shipped products as a one-time sale are now shifting to a product-as-a-service model, which requires a supply chain built to fulfill, maintain, upgrade, repair and redeploy products over a long lifecycle.

It’s nearly impossible for most supply chain organizations to excel at the “new” and the “old” at the same time. Leveraging external partners to provide capacity to accelerate the new, or to automate and take cost out of legacy operations, is essential to success. External partners can provide a better understanding of real-time operations, helping you prevent problems and respond with agility while supporting new business models.

2. Rethink the skills, capabilities, and sources of talent for supply chain success

Supply chain leaders face talent and human capacity challenges in just about every area of the business today. A recent IBM survey of chief supply chain officers (CSCOs) highlighted sentiment that as much as 20% of workforce capacity has “vanished” during pandemic disruptions. Automation used to be viewed as a threat to supply chain workforces. Now most CSCOs view the creation of intelligent workflows and automation as essential to closing the labor gap.

Bringing these new solutions to life will require enormously different skillsets, including facility with data science, visualizations, predictive analytics, machine learning and AI. Forward-thinking supply chain leaders are looking to BPO partners not only for transactional excellence, but also these next-generation skills and acumen combined with new levels of diversity and inclusiveness to co-create the talent bases needed to win in a new world.

3. De-risk your success by committing an operating partner to your outcomes

If there’s one critical mindset change emerging from the recent years of disruptions, it’s that the remit of supply chain goes beyond cost and is critical to delivering enterprise business outcomes and a differentiated customer experience that powers growth. When you couple those new imperatives with the continuing day-to-day challenges reverberating through supply chains, even the best supply chain leaders find themselves requiring more parties who share a commitment to their priorities and objectives. The right Supply Chain BPO partners will become part of the fabric of your business and measure their success by the outcomes they help achieve along the way.

Unlock a powerful partnership for the journey with IBM. Our practitioners bring the latest technology in AI, automation, hybrid cloud and digitization, along with experience unraveling the kind of digital change that crosses lines of business and transforms an enterprise.

For more insight about the future of supply chains, read the new thought leadership paper: Building intelligent, resilient and sustainable supply chains

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