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Rethinking Your Supply Chain: 2024 Gartner Supply Chain Symposium/Xpo Recap

The Clarkston team recently attended the Gartner Supply Chain Symposium/Xpo earlier this Month, where supply chain professionals gathered to discuss how “top supply chain organizations navigate through the turbulence by solving present-day issues and positioning themselves for long-term success.” We continue to hear discussions surrounding how supply chain leaders and organizations are navigating heightened consumer expectations, ongoing geopolitical and economic uncertainty, the increased presence of AI/ML, talent burnout, and more. It was shared at the Symposium/Xpo that 90% of supply chain professionals are either in the middle of a transformation program or planning one in the next 12 months. So, if you’re a chief supply chain officer (CSO) or in a supply chain leadership position at your organization, what does that transformation look like, and how exactly are you rethinking your supply chain in today’s landscape to ensure long-term success?  

Rethinking Your Supply Chain: 5 Takeaways from the 2024 Gartner Supply Chain Symposium/Xpo  

Below, our team shares their top takeaways from the 2024 Gartner Supply Chain Symposium/Xpo: 

1. Supply chain’s role in business operations and crisis management.  

After a post-covid adjustment, which brought the supply chain into the C-suite, firms, with short-time memory, are beginning to shift their focus back to cost-cutting and looking to supply chain professionals to adjust their focus as well. It’s on supply chain professionals to remind their organizations of the critical roles the supply chain plays and ensure there’s a more balanced view away from cost cutting and toward “citadels of value” (discussed below). The idea here is that CSCOs could deliver multiple forms of value – not just cost cutting – to the organization with strategies that align with those values.

2. Supply chain management and the importance of adapting to uncertainty.

Supply chain leaders must balance competing demands by delivering multiple forms of value, not just cost savings. They can look to define and deliver other forms of value beyond just cost reduction, such as an improving the customer experience, increasing sustainability efforts, reducing or mitigating risk, maximizing innovation, and delivering profitable growth. All these actions can help organizations better prepare their supply chains to respond or adapt to future disruption. 

3. Move from resilient supply chains to antifragility.  

Nassim Taleb, in his book Antifragile, defines anti-fragility as embracing randomness and uncertainty to improve, not just resisting doubt, and staying the same. Anti-fragile systems gain value from uncertainty; fragile systems break down and resilient systems maintain the status quo while “rolling with the punches.” This same approach can be applied to moving from a “resilient” supply chain to an “anti-fragile” one. 

Supply chain leaders must evolve toward antifragility by focusing on redundancy, diversifying skills, and making quick decisions. While resilience allows organizations to withstand events, antifragility positions companies to win during crises. At Gartner, this was often referred to as “DRIVE.” Moving to DRIVE involves focusing on four areas of high reward, including: 

  1. Investing in multi-value contributions to create maximum impact 
  2. Creating opportunity from uncertainty 
  3. Designing simplicity through user-centered transformation – this means deliberately reducing complexity in transformations by designing processes, workflows, and tools to be easy to understand and execute from the user’s perspective. 
  4. Partnering humans with Artificial Intelligence (AI)/generative AI, where AI can be leveraged to allow humans to take on higher-level and higher-value tasks. 

4. Geopolitical events continue to impact supply chains. 

Every geopolitical issue is an intangible tax on a company’s supply chain. While economic cycles tend to be short, geopolitical cycles tend to be long; we’re in a down period, and this will not be solved in the short term. It was shared at the conference that often in geopolitics, there are  “boom” and “bust” cycles. Because bust cycles are often longer, we don’t necessarily think of them as bust cycles, but in reality, we’re now in a significant geopolitical recession for the first time in our lives, which means that supply chain professionals will be challenged with remaining mindful of the threats and opportunities present for their firms as world events unfold. There are three key drivers of this current down state:  

  • Since the end of the Cold War, Russia has been unable to realign with the West or integrate into NATO and or the UN. Being left alone, Russia has aligned with states like Iran and North Korea as a way to remain relevant.  
  • Conflict in the Middle East, amplified by the October 2023 events between Israel and Hamas, and escalating over the last few months, drives uncertainty across the region. 
  • Party division in the U.S. as the most powerful country has left the world uncertain, as each administration seems to take a different approach in geopolitics (Iran nuclear treaty, Paris accord, NATO, etc.) 

On a more positive note, India is super strong and will be the third-largest economy in the world by 2027. China and the U.S. are also in an all-time stable and positive diplomatic state. However, U.S. elections are extremely hard to predict, and the world is watching and anticipating what will unfold later this fall. These drivers and the continued geopolitical instability and uncertainty will undoubtedly continue to impact supply chain decisions for leaders across any industry. Consider all these geopolitical frictions as a tax to your supply chain. 

5. Generative AI continues to be a topic for both supply chain management and an opportunity to make strategic impact. 

According to Gartner, we’re at the top of an AI hype cycle that has come in waves since the dawn of computing; however, Generative AI is making its mark and should continue to stay at top of mind for supply chain leaders and organizations looking to make a strategic impact in the way they operate.  

At the Symposium/Xpo, it was shared that 60% of supply chain leaders are planning to implement Generative AI in the next year, committing 6% of their budgets to do so – this is on par with what we found in our 2024 CIO Survey Summary Report, as leaders across various functional areas, such as IT, continue to increase their allocated budgets into this innovative technology.  

However, as with any innovative technology, it must be strategically approached with caution and a set plan in mind, especially considering that Gartner research shows 54% of AI pilots ever make it to production. Of strategic importance is the use case of AI in forecasting, especially with the viability and tangible moves toward Planning as a Service (PaaS) methods. 

While at the peak of this AI hype cycle, the bets that companies make on AI technology stand a better chance of paying off if they’re well-vetted, designed, and supplemented/augmented with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) who are so critical to running the supply chain. 

6. The Importance of Change Management 

As supply chain leaders continue rethinking their supply chain and what their strategy may be –both now and in the years to come – it’s important that they first acknowledge the complexity of the change that’s in front of them and define their vision and objectives. From there, they can link those objectives to their overall strategy and make progress toward the larger goal.  

You can’t lose sight of the fact that, as with any organizational change, stakeholder resistance is often the biggest barrier for a transformation initiative. In order to mitigate this resistance and navigate the change, a strong organizational change management strategy should be in place. This includes analyzing your stakeholders, tailoring the change story, gaining buy-in from top to bottom, and engaging your teams in order to achieve a successful and sustainable transformation.   

Looking Ahead 

In the current environment, supply chain professionals will be challenged to balance the view of senior leaders beyond the traditional role of mere cost cutting by helping to prepare for the known and potential challenges just over the horizon. Technology investments and the implementation of AI and Machine Learning continue to draw a great deal of attention, and companies looking to implement these tools should carefully consider where they will add the most value by evaluating how they will be viewed as most valuable by their employees. 

Above all, as you rethink your supply chain strategy and look to the future, you must approach any initiative with a strategic plan in place. If you’re looking for guidance on navigating this journey as you rethink your supply chain and plan for the future, reach out to our team today. 

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Tags: Event Recap, Digital Supply Chain