Unleashing the potential of the Supply Chain

In June this year I had the opportunity to work with SAPICS, the Supply Chain Association of South Africa. I facilitated a two day executive summit for 30 senior Supply Chain leaders and delivered a key note address to ~1000 supply chain professionals at their annual convention. What an inspiring, humbling and eye-opening experience!

Having lead sizeable supply chain organisations in the oil industry across Southern Africa and NW Europe, I have personally experienced the impact the supply chain discipline can have on a business’s strategy and results. But frustratingly, the more I work with senior executive teams around the world, the more I see how ‘under-leveraged’ the supply chain is!

It starts with a simple matter of definition. Speak to 10 executives, and you’ll get 10 different views on what the supply chain actually does. In my opinion, the Supply Chain is the life blood of the modern organisation. Its core purpose is quite simply to connect your customers with your products. To do this, the Supply Chain touches every part of your organisation —- from sales to operations, procurement to finance and human resources, and everything in-between. Doing this well is a source of significant competitive advantage – enabling distinctive differentiation and the repeated delight of customers.

A supply chain leaders job is never done. It is a “roll your sleeves up”, 24/7, fast moving environment that demands hard work and tenacity. Supply chain leaders often need to be right ‘in the trenches’, and as a result their voices are often muted in the executive corridors. It is a business function deeply entrenched in the real world. Its people are active externally every day, directly engaging your customers, suppliers and communities. They experience the mood of the economy first-hand, detecting the needs of the market, and sensing business and societal trends early in their development. As a result, they are a rich source of intelligence and insight essential to business strategy and decision-making and therefore should be a critical player at the executive table.

I truly believe, that business success is determined by being both ‘Smart’ and ‘Healthy’ at the same time. It is not enough to just be ‘Smart’ by investing in strategy papers, financial systems, IT, processes, policies, infrastructure etc, because I am pretty sure your competitors are doing this too. What makes the Smart investments really come to life is much more around the ‘Healthy’ stuff – the Why and How we do things. It takes away the distractions of politics, silos and confusion by creating clarity of purpose, priorities, roles and behaviours.

Given the supply chain often employs the vast majority of staff in most organisations, it is a vital contributor to developing a Smart and Healthy culture in an organisation. With the diversity of activities it undertakes, it also offers a wealth of skill and talent to the wider business that is often underestimated ranging from operational know-how and technical expertise to analytical rigour, scenario planning, commercial understanding and negotiating prowess. When fully empowered, the supply chain becomes the organizational glue that drives excellence, innovation, and superior returns.

As the economic and political environment becomes more challenging, and the business and technological world more volatile, the more important the Supply Chain function and its leaders are to the sustainable success of an organisation.

Through SAPICS I got to meet some amazing supply chain people. I was struck by the depth of their experience and professionalism, their creative thinking and their real desire to stimulate growth on the continent.

The opportunity is to unleash their potential!

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