In recent years, supply chains have become substantially more challenging to manage. Longer and increasingly interlinked physical flows reflect the rising complexity of product portfolios. Market volatility, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has elevated the need for agility and flexibility. And increased attention on the environmental impact of supply chains is triggering regionalization and the optimization of flows. As a result, companies and stakeholders have become more focused on supply-chain resilience.
The coronavirus pandemic has radically changed demand for products and services in every sector, while exposing points of weakness and fragility in global supply chains and service networks. At the same time, it has been striking how well and how fast many companies have adapted, achieving new levels of visibility, agility, productivity, and end-customer connectivity--while also preserving their cash. Leading retailers have boosted their e-commerce capabilities, delivering food to thousands of customers confined in their homes. One European healthcare provider abandoned its two-year plan for the rollout of e-health services and deployed the new remote treatment system to thousands of patients in only ten days. The virus has shown that, when they align around a common purpose, operations teams can achieve goals that would have been considered impossible before the crisis. As they plan their transition to the next normal, companies are looking for ways to maintain this sense of purpose and speed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put an enormous strain on global supply chains, at times halting manufacturing while shutting down airports and seaports, interrupting delivery of raw materials and finished goods. At the pandemic's onset, procurement departments switched to crisis-management mode to help companies alleviate disruptions, including sourcing personal protective gear for employees and helping smaller suppliers manage their cash flow. Based on our research and feedback from global procurement leaders, we believe that companies can continue to rely on procurement to recover from the current crisis, in much the same way that they used the function to recover from past crises. But for procurement to lead the way, companies will want to reimagine not just what the function does but also how it operates and which new capabilities it will need. Our analysis suggests that procurement could gain the most by focusing its strategic initiatives in five key areas: strengthening supply-chain resilience, zero-basing the design of category value-creation strategies, investing in supplier partnerships and innovation, accelerating adoption of digital and analytics, and transforming to an agile operating model.
Digitization has become the dominant theme in discussions about the future of supply chains. Wherever there is a problem, there is the promise of a technological solution, using some combination of artificial intelligence or machine learning, big data, automation, and the Internet of Things. On one side of the room, there is a dynamic and fast-growing cohort of technology vendors. When we studied around 300 supply-chain technology companies, we found that they make much of features like AI and machine learning in marketing materials. In the overwhelming majority of cases, however, these are either niche features or of unclear value to the end user.
Industrial companies expected 2020 to bring economic pressure from ongoing trade disputes, the aftermath of Brexit, automotive-industry challenges, and slowing demand in China. But none anticipated that the COVID-19 pandemic would throw the global economy, and their own operations, into an unprecedented crisis. As the coronavirus continues to spread, governments, healthcare authorities, and business leaders are focused on preserving lives and containing the pandemic. In parallel, they want to lessen the humanitarian toll by protecting the livelihoods of millions of workers who are now furloughed, unemployed, or in danger of losing their jobs. Within industrials, shocks to both supply and demand have significantly decreased production volumes or stopped operations. For instance, all major automotive OEMs in Europe have shut down their production networks, resulting in the breakdown of entire value chains.