Supply chain managers: Functional experts today, innovative networkers tomorrow?

Much has been written about the technical aspects of supply chain management: how to optimise safety stock, logistics, warehouse design, partners in the chain, and so on. But what about the supply chain organisation and the role and position of the supply chain manager?

To find out how companies view their supply chain function today – and how this vital function is evolving into the future – Vlerick and research partners Möbius and Hudson conducted a survey of nearly 340 supply chain practitioners from a variety of industries.

Goals of the study

The researchers investigated how companies position their supply chain function and the role and responsibilities of the supply chain manager. Some of the fundamental questions they sought answers to included:

  • How does supply chain management fit within the overall organisational structure?
  • What are the supply chain manager’s typical responsibilities?
  • Who fulfils this role, and what skill set does he or she need?

Key findings for practitioners

Overall, supply chain managers are in the midst of an evolution from being experts in the technical aspects of the function towards a role that includes innovation and collaborative networking as important competencies.

Regarding the function itself: supply chain management has developed from an operational logistics function to a tactical – or even strategic – function with a strong emphasis on planning, thus linking demand to supply. Today, many companies are still focusing on the distribution aspects of their supply chain; whereas the researchers foresee that this view will need to widen into an end-to-end approach towards supply chain management.

As for the supply chain manager: clearly, he/she is an expert who excels in analysing and solving complex problems. Still, in the future these skills and competencies will have to be supplemented by creativity and innovation to design sustainable supply chain processes.

In addition, although the supply chain manager is in a key position for achieving great customer service, he or she is rarely involved in the interaction with customers. Therefore, the supply chain manager of the future should develop networking and collaborative skills in order to play a key role in building and maintaining collaborative relationships with all partners in the chain.

Source:Supply chain managers: functional experts today, innovative networkers tomorrow?” by professor Ann Vereecke and researcher Jasmijn Verbrigghe at Vlerick Business School, together with Danny Boeykens (Möbius) and Sofie Van Eemeren Hudson). This paper synthesises some of the results of a research project on supply chain organisation conducted by Vlerick Business School in collaboration with Möbius and Hudson.

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