Supply Chains of 2021: What could possibly go wrong?
When we were putting together 2020 predictions, nobody could have foreseen the events which have unfolded. This year has been defined by COVID-19 and its various disruptions. For people and businesses alike, it has been one of the most challenging and unpredictable years in many of our lifetimes.
From a supply chain point of view, we have seen immense disruption. When lockdown measures were at their most extreme, we witnessed closure of manufacturing facilities, distribution centres, ports, and retail stores. We also faced shortages of things we often take for granted, such as toilet paper and basic food such as pasta and rice. On a national level, the repercussions are set to be huge. Even without considering the costs of new lockdowns, the Office for Budget Responsibility has reported that the . Prior to the pandemic, this figure was estimated to be £55 billion.
Going into 2021, many business leaders will be thinking: what else could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately, if 2020 has shown us anything, it’s that disruptions can come when you least expect them. For 2021, the focus must be on preparing for the unpredictable and strengthening supply chains across the globe. So, without further ado, what can we expect to see in 2021?
Rising to the top of the business agenda
Until 2020, supply chain was a business function which largely operated in the background, receiving very little attention in either the national media or people’s day-to-day lives. Deliveries would arrive as expected and everything would run like clockwork, bar the occasional delay.
However, the old adage: ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’ rang true in 2020. National lockdowns and social distancing measures exposed serious weak points in the supply chain, causing huge delays and disruptions which affected people’s daily lives.
Owing to this, people and businesses alike are paying much more attention to the supply chain. In the business community, mentions of the supply chain have shot up dramatically. From January to May 2020 supply chain disruption was mentioned in the earnings calls of the world’s 2,000 largest firms. This is compared to 23,000 in the same period last year.
What this means is that supply chain has become a more important topic for the C-suite and the board rooms. In 2021, the supply chain will take centre stage on the business agenda.
Same risk, better resiliency
Until an effective vaccine is discovered, disruptions caused by COVID-19 will continue into 2021. While there have been some predictions about when a vaccine might be available, in truth, we cannot be 100 per cent certain. One thing we can guarantee, though, is that, whether it’s COVID-19, Brexit’ or other geopolitical tensions, there will always be disruptions in this never normal world we inhabit.
As a result, the level of risk in 2021 will remain elevated and will be part of the new normal. What I anticipate will change is businesses’ resiliency to these risks and disruptions. CFOs are taking an increased interest in how supply chains can support business growth and reduce financial risk. The financial implications of supply chain disruption or inefficiency can be huge, with .
To manage this risk and improve efficiency within the supply chain, uptake of technology will undoubtably accelerate and as such many organizations large and small are accelerating their digital journey. Where technology such as AI, machine learning and digital twin was once seen as a ‘nice-to-have’, it is now essential to set the winners apart, a theme that was highlighted in a . To become truly resilient in the supply chain, optionality is key. Using a supply chain digital twin, which acts as a virtual representation of a business’ supply chain, businesses can model a wide range of possibilities to ensure they can assess and prepare for any disruption they can imagine. Probabilistic models and simulation technology tied to financials will play a pivotal role.
One industry where improvements will be imperative is healthcare and life sciences. This is an industry which is lagging behind others such as FMCG or High Tech in terms of supply chain technology adoption. Yet, it will be an industry the world is relying on more than ever in 2021. As the hopes for COVID-19 vaccine to be available in 2021 remain high, the vaccine makers in collaboration with governments and private entities will have to make sure that the vaccine can be accessible to most of the world’s population at the earliest. Besides this, disruptions caused by COVID-19 also elevated the weak links within the pharma supply chain in general. Unless there are vast improvements in 2021 and the digital adaptation for the industry is accelerated, this will prove immensely challenging.
More visible and sustainable supply chains
In 2020, we have seen a number of companies pledge to be carbon neutral by 2030. This will only be possible if businesses create shorter, more circular supply chains. Currently, one of the greatest contributors to air pollution and CO2 emissions is transportation, which makes up almost a quarter of global CO2 emissions. Yet, only 30% of companies are currently incorporating sustainability into their supply chain decisions.
Speaking to businesses, there is more desire to achieve end-to-end visibility across the supply chain to identify vulnerabilities and risk. By achieving this as a first step, businesses will be able to more accurately identify inefficiencies which contribute to increased CO2 emissions, for example, excessively long transportation routes or sub-optimal warehouse locations.
With these insights, businesses can then utilize the latest technology to optimize their supply chains and ensure they are both shorter and more circular. Will 2021 be the year we see huge change on this front? Probably not, as it’s a long process and most businesses are just starting their journey. However, businesses will have to be showing consistently positive results by 2025 if they are going to convince investors and customers that they will reach their sustainability targets.
2020 has been the year where pre-existing supply chain rulebooks have been thrown out. 2021 will be the year where business models are adapted to the new ways of working. If businesses are to survive and succeed in a world where one disruption replaces the next, resilience and agility, powered by the latest supply chain technology, will be crucial.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.