As robotic and human supply chain managers make new blended teams, don’t let your organisational design hold you back.

In recent times many business magazines have featured articles that focus on the future of work post-pandemic: what we’ll be doing, where we’ll be doing it and how to cope when the robots come. They talk about a shift to digital and new working cultures being a chance to reset the old system.

Well, exactly the same thing is taking place in the supply chain, on a micro-level. The old ways of working – X, Y, Z are out, and the new ways – artificial intelligence, automation and robotics are already in and making a significant impact.

In the future, when historians and economists look back over time, this digital transformation period may well be viewed as significant as the mechanisation that occurred at the end of the 18th century, first in agriculture and then in manufacturing. It’s that big. There is no turning back.

Coping with three core shifts in business

Three major activities are starting to gain traction, each requiring a blend of electronic and human resource and skills, with the lines between each being blurred (which is no bad thing at this early stage):

1. Autonomous decision making is replacing human actions, eliminating biases, speeding up response times and avoiding our emotional responses and biases.

2. Augmented decision making guided by humans is providing better supply chain insights, predictions, and recommendations whilst heightening the need for a broader range of softer, softer skills.

3. Horizontal and vertical supply chain planning activities are merging into one with ‘learn and adapt’ acting as an oscillating cycle of optimisation within and across the supply chain to meet faster response, higher growth, service, and cost efficiencies expectations to deliver hyper automated execution operating within self-steering supply chains involving humans where less is more.

Blending human and electronic skills

With all this taking shape, one of the critical requirements for success is threefold – first, getting the right leaders and managers in place, digi natives or those who get it, who can thrive in the newly adjusted environment. The second challenge is how to achieve the perfect balance between the best of human and electronic resources as we advance. The third is making sure your organisation is designed to manage these new teams and blurred lines effectively.

The new-look supply chain manager

The good news for those managers and planners who are suited to the new supply chain is that you can be liberated from involvement in day-to-day minutiae, data entry and tedious manual work. But you are going to have to finely hone your skills to be successful.

The traditional planner role required a vibrant mix of supply chain, financial and analytical expertise to understand the inherent trade-offs in today’s planning decisions.

But the focus is now on assessing, understanding, and improving system-generated plans, an essential new skill. A rapidly changing skills mix is required going forward, with some past skills becoming less important than others, but great opportunities for those willing to migrate to high value-adding roles and reshape their development plans.

A wide range of non-technical capabilities will also be required, including powerful influencing skills and a very high level of interpersonal skills given the cross-functional concurrent nature of the planning task.

Organisational design and reporting lines

As for achieving the perfect balance between human and electronic resources, current organisational designs are a blocker to this. We are still using our conventional organisation designs with vertical functions and clear reporting lines. These simply are not fit for purpose, as new resources will need to be set-up and blended, along with new ways of working in harmony that require more flexibility and fluidity.

The status quo can’t prevail, and it’s a topic that few companies are seriously addressing head-on. The added bonus of reconfiguring? It’s a win-win. Not only will your supply chain teams work better, but customers up and down the supply chain, who are demanding more responsive, digital, tailored interactions, will also benefit.

Supply chain re-set


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