Modern Supply Chain Managers Fill Many Critical Roles

MercuryGate Blog - Technology Category

What Does A Supply Chain Manager Do?

A supply chain manager can be thought of as a company linchpin. Managers help businesses increase efficiencies, to align with the accelerating pace of modern-day business processes. 

A supply chain manager’s duties and responsibilities involve developing and managing the overall supply chain and logistics strategy for an organization. As well, managers need positive external-facing appearances, helping to develop relationships with vendors and distributors.

What is a Digital Supply Chain?

The term “digital supply chain” refers to a digital ecosystem. Companies use these ecosystem to distribute goods, maximize their supply chain efficiency, and grow profitability.

Challenges Faces Of Modern Supply Chain Managers

Supply chain managers must have at least a fundamental understanding of a company’s IT infrastructure. Common systems managers should know include warehouse management systems (WMS), transportation management systems (TMS), and other enterprise management systems. And, most managers should understand how each of these systems integrate with the organization’s enterprise resource planning system (ERP).

Market dynamics continuously change within the digital supply chain field. Each of these changes has an effect on the supply chain manager’s roles and responsibilities. These changes can include:
  • Increasing velocity of technological change
  • Growing amounts of big data to analyze
  • A widening talent gap
  • Intensifying pressure to contribute to the business
To offset these changes managers needed to adapt. Some may have advanced their skills by learning new operating systems. Some dive head-strong into the change in order to better manage it. While others have adapted the resources they surround themselves with. Let’s look at the roles modern supply chain managers have evolved into to conquer their changing landscape.
Since the number of available supply chain management careers are outpacing the number of trained professionals. Today’s supply chain managers now have to wear more hats than ever.

As well, the industry is seeing a sea of change. To survive, managers need to stay on top of transportation industry trends, adapt to new advancements, and evolve their skills. So they’ll be prepared for the next big industry innovation.

The Critical Roles Supply Chain Manager Need to Fill

The Technologist
Many supply chain processes still rely on manual workflows (management via spreadsheets). But, change is coming. The age of Digital transformation has started to grow in every facet of today’s business. Even in the manually driven process world like supply chain management and logistics.
In the 2017 MHI Annual Industry Report, 80 percent of supply chain professionals surveyed believe a digital supply chain methodology to be the predominant model within the next five years. While, 16 percent already think the era of the digital supply chain is here.
Looking forward, into a not too distant future, technical acumen will become increasingly important. Some trends that today’s supply chain managers are keeping a close eye on include:
  1. Advanced robotics
  2. Internet of Things (IoT)
  3. Artificial intelligence (AI)
  4. Big data mining
  5. Predictive analytics
Right now, the future is being shaped by these disruptive technologies. Supply chain managers need to harness, optimize, and tilt them to their advantage. Manager’s skills must also keep pace with these emerging trends.
The Champion of Change
The 2016 SCM World Survey lists change management as the fourth most important skill every supply chain executive should own. Of the 1,400 supply chain practitioners surveyed, change management was listed behind communication, foundational knowledge, and business strategy.
Supply chain managers know managing change isn’t always easy, but it is a critical part of the job. Being a supply chain manager means being able to take new developments in stride. Most modern managers are required to look at the business in a more strategic way. Focusing on strategies for:
  1. Understanding how to work with their team(s) to shift resources.
  2. Organizing and galvanize people behind the new processes.
  3. Meeting new challenges head-on.
New and evolving market dynamics affect supply chains in different ways every day, making change the only constant.
The era of digital disruption will bring about sweeping changes to most logistics departments across organizations. But, it’s not the only driver. Supply chain managers must also understand and manage new regulations, negotiate consumer demands, navigate organizational initiatives, and analyze the emergence of new competition from non-traditional sources.
The Data Miner
The modern supply chain manager is swimming in data. Which means it’s up to the manager to capture the right data, analyze it, and interpret it. So any insights captured from the analysis can be gleaned for innovative opportunities to drive the business forward.
Experienced supply chain managers are expected to know what types of data are available to them. And, they should know how to build data-driven models for individual business challenges.
As predictive analytics and artificial intelligence become more mainstream, the demand for data capture and analysis skills will increase. A 2016 survey by Deloitte states organizations expect analytics importance in supply chain to increase by 67 percent.
These changes are driving the need for seasoned supply chain professionals to be more data centric. And, even more so in organizations where digital transformation is already underway.
The Recruiter
As the cliché goes, “people are our greatest asset.” Nowhere is this more true than in the supply chain and logistics fields. Fields which are experiencing an increasing scarcity of skilled workers to support them.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates jobs within the logistics industry will grow 7 percent between 2016 and 2026. As job opportunities grow, the fact is that more than 60 million Baby Boomers will exit the workforce by 2025. And only 40 million new entrants will join the workforce to take their place.
The building disparity is creating a crunch within most organizations. Supply chain managers are asked to adopt an aggressive recruitment mentality. The goal being to attract talented new support staff with the right skillset. This often means networking within trade organizations or scouring university programs for potential recruits. But, the battle for talent is only beginning. The result is a rise in competition between organizations trying to fill open positions.
The Coach
A 2016 Deloitte Survey states, 62 percent of organizations say their teams lack the skills required to deliver on their procurement strategy effectively. To be an accomplished manager means helping your team become successful.
Even after building an all star roster of supply chain talent, managers must continue to grow their employees skills. Good managers will assess the team member’s individual strengths and weaknesses. To discover areas for improvement for the employee. Great managers, those we refer to as coaches will have a strong grasp of the industry and business they’re in. These coaches can then provide employees with an overall vision to follow when building skills.
The Savvy Negotiator
Effective negotiation skills have long been at the core of the supply chain management profession. Supply chain managers live on their strong negotiation skills.
Some managers require this skill when being competitive amongst peers for resource or budget allocations. As a data miner we discussed how a manager needs to be able to disseminate large amounts of data. As a savvy negotiator the manager must be able to use this data within compelling business cases. A solid business case backed by accurate data can be the tipping point to securing those much needed resources.
Being a successful negotiator means being an effective communicator. You need to have the ability to influence customers and suppliers alike. Negotiating the best terms or rates help ensure profitability, and secure commercial agreements.
As one supply chain professional said, negotiation is one skill that can’t be automated. Honing negotiation skills takes time, practice, and feedback.


Supply chain management professionals need a wide assembly of skills and talents to be successful. They need to be confident. But, at their core all great supply chain manager should have the ability to communicate effectively. So as managers adapt to new roles they can become strong negotiators, insightful data minors, gifted recruiters, and amazing coaches.

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