Will digital supply chain transformation replace skilled labour or redefine it?

By Jolyon Austin, EY Partner and Matthew Robinson, EY Director, Supply Chain Transformation.

Few people doubt that technology will continue to transform supply chain management as key tasks are increasingly automated and enhanced by robotics, artificial intelligence and advanced analytics.

What also seems certain is that these technologies will bring major advantages, not only in terms of greater efficiencies but also by providing a single, ‘real-time’ view that can improve business forecasting and decision making.

What is altogether less certain is how these changes will impact the humans involved, the supply chain professionals. Will their skills be replaced by automation, or will humans play a key role in creating and driving the future models? As well as affecting the morale of individuals and teams worried about their future, this uncertainty also poses managers with a fundamental question: what type of people and skills will they need to drive transformation and reap the competitive advantages it will undoubtedly offer?

We recently published a report* looking at this key question in detail and in it we conclude that, rather than replacing humans, new technology will enable people to focus on more strategic decisions and advanced operations. However, the move to a future-fit supply chain model is going to open up a major and structural skills gap that needs to be addressed urgently.

The four talent personas

To help articulate and frame this challenge, we have identified the four personas that will support successful transformation:

The innovator drives new opportunities and sales and brings a commercial lens to the business. The innovator will work with the customer-facing side of the organisation as well as R&D and operations to define the right service portfolio for target customer segments and draw out different ideas for the deployment of emerging technologies.

The orchestrator drives internal and external collaboration and unlocks the opportunities for improvement that emerging technologies enable. The orchestrator has a deep understanding of business operations and external partners and makes key business decisions on how to utilise technology, based on their understanding of interdependencies, cause and effect.

The technologist works to design, configure, implement and maintain the emerging technologies. By being aware of their applications, the technologist will enable the rapid integration of new supply chain partners and reconfigure machine learning algorithms to incorporate new demand data.

The analyst has the conceptual analysis skills to apply a logical, systematic perspective and the process analysis skills to identify gaps that could be filled by technology or changes to the business’ approach. Using advanced analytics, the analyst will be able to model different scenarios to help drive business decisions.

It’s important to note that rather than each persona being an individual, it’s far more likely that the supply chain professionals of the future will have a mix of two or more of these personas – and getting the right mix in your team will be vital to success.

Where do I start?

In the short term, start off by considering which roles are critical to the success of your supply chain. Understand the capabilities and experience needed to succeed in these roles and the strength of your existing talent pipeline. The human ability to harness and innovate with technology in an ever-evolving ecosystem will be at the centre of your supply chain transformation.

In the long term, you will need to design and implement a new supply chain operating model that is fit for the future, enables evolution and sets the framework within which the four personas described earlier will operate. This will need to be integrated with your digital roadmap and the core technologies that will form the future of your supply chain. As part of this process consider how the supply chain can drive synergies both internally and externally and how to best leverage outsourcing and the shared economy.

Looking ahead

Going back to the question at the start of this blog, it seems clear that supply chain skills will be redefined rather than replaced. Our experience helping organisations respond to the disruptive forces affecting supply chains means we can help you with this redefining process – and in doing so discover the opportunities that tomorrow’s supply chain professionals will be able to unlock.


To find out more visit our website.

Follow our blog

Click here  to sign up to our blog series.