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The current state of international trade has only added to the chaotic and unpredictable nature of supply chains. This is the reality for many industries, and leaders who hope to stay competitive must adapt—quickly.

In healthcare, for instance, institutional buyers purchase steel products such as bedpans, trays and carts. These buyers traditionally get steel goods from suppliers in China at significantly reduced prices—thanks to high purchase volumes—compared with the steel products bought by smaller organizations or sourced from North American manufacturers. New tariffs on Chinese goods, however, have shaken things up and prompted buyers to re-evaluate their strategies.

Automation and other game-changing technologies are also shaping modern supply chain management. While technological innovations were once limited to tasks like negotiating better shipping rates, savvy supply chain leaders must now consider technology’s long-term implications and how those innovations can have profound effects on their operations.

Confronting Change Effectively

Global supply chain managers have several tools at their disposal for streamlining operations. But tools are useless without someone to use them, and leaders must be agile and innovative enough to integrate these methods into their supply chains.

Consider blockchain, which IBM is using to increase food chain and supply chain transparency. The company recently unveiled IBM Food Trust, a blockchain-based network that allows food supply companies to share data free of charge.

Evolving supply chain expectations necessitate new levels of transparency, and blockchain is one of many burgeoning technologies that leaders will need to leverage to respond effectively to society’s shifting needs. Another such avenue of change is enhanced data and analytics. In fact, 50 percent of supply chain organizations surveyed by Digitalist Magazine ranked data and analytics above the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence as the primary source of change in the industry.

With increased worldwide uncertainty, global supply chain managers must take steps to build systems that can be responsive to change. This worldview goes beyond just having the latest technology; it means maintaining a vision for how an organization can be future-proof.

The Qualities of Effective Supply Chain Leaders

Prudent application of business principles to the supply chain can yield positive results, yet many companies still use outdated management models instead of embracing lean management strategies. Successful innovators among supply chain leaders will instead evolve by embodying these four traits:

Technological fluency: In one GEODIS study, 70 percent of supply chain professionals described their operations as “very” or “extremely” complex. Supply chains are more complex than ever before, which means leaders must focus on improving their domestic supply chain practices.

Gaining a clearer understanding of IT and its benefits is one way to create clarity. Although supply chains essentially are all about people, those people are using technology to get the job done. For that reason, companies should stay up-to-date on the industry’s product options around IT and automation and should understand how best to leverage them.

Short- and long-term focus on the bottom line: A nuanced understanding of technology should be complemented by a clearer idea of a business’ cost to serve. Whether they are running operations or overseeing buying practices (or even automation upgrades), leaders must ask themselves how every decision will affect their bottom line.

That question should not solely focus on earnings in six months or a year. Leaders should look beyond that window to position their supply chains for shifts that could come five or 10 years down the line. In such a rapidly changing environment, a proactive approach will ensure their companies are ready to pivot when it matters most.

Willingness to delegate: Leaders should not assume they have to shoulder their missions alone. Working closely with a team is the most effective way to get the critical insights necessary to make a difference. The ability to direct, manage, influence and inspire the right people can help leaders build teams that will be responsive to modern supply chain challenges.

Because technology is so integral to supply chains, put together a team in which each member has a specific area of expertise. This team should include people who are investigating blockchain, attending AI conferences, or finding ways to integrate new technology within the company culture. Team members should embrace new technologies and go out of their way to spread this enthusiasm throughout the organization.

Experience managing projects, negotiating, and collaborating: Successful leaders should have project management acumen and the skills to negotiate for resources and budgets—including a high degree of personal organization and a pre-emptive approach to managing risks. Leaders must be willing (and able) to negotiate internally and externally for resources or an expanded budget.

Along these lines, leaders also should be willing to cooperate with partners for data. Considering data is the fuel that powers so many advances in supply chains, this collaboration should be a win-win scenario for all parties. Leaders who embrace supply chain management advances—technological or operational—will be positioned to prosper despite any transformations the market might undergo.

These tips can help leaders take care of their supply chains, but they must start now. As the industry and the world surrounding it become increasingly fluid, anticipating these shifts early can keep your supply chain relevant and optimal for years to come.

Greg MacNeill is the senior vice president of Worldwide Sales at TECSYS, an enterprise supply chain platform and solution provider. Possessing a wealth of knowledge in the areas of supply chain best practice, enterprise logistics software and supply chain technology, MacNeill uses his decades of experience to craft pragmatic solutions to complex supply chain challenges that enable—and empower—his customers.