Strategy & Leadership

Supply-Chain Evolution: A Strategic Perspective

April 09, 2021

Global, Europe, North America

Supply-chain sustainability and technological advances

April 09, 2021

Global, Europe, North America
Jeremy Kingsley

Senior manager, Policy & insights

Jeremy Kingsley is a senior manager at Economist Impact and regional practice lead for Technology & Society in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He leads a regional team of analysts and editors on policy research, consulting and thought leadership programmes exploring technological change and its impacts on society. Jeremy joined The Economist Group in 2017 from Nesta, the innovation foundation, where he oversaw the Challenges of Our Era research programme and design of challenge prizes. He previously edited Nesta's magazine, served as a contributing editor at WIRED, and has spent 12 years covering technology, innovation and business trends as a journalist, researcher and consultant for The Economist, The Economist Intelligence Unit, The Financial Times, Slate, WIRED Consulting and others. He holds a master’s degree in philosophy and economics from the London School of Economics, with distinction, and a first-class bachelor’s degree from Trinity College Dublin.

This report is the second in a two-part series exploring the impacts of supply-chain disruption—a new normal for businesses. The first report, The business costs of supply-chain disruption, explored how disruption has become more common and more costly than ever, in terms of both operational and reputational costs. Over half of the executives surveyed (54%) acknowledge that they must make significant changes in order to effectively manage supply-chain disruptions over the next five years. Fifty-one percent of executives also believe that they need greater visibility and control over their supply chains.

This report explores how these and accompanying trends—including a push towards greater supply-chain sustainability and transparency, and technological automation—are changing the supply-chain function within organisations. It unearths a strategic evolution that is underway in modern business, as supply-chain managers navigate evolving threats and opportunities.

The increased regularity and severity of disruptions have brought supply-chain operations to the top of the business agenda. With supply-chain management playing an expanded role in business, greater collaboration and strategic prioritisation are required.




  • Supply-chain leaders are seeking to become less siloed and more collaborative with other functions in the business, better integrating operations and decision-making. More than 70% of supply-chain executives surveyed by The EIU have increased their level of collaboration with their organisations’ strategy, operations, finance and information technology (IT) functions over the past three years, and expect this collaboration to continue increasing over the next three years.


  • Firms are working more closely with fewer suppliers, seeking high-quality and resilient relationships with key partners. Just under a third of executives (31%) report that their companies are cutting back on the number of suppliers. This allows them to work more closely with the suppliers they retain, both to increase the security of supplies and to increase suppliers’ involvement in meeting customer demands (for example, by involving them in product design).


  • Firms recognise the need for greater technical skills in their workforces in order to successfully digitise their supply chains. A third of the surveyed executives report that an understanding of business strategy and operations, the ability to communicate effectively and digital savviness are the most important skills for a supply-chain executive of the future.

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