Q1 economic data provides some important signposts for industry supply chain teams, especially in their increasing needs to boost agility and responsiveness to overall supply chain capabilities. By our lens, the data reflects that supply chain leaders must more than ever, be able to translate needs and requirements in the language of the C-suite and in the notions of desired business outcomes.
We have often admired Oracle CEO Mark Hurd’s ability to demonstrate how to effectively communicate in the language of the C-Suite. That includes his observations that in a global economic environment where economies grow 2-3 percent on average, and where investors expect or demand far higher returns, something must give. He describes CEO priorities as concurrently managing for growth as well as cost savings. Companies must take market-share from competitors or out-innovate the competition in products, added services or business capabilities, or risk the peril of being out-innovated by an industry disruptor. Hurd then provides meaningful evidence of how Cloud-based technology and applications can address the needs of top-line growth with lower overall costs.
Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported (Paid subscription required) that in the first quarter of 2017, the largest U.S. companies have been booking their strongest quarterly profits in five years, mostly from keeping a lid on spending for new projects, plants, and headcount. According to the WSJ, data on capital expenditures suggest that companies remain somewhat cautious on large expenditures. The report observes: “Profits at S&P 500 companies jumped an estimated 13.9 percent in the first quarter, growing nearly twice as fast as revenue.” While there is some notable industry exception such as declining growth and profitability for food and consumer staples providers, business leaders have been generally pleasing investors with attractive returns while being rather stingy on investments other than stock buybacks and added dividends.
As noted in a prior blog commentary, data related to U.S. GDP growth in and PMI activity in the first quarter adds some uncertainties for businesses. The report indicates that some businesses have reluctantly increased select hiring because of overt needs to increase overall productivity as top line revenues grow in environments that are generally lean in their ability to support added business needs.
Turning to hiring, the Labor Department reported that the unemployment rate in the United States dropped to a ten-year low of 4.4 percent while hourly earnings are up a mere 2.5 percent, on average, from a year earlier. Likewise, our view of various global PMI indices among key global regions such as the Eurozone and Asia indicate that manufacturing and supply chain employment is on the rise, albeit a gradual rise.
Thus, the job market is tightening, particularly for skills that are in high demand such as automated manufacturing and analytics based supply-chain decision-making. Supply chain leaders are fully aware of existing cross-functional talent need shortfalls and that challenge is likely to increase in the coming months.
Our sense is that the U.S. economy, and perhaps certain Eurozone economies are once again reaching a tight job market where in-demand people skills will be even more difficult to acquire without boosting compensation and benefits. Skilled employees will quickly understand their added worth in a tightened labor market. For emerging and mid-market manufacturers and services providers who must always operate on lean budgets, the people impacts will be more magnified.
Industry supply chains are literally caught in the middle of these forces.
Pressures to meet the needs of digital process transformation and the online Omni-channel environment remain unabated. The quest for added supply chain cost savings continues across many industry sectors. Those pressures are passed along to suppliers and services providers across multiple tiers of the supply chain with the result that agility or responsiveness to new business opportunities or for product and process innovation are hampered across the product value chain.
In many cases, legacy processes and backbone systems have not changed since the era of client-server computing and point-to-point integration of transactions and data. The result has been more augmented processes and added spreadsheets to support needs for quicker decision-making demanded by the business. IT is now under enormous pressure to reduce infrastructure and data integration costs, because of these same business forces. Supply chain teams are likewise losing resources that were supporting the various patchwork processes.
Something must give and we believe many supply chain leaders know it.
Communicating the Language of C-Suite
Communicating in the language of the C-Suite implies advocating plans for the supply chain to support business priorities and desired outcomes, including supporting top-line revenue growth while continuing to reduce costs and improve productivity and timely decision-making.
The forces of digital transformation are twofold. First, transformation leads to meeting changing customer needs and expectations as well as added areas to support top-line revenue growth. Second, digital transformation provides supply chains the ability to leverage advanced Cloud-based computing and technologies that avoid needs for major legacy system upgrades that risk major business disruption. Cloud adoption places the burden of any added or changed IT infrastructure, data security and systems growth needs on the Cloud services provider. The result can be a more predictable recurring operational cost line on the budget with the ability to leverage needs for digital transformation along with needs to support required people productivity needs.
The IMF recently increased its forecast of global growth to 3.5 percent citing building momentum for the Eurozone, China, and the United States. If that occurs, businesses will be under the gun to again boost shareholder returns, take maximum advantage of added growth opportunities while continuing to boost productivity and cost savings.
Now is the time to advocate supply chain process, technology and people needs in the vernacular of the C-Suite. It requires a twofold agenda for helping the business to increase revenue and customer growth while better controlling costs and worker productivity. It is also about enabling smarter, more informed, and timely decision-making prediacted on anticipating market and customer needs.
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