Rising role of the Chief Supply Chain Officer

Recent high-profile events – from COVID-19 to the Suez Canal debacle – have brought the role of Chief Supply Chain Officer (CSCO) into the spotlight, as organisations have had to overcome unprecedented disruption. The supply chain is the lifeline of any organisation, so it’s no surprise that more and more enterprises are pursuing supply chain sustainability and resilience. As this trend continues, we will only see the role of the CSCO grow.

Similar to the roles of Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Diversity Officer (CDO), the CSCO title has existed within certain sectors for quite some time, but these recent challenges have put a newfound importance on the role, and its influence on the rest of the C-suite and entire organisation. And like the CIO and CDO roles, companies looking to appoint a CSCO will need to do more than just check the box and claim success. In some ways, the CSCO role may be even more important, as it requires cross-functional oversight and mobilisation power across the entire organisation to enable true supply chain traceability.

In a way, the CSCO will sit both within and above the traditional C-suite. Baseline responsibilities will focus on improving supply chain processes, such as optimising routine procedures, automating repetitive manual work and bridging siloed systems. But going a step beyond the day-to-day, CSCOs will be tasked with the exceptional responsibility of anticipating, mitigating and managing disruptions, including improving exceptionbased processes that require the mobilisation of crossfunctional teams to meet short-term deliverables and ensure supply chain resilience.

To achieve the full value of the CSCO role, companies should keep three key elements in mind:

Strategic leadership. To some extent, this role will have to be elevated above the traditional C-suite to oversee all components of the business. Because the supply chain has touchpoints in so many areas, the CSCO will oversee all the ripple effects across programmes and teams, ranging from procurement, purchasing, sourcing and logistics to legal, manufacturing, finance and product development. The CSCO will also play a role in change management, as it fundamentally requires asking people to approach things differently. In this way, the CSCO will play a strategic role not just within supply chain operations, but across the business as a whole.

Technology expertise. With the responsibility of working across the organisation and breaking down silos, the CSCO will need domain knowledge of tools and systems. The role will be a stakeholder in how the business buys and implements new technology to coordinate the use of data and cross-functional team collaboration. In an effort to prepare for the unknown, many companies will continue to embrace agile technology such as low-code/no-code, and the CSCO must be a leader in the standardisation of common technology platforms that enable enterprise flexibility while providing the ability to address potential issues at ‘the edge’ or ‘last mile’.

Culture fit. Ultimately, the CSCO role is one centred around change management, as it fundamentally requires the rethinking of operations across the organisation. The CSCO will need to possess the ability to mobilise people and encourage innovation, rather than staying comfortable with antiquated technology and procedures. Leading by example and working alongside other C-suite roles, the CSCO will also shape a vision for the future, promoting continuousimprovements to push the culture toward innovation.

The CSCO role has the opportunity to be extremely valuable to businesses, particularly in the wake of the large-scale disruptions we’ve seen in recent years. Organisations that invest in the role and go beyond ‘checking the box’ will gain increased visibility not just across supply chain operations, but throughout the business. This visibility will be key not just for long-term supply chain sustainability and resilience, but for any organisation to be truly collaborative in the pursuit of innovation.