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IBM survey: COVID-19 has refocused executives on digitization and supply chain resiliency

Report also finds that employees are looking for more active wellness support from their employers

A new survey from IBM has found that COVID-19 has refocused executives’ attention on using data to build a resilient supply chain. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The COVID-19 pandemice has convinced many supply chain executives of one thing: they need to accept change.

A recent survey of over 3,800 C-suite executives across 22 industries in 20 countries found that 66% of executives said they have completed technology initiatives that had previously encountered resistance. The reason, they said, is the lessons they have learned, and continue to learn, from COVID-19.

“For many the pandemic has knocked down previous barriers to digital transformation, and leaders are increasingly relying on technology for mission-critical aspects of their enterprise operations,” said Mark Foster, senior vice president, IBM Services, which conducted the survey. “But looking ahead, leaders need to redouble their focus on their people as well as the workflows and technology infrastructure that enable them – we can’t underestimate the power of empathetic leadership to drive employees’ confidence, effectiveness and well-being amid disruption.”

IBM found that executives are facing a number of issues due to the pandemic and focusing on any single issue at this time is difficult. Most, however, said they plan to prioritize internal and operational capabilities such as workforce skills and flexibility.

More than two-and-one-half times as many executives said they plan to prioritize supply chain resiliency over the next two years as compared to two years ago.

The IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) conducted the study, “COVID-19 and the Future of Business.”

The increasing resiliency and digitization of the supply chain are main focuses of the survey. Respondents highlight digital transformation (62% of those surveyed) and enterprise agility (87%) as top concerns. Those numbers are up from under 20% and 40% two years ago. Those executives interested in adopting cloud technology increased 20% from two years ago, with a particular focus on customer engagement and marketing.

“Leaders are expecting more from their transformation initiatives,” the report noted. “They identify competitiveness and workforce resilience as the benefits they most want from ongoing digital transformation. Transformation is also accelerating among a majority of organizations. But strikingly, greater focus on transformation seems to be at the expense of customer relationships and partnering opportunities.”

By 2022, 94% of executives surveyed plan to participate in a platform-based business model with increased participation in ecosystems and partner networks. Technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), automation and cybersecurity are front of mind right now for executives.

AI prioritization is up 20 percentage points from 2018 and cybersecurity interest has more than doubled to 76% of respondents making it a priority. A full 60% of respondents say they have accelerated process automation.

There is a disconnect between employers and employees, though, when it comes to job training and wellness. Among executives, 74% believe they have been helping employees learn the skills needed to work in new ways, but just 38% of employees agree. Additionally, 80% of executives surveyed said they are supporting the physical and emotional health of their workforce, while just 46% of employees surveyed feel that support.

In fact, the survey found that employees are placing greater expectations on employers to “take an active role in supporting their physical and emotional health as well as the skills they need to work in new ways.”

“To address this gap, IBM recommends executives place deeper focus on their people, putting employees’ end-to-end well-being first,” the report said. “Empathetic leaders who encourage personal accountability and support employees to work in self-directed squads that apply design thinking, agile principles and DevOps tools and techniques can be beneficial. Organizations should also think about adopting a holistic, multi-modal model of skills development to help employees develop both the behavioral and technical skills required to work in the new normal and foster a culture of continuous learning.”

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected]