A good strategy is one thing, actually implementing that strategy is quite another. Obviously, the parameters include good people, good leadership, a good HR system. But when it comes to the implementation itself, the past few decades have been a true roller coaster for the chief operating officer (COO) and his/her troops.
At the cradle of this roller coaster are some major trends. At an accelerating pace after the fall of the USSR, companies have started to look internationally for their purchasing and supply chains. Complex factors affect those decisions. Price matters, but so does quality of production, availability of raw materials, other production, and so on. For a few years now, however, the trend of internationalization has been halted: the trade relationship between China, the United States, European countries and Russia has come under increasing pressure.
Both this earlier expansion of the supply chain and the recent setback present COOs with major challenges. First it was ‘am I on the right track?’ Now it is also ‘what if the course I took no longer exists?’ Since 2020 this trend has been reinforced by the threat of pandemics, which can simply endanger companies' access to certain countries: a logistical nightmare.
The second major trend is that of digitalization. That is nothing new, of course. The letter was followed by the wire transfer and then by the fax and telephone. But with the arrival of the Internet combined with fast computers, this evolution has accelerated. ‘Digitalization’ is what we call it, and disruption: business models are changing so fast through digitalization and the rise of artificial intelligence that it is no longer a question of evolution but rather of revolution. It is up to the COO to keep up with this pace in the process of implementation.
This is a hell of a job because it means that such an implementation requires not only its own implementation strategy but also a great deal of entrepreneurship. After all, which IT infrastructure do you choose, does it have to be top of the line or perhaps cheaper than that used by the competition? Do you develop it yourself or do you outsource? Does the same hold for technological progress in production? What about marketing automation, robotization, warehousing, fulfilment and other logistics? How sustainable should your transport be? How local will production need to be?
The COO position may still be a position that, in the hierarchy, is just below the executive board, frequently in the executive committee (the ExCo), but, in terms of responsibilities, the position is not inferior to the top jobs of CEO and CFO.
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