Business management

Supply chains: are you fit for the future?

Why partnerships, collaboration and transparency are key to achieving supply chain visibility, managing risks, and seizing opportunities.

The power of partnership

The most successful businesses today understand that they do not operate in a vacuum – their growth and prosperity is clearly linked to their partners up and down the value chain. Our latest Future Fit research identifies a number of businesses laser-focused on those relationships – and outperforming their competitors as a result.


Our research identifies the leaders on supply chain management:

  • More than half of Future Fit businesses regularly collaborate with suppliers 
  • A third of Future Fit businesses work with customers on improvements to products and services, or on strategic decision making 
  • More than one third have full visibility of their supply chain or are close to achieving it already 
  • Future Fit businesses are 50% more likely to have extensively implemented supply chain risk modelling, compared with the average we surveyed.


“It’s possible to run your business in a way where you treat every sale and purchase as a transaction to be considered in isolation, but companies that operate that way haven’t tended to fare the best,” says Jonathan Barrow, our Head of National Sectors. 

The most successful businesses understand their value chains and they’re determined to work more collaboratively.

Jonathan Barrow
Head of National Sectors

Our research, based on a survey of 1,000 UK businesses across 10 sectors, reflects this view, highlighting the ability to work with an extended value chain as one of four crucial pillars on which Future Fit businesses depend (alongside sustainability, tech and innovation, and talent). 

Future Fit businesses actively want to work with their partners – particularly their suppliers, but also their customers.

This approach is paying off. Almost half the Future Fit businesses in our research (45%) say they have delivered significant growth over the past 12 months, more than twice as many as their peers.

How to define value chain success

Future Fit businesses in this regard are defined by the work they have done to map their supply chains – not just their direct suppliers, but also their extended chains. More than a third of businesses (37%) say they already have full visibility of their entire supply chain, across all its tiers, or will reach this point within the next 12 months. 

Other businesses in the research, by contrast, expect it to take much longer for them to secure such visibility.

This is important in multiple ways, explains Jonathan. “During the supply chain disruption of recent years, it was companies that really understood their partners and their relationships that were able to find solutions to their problems,” he points out. Looking to the future, partnership also drives innovation.

When you can see how your supply chain is innovating, and where your partners are investing, you can incorporate that into your own products and services. That partnership drives value through the chain.

Jonathan Barrow
Head of National Sectors

It’s not only suppliers that Future Fit businesses want to get close to. While more than half the Future Fit businesses (53%) regularly collaborate with suppliers on product and process improvements or strategic decision-making, a third (33%) say the same of their customers. These businesses regularly collaborate with their customers on products and process improvements, rather than simply imposing change and hoping they’ll respond positively.

How to get fit for the future

For businesses that aspire to join their Future Fit peers in harnessing deeper value chain partnership, there are a range of steps you could take: 

  • Future Fit businesses prioritise resilience. They are not simply looking for the cheapest deal from their suppliers. Almost a third (29%) strongly agree that they prioritise resilience in the supply chain over speed and cost.
  • They are prepared to be open and transparent. Around 22% agree strongly that they are happy to connect customers with suppliers if doing so helps to promote transparency and collaboration.
  • Future fitness goes beyond attitude. These businesses are also more likely to have acquired a string of competencies and capabilities that enable their more progressive approach to their value chains. For example, 34% of Future Fit businesses have extensively implemented supply chain risk modelling.
  • Their supply chain aligns with sustainability goals. More than a quarter (26%) have extensively implemented a requirement for suppliers to provide verified sustainability data, such as carbon footprint information, and 22% screen their suppliers on environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria. 


This focus could become even more important as stakeholders ranging from customers to regulators become more demanding on ESG, says Jonathan. “Are you prepared to deal with upcoming challenges such as emissions reporting and the carbon border adjustment mechanism?,” he says. “There are likely to be so many decisions to make and having good relationships throughout your supply chain could be essential.”

Now is the time to close the gap to these Future Fit businesses, Jonathan adds. “The ability to tell your story up and down the value chain is a point of commercial differentiation.”

Three key steps to value chain success:

  • Identify your key suppliers – and their suppliers – to build greater visibility throughout your supply chain.
  • Reach out to as many of these partners as possible and aim to establish more open and collaborative relationships.
  • Get even closer to your customers – focus on working in partnership to understand what their purpose is, what they’re looking for from you and why.

Create a sustainable business strategy for the long-term

Despite the pressures of today, there are opportunities to innovate or grow. We’re here to help you prepare for tomorrow with the capability and confidence to act today.  

Discover more ideas here.


Visit our dedicated cost of living support page for more insight on supply chain management and more: Cost of Living support for businesses

This material is published by NatWest Group plc (“NatWest Group”), for information purposes only and should not be regarded as providing any specific advice. Recipients should make their own independent evaluation of this information and no action should be taken, solely relying on it. This material should not be reproduced or disclosed without our consent. It is not intended for distribution in any jurisdiction in which this would be prohibited. Whilst this information is believed to be reliable, it has not been independently verified by NatWest Group and NatWest Group makes no representation or warranty (express or implied) of any kind, as regards the accuracy or completeness of this information, nor does it accept any responsibility or liability for any loss or damage arising in any way from any use made of or reliance placed on, this information. Unless otherwise stated, any views, forecasts, or estimates are solely those of NatWest Group, as of this date and are subject to change without notice. Copyright © NatWest Group. All rights reserved.

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