Gap-Spotting or Problematization

How should researchers construct research questions for their academic work? One intuitive answer is by spotting a gap in the existing academic literature. This is certainly an effective approach that follows the Popperian scientific method. In addition to gap-spotting, there is a second approach that deserves a little more attention: problematization. Alvesson and Sandberg (2011) describe this approach in their famous article Generating Research Questions Through Problematization (a must read!). They write that “[t]he dominance of gap-spotting is surprising, given it is increasingly recognized that theory is made interesting and influential when it challenges assumptions that underlie existing literature.” This is what problematization does: it is about identifying and challenging assumptions that underlie existing theories and generating research questions that lead to the development of more interesting and influential theories. Of course, we will still need gap-spotting in the future. But I do believe that SCM research could benefit from more problematization.

Alvesson, M., & Sandberg, J. (2011). Generating Research Questions Through Problematization. Academy of Management Review, 36(2), 247–271. https://doi.org/10.5465/amr.2009.0188

Accelerating the Path to Net-Zero Supply Chains

The “No-Excuse” Framework to Accelerate the Path to Net-Zero Manufacturing and Value Chains is a new white paper that aims to provide businesses with the information they need to operationalize their commitments to reducing carbon emissions and addressing the climate crisis. The framework is intended to be a central tool for the World Economic Forum Industry Net Zero Accelerator initiative, which is designed to bring together leaders across industry sectors, academia, government, and civil society to jointly shed light on global insights and best practices for reducing emissions. The framework is divided into four stages: (1) build the foundations, (2) change the game internally, (3) drive systemic collaboration, and (4) make it simple, inclusive and exciting. Each stage of the framework consists of a combination of research-based insights, well-established action areas, and emerging themes. The goal of the framework is to be applicable across key industries and geographies. This white paper is the first output of the Industry Net Zero Accelerator initiative and further resources are available for chief executive officers at the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders.

Personal Predictions for Supply Chain Management in 2023

As in previous years, I am making a prediction about what could be important topics in supply chain management research. Here are three predictions: (1) OpenAI has demonstrated the incredible potential of machine learning, and this will have numerous implications for the management of supply chains. It is important for our discipline to consider the potential and drawbacks of this technology at an early stage. (2) Supply chain resilience remains a critical issue. For example, the recent resurgence of Covid-19 cases in China could lead to the closure of ports and factories, which would disrupt global supply chains. This topic will continue to be relevant in the future. (3) The climate and biodiversity crises continue to worsen, and their solutions are closely tied to supply chains. Human-caused emissions and the destruction of rainforests are directly related to supply chains, and new laws, such as those in Germany and the EU, reflect this. I wish you all a Happy New Year 2023.

OpenAI and Its Impact on Supply Chain Management

OpenAI has attracted a lot of attention in recent weeks, and for good reason. The research institute, which focuses on developing artificial intelligence technologies and promoting their safe and responsible use, has made significant strides in advancing the field of AI. One area where OpenAI could have a significant impact is in the field of supply chain management. The ability to analyze large amounts of data quickly and accurately could be useful for optimizing supply chain processes, identifying inefficiencies, and making more informed decisions. However, there are also potential drawbacks to the use of AI in supply chain management. There is a risk that the technology could be used to automate jobs and potentially displace human workers. There are also concerns about the ethical implications of using AI in decision-making, such as the potential for bias in the algorithms that drive the technology. Overall, the use of AI in supply chain management has the potential to be both beneficial and detrimental. It is important for researchers and educators in this field to carefully consider the potential impacts of this technology and to develop strategies for addressing the challenges it presents. This blog post was generated using ChatGPT, a chatbot platform developed by OpenAI.

Using Supply Chain Databases in Academic Research

In recent years, academic articles that use supply chain databases have become more and more common in SCM-related journals. Such databases (e.g., Bloomberg SPLC, FactSet Supply Chain Relationships, and Mergent Supply Chain) were originally not developed for use in academic research, but for use in business practice. However, they offer great potential for a better understanding of supply chains (or more precisely supply networks) and supply chain management and are therefore also very interesting for researchers. A recent article by Culot and her coauthors (2023) discusses these potentials and points out pitfalls for using supply chain databases in SCM research. The article is entitled Using Supply Chain Databases in Academic Research: A Methodological Critique and based on a review of previous studies using such databases, publicly available materials, interviews with information service providers, and the direct experience of the authors. I am sure this long-awaited article will serve as a reference for quantitative research relying on such databases for years to come.

Culot, G., Podrecca, M., Nassimbeni, G., Orzes, G., & Sartor, M. (2023). Using Supply Chain Databases in Academic Research: A Methodological Critique. Journal of Supply Chain Management, 59(1), 3–25. https://doi.org/10.1111/jscm.12294

The Threat to Supply Chains from Rising Gas Prices

Due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the European Union is currently experiencing a massive increase in gas prices. This threatens the resilience of many supply chains. An analysis by the Halle Institute for Economic Research (IWH) now shows that a small group of just 300 products causes a large part of almost 90% of the gas consumption of German industry during their manufacture. The five products with the highest gas consumption per euro of sales belong to the basic chemical industry. The analysis also shows that rising gas prices mainly lead to production cutbacks in gas-intensive products that can easily be replaced by imports. Therefore, despite domestic production outages, no significant disruptions to the supply chains are to be expected. “German industry can save a lot of gas with a small drop in sales if gas-intensive products are no longer manufactured in-house but imported,” says Steffen Müller, one of the authors of the analysis.

Teaching Case – Apple Inc: Global Supply Chain Management

Once again this year, an SCM-related teaching case received an award at the Case Center Awards and Competitions: It is entitled Apple Inc: Global Supply Chain Management and written by P. Fraser Johnson. In this case, students are placed in the role of Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, who has to make a strategic decision about the company’s complex supply chain. “Set in early 2020, it provides a detailed description of the company’s supply chain network and capabilities. Data in the case allows students to develop an understanding of Apple’s source of competitiveness and to gain insights into the management of a large, complex global supply chain network that focused on the intersection of services, hardware and software. Students will obtain an understanding of the supply chain challenges faced by Apple, in the context of supporting its corporate strategy and growth objectives.” I am sure that this case can be integrated very well into many undergraduate and postgraduate courses. This case nicely complements the 2020 award winner Apple and Conflict Materials: Ethical Sourcing for Sustainability. See also the 2017 and 2018 SCM-related winners.

The Most Popular Supply Chain Class Readings

Have you ever wondered what supply chain literature is most commonly used in the classroom? Open Syllabus, a non-profit research organization, currently has a corpus of nine million English-language syllabi from 140 countries and data on class readings is available for a large proportion of these syllabi. I checked which readings with the term “supply chain” in the title are used the most in the “Business” category. Here are the top 15 readings (from highest to lowest appearance count; only first authors/editors): Chopra (1,380 appearances), Christopher (1,361), Jacobs (1,246), Simchi-Levi (1,148), Chopra (608), Bowersox (595), Lysons (503), Lalwani (484), Cousins (463), Russell (447), Coyle (387), van Weele (372), Monczka (365), and Krajewski (359), Cachon (329). These books are great, otherwise they wouldn’t be so popular. It is noteworthy though that Western and male perspectives on supply chains clearly dominate, despite calls for more diverse perspectives. I could also have imagined at least a few more critical and sustainability-focused books in the list. Of course, my simple approach has limitations due to the search for only one term and, therefore, some books may have been overlooked. Also, I have not cleaned the data, which may be why Chopra appears twice.

Writing Skills: Cohesion and Coherence

Something that I, as a reviewer and editor, have unfortunately seen too often in academic manuscripts is a lack of cohesion and coherence. Cohesion is the glue that holds sentences together. Coherence makes sure ideas connect to create a clear “whole”. In this video, Write to the Top looks at the elements that create strong cohesion and coherence.

Supply Chain Resilience 2022

This year Raconteur has once again put together a very readable report entitled Supply Chain Resilience 2022. The authors ask, “As disruption continues to plague international supply chains, what can organisations do to build resilience and ensure efficiency?” And they provide answers: “From reducing waste and cutting costs to onshoring and upgrading systems, our Supply Chain Resilience report explores the strategies making the difference”. The report contains short articles on very interesting topics including Brexit, predictive analytics, striking staff, supply chain tech investments, just-in-time vs. just-in-case, chip crisis, robotics, food waste, air cargo, and sustainable commerce. I particularly enjoyed an article that shows how global supply chains have been rocked by climate change, geopolitical instability and more, and that provides examples of different industries adapting to these challenges. It is not the first time that I am writing about Raconteur’s reports here. I am always amazed at the high quality of their work.