Thinking Critically about SCM Practices

The Guardian has just published an interesting opinion piece by van der Kolk, titled Business Education Helps Create a Culture where the Profit Justifies the Means. Herein, the author, who is a university teacher of accounting, writes: “We need to see a much stronger integration of ethical considerations into business education. This is how managers make real-life business decisions. This could be achieved through a discussion on the technics and ethics of transfer pricing in one and the same accounting class, using a case that highlights both aspects. Business education should also challenge its own underlying assumptions about human behaviour, and bring in other disciplines such as the humanities to help students think critically about business practices that are taken for granted.” The author makes an excellent case for accounting, but his arguments certainly also apply for other business disciplines, including supply chain and operations management. If that is the case, how should we change our ways of teaching?

What’s a Smartphone Made Of?

In this TED-Ed video, Kim Preshoff investigates the smartphone production: “As of 2018, there are around 2.5 billion smartphone users in the world. If we broke open all the newest phones and split them into their component parts, that would produce around 85,000 kg of gold, 875,000 of silver, and 40,000,000 of copper.” I really like the video, as it takes a supply chain perspective, and I can imagine to use it in my future SCM courses.

The Dark Side of Interorganizational Relationships

What would supply chain management be without interorganizational relationships! Interorganizational relationships are always great, right? Maybe it is not that simple, if we look at a brand-new article by Oliveira & Lumineau, titled The Dark Side of Interorganizational Relationships: An Integrative Review and Research Agenda. What they mean by the “dark side” of interorganizational relationships are negative dimensions or, in their words, “damaging aspects” of such relationships, including detrimental outcomes, ill-intended behaviors or unethical practices. These aspects are driven by competence or integrity issues. Based on a review of the literature, the authors identified antecedents, ex-ante and ex-post moderators as well as consequences that are rooted in the country, industry, interorganizational relationship, partner and individual levels of analysis. The authors “not only discussed actionable research steps aimed at addressing lacunae in the current knowledge but also presented a research agenda to advance the theory on the dark side of IORs”. I am sure this piece will be inspiring also for many SCM researchers.

Oliveira, N. & Lumineau, F. (2018). The Dark Side of Interorganizational Relationships: An Integrative Review and Research Agenda. Journal of Management, https://doi.org/10.1177/0149206318804027

Balancing Efficiency and Resilience in Multimodal Supply Chains

In his new report, titled Balancing Efficiency and Resilience in Multimodal Supply Chains, McKinnon (2018) writes: “Over the past twenty years, supply chain resilience has become a hot topic in industrial, government and academic circles – for good reason. Business surveys and a mass of anecdotal evidence have revealed that supply chains have become more vulnerable to disruptions and the consequences of these disruptions become more severe. […] Despite this attention and research efforts, many companies are still at an early stage in the development and implementation of supply chain risk management strategies.” The author examines “how efficiency and resilience can be balanced in the management of multi-modal supply chains”. The author further “investigates the trade-off between supply chain resilience and efficiency, the approaches to sustainability in supply chain management, innovation and technological development, collaboration and alliances and risk mitigation”. The report summarizes findings from a Roundtable of the International Transport Forum held in April 2018. A call for papers deals with supply chain resilience.

McKinnon, A. (2018). Balancing Efficiency and Resilience in Multimodal Supply Chains. International Transport Forum Discussion Papers, OECD Publishing, Paris.

CfP: 2019 CSCMP European Research Seminar

The 14th CSCMP European Research Seminar will be held in Warsaw on May 16th and 17th, 2019. Please find the call for papers on the webpage of the 2019 CSCMP European Research Seminar.

Assessing Tobacco’s Global Environmental Footprint

“Cigarette production and consumption have seen dramatic growth in recent decades and although the health effects of smoking are widely recognized, its impacts on the environment are largely overlooked”, the authors of a new World Health Organization report argue, which is titled Cigarette Smoking: An Assessment of Tobacco’s Global Environmental Footprint Across Its Entire Supply Chain (pdf). The report explicitly takes a supply chain perspective: “From tobacco cultivation and curing, to cigarette manufacturing, distribution, consumption and discarding, every stage in the global tobacco supply chain involves considerable resource inputs, and results in the production of wastes and emissions. Consequently, tobacco puts pressure on the planet’s already stressed natural resources and its fragile ecosystems, threatening the livelihoods and future development of communities around the world.” What I learned from the report is that “tobacco’s total environmental footprint is comparable to that of entire countries and its production is often more environmentally damaging than that of essential commodities such as food crops”.

The Supply Chain of a Computer

The Supply Chain of a ComputerSometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. A map of our globe enables us to reflect upon key issues in SCM: Who is actually producing our computers? Where does value creation take place? What are the core competencies of the brand company? Who is governing the computer supply chain? What is the role of contract manufacturers? Why is final assembly being done in China and not in the EU or Canada? Why is packaging being done in Eastern Europe or Mexico and not in China; and why not in Northern Europe or Canada, where the consumers are located? What modes of transport should be used? How long does it take to move a container from Hong Kong to Hamburg? What is the size of a container? What are typical container shipping rates? What can be problematic about sourcing raw materials from the Congo? How would you calculate the CO2 emissions of a computer? How could a linear supply chain become circular? What role will machine learning play? How will the supply chain change in the age of automation? What is the potential role of 3D printing? Is a “supply” chain about “supply” or is “demand” actually the factor that we should be looking? Is a supply “chain” actually a “chain”?

The Missing Link? EU Supply Chains after Brexit

The United Kingdom has been one of the key links in EU supply chains for more than 40 years. BBC Newsnight has recently reported on how Brexit could break that chain and what the consequences could be for manufacturers. I like the video and have used it for my Supply Chain Risk Management course to discuss this topic with my students.

Land Use in Food Supply Chains

New research published in Science (Poore & Nemecek, 2018) analyzes land use in food supply chains. An astounding 3.1 billion ha reduction in land use could be possible by excluding animal products from current diets. That is an area equivalent to Australia + China + European Union + United States. The author also shows that animal products use about 83% of the world’s farmland and contribute about 57% of food’s different emissions, despite providing only 18% of our calories. These findings demonstrate that we need to shift from “company thinking” to “supply chain thinking” if we want to see the full picture.Moving from current diets to a diet that excludes animal products has transformative potential, reducing food’s landuse by 3.1 billion ha (a 76% reduction) – an area equivalent to Australia, China, the European Union and the United States.

Poore, J. & Nemecek, T. (2018). Reducing Food’s Environmental Impacts through Producers and Consumers. Science, 360 (6392), 987–992. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aaq0216 (free download)

Will “Robo-graders” Soon Take Our Academic Jobs?

All successful business models provide a solution for a problem. Let us identify such a “problem” in academia: As university teachers we all know that grading students’ essays can be a tedious and time-consuming endeavor. If that is the problem, a solution could be to let software grade the essays. Five years ago, my immediate reaction would have been that this could never work. However, now, in the era of artificial intelligence and machine learning, it increasingly does work. If we acknowledge that AI is able to drive cars, predict court decisions better than experts and automatically schedules our meetings, we should also acknowledge that AI will very soon support and soon replace us when it comes to grading students’ essays. Pioneers of so-called “robo-graders” believe that “the time is right and it’s really starting to be used now”. Robo-graders learn what is considered good writing by analyzing essays graded by humans. The automated programs then score essays themselves by scanning for the same features.