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(_), _–_. https://doi.org/10.1111/jscm.12294
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Something that is long-established in other management disciplines but sadly almost completely neglected in the SCM discipline is research related to sensemaking. In short, sensemaking “involves turning circumstances into a situation that is comprehended explicitly in words and that serves as a springboard into action” (Weick et al., p. 409). Such research is concerned with subjective interpretations rather than objective truth and is therefore better suited to the study of social science phenomena than much of the positivist research we see in contemporary SCM research. Sensemaking is closely associated with the name of Karl E. Weick and his way of analyzing phenomena. Among Weick’s most famous studies is The Collapse of Sensemaking in Organizations: The Mann Gulch Disaster (1993). It could serve as a blueprint for analyzing SCM phenomena. Anyone considering a sensemaking study should read the book Sensemaking in Organizations (Weick, 1995). The article Organizing and the Process of Sensemaking (Weick et al., 2005) gives a very good overview of sensemaking.
Weick, K.E. (1993). The Collapse of Sensemaking in Organizations: The Mann Gulch Disaster. Administrative Science Quarterly, 38(4), 628–652. https://doi.org/10.2307/2393339
Weick, K.E. (1995). Sensemaking in Organizations. SAGE. ISBN 080397177X
Weick, K.E., Sutcliffe, K.M., & Obstfeld, D. (2005). Organizing and the Process of Sensemaking. Organization Science, 16(4), 409–421. https://doi.org/10.1287/orsc.1050.0133
As in previous years, the Journal of Supply Chain Management recently announced the winning paper of the 2021 Best Paper Awards at the Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management. And here it is: On Publicness Theory and Its Implications for Supply Chain Integration: The Case of Criminal Justice Supply Chains by Aline Pietrix Seepma, Dirk Pieter van Donk, and Carolien de Blok. Congratulations! Herein, the authors extend publicness theory to its application at the interorganizational level. JSCM also announced two runner-ups. The first one is Selecting Startups as Suppliers: A Typology of Supplier Selection Archetypes by Stefan Kurpjuweit, Stephan M. Wagner, and Thomas Y. Choi. The second one is my own paper, Dancing the Supply Chain: Toward Transformative Supply Chain Management (see my previous blog post). Just to make this very clear, the decisions for these awards were made by a committee before I applied for the role as JSCM Co-Editor-in-Chief.
The International Energy Agency has just released a new special report entitled Solar PV Global Supply Chains. It examines solar PV (= photovoltaic) supply chains “from raw materials all the way to the finished product, spanning the five main segments of the manufacturing process: polysilicon, ingots, wafers, cells and modules”. The authors argue that “[p]utting the world on a path to reaching net zero emissions requires solar PV to expand globally on an even greater scale, raising concerns about security of manufacturing supply for achieving such rapid growth rates – but also offering new opportunities for diversification”. It becomes clear from the report that China currently dominates such supply chains and that diversification can reduce supply chain vulnerabilities and offer economic and environmental opportunities. According to the authors, policy makers need to aim for (1) diversifying manufacturing and raw material supplies, (2) de-risking investment, (3) ensuring environmental and social sustainability, (4) continuing to foster innovation, and (5) developing and strengthening recycling capabilities.
Language in academic texts should not only be used to list arguments, to summarize methodical steps, or to report results. Too often, as a reviewer, I have read manuscripts that have not effectively used what I consider to be the most important function of language in academic texts: Above all, language should serve to communicate with the reader. In some cases, I could not believe how imprecise sentences were formulated, how unconvincing arguments were developed, and how the language simply lacked “beauty”. In fact, there is no contradiction between a neutrally worded text, if that is desired, and the pleasure that a reader feels while reading it. Unfortunately, authors often also lack vocabulary. I can only recommend every academic author to read an English novel at least once in a while and to pay attention to the language. Of course, the language in academic texts differs from that in novels. But there is still a lot to learn.