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Getting Starry-eyed about Journals (Guest Post by Alan McKinnon)

My guest post today comes from Alan McKinnon who for several years has been raising concerns about the academic obsession with journal rankings and low rating of logistics/SCM journals. He has just published a new paper updating his earlier arguments.

In a paper that I wrote five years ago I argued that the development of logistics/supply chain management (SCM) as a discipline was being impaired by the relatively low ranking of specialist journals in this field. I was surprised and heartened by the favourable response I received both from logistics/SCM researchers and academics in other disciplines experiencing a similar problem. I have now returned to the journal ranking debate with a sequel to my original article which reviews recent literature on the subject, analyses new data on the validity of the journal ranking as an indicator of research quality and discusses the recalibration of logistics/SCM journals since 2010/11. The literature challenging the principle, practice and application of journal ranking has been steadily expanding and becoming more critical. Regrettably this is not deterring university managers from basing many recruitment, promotional and resource allocation decisions on the rating of journals. Data generated by the UK government’s assessment of university research (REF) has confirmed that, in the field of business and management, the journal ranking is an unreliable predictor of the quality and impact of an individual journal paper. In this analysis, papers published in lower ranked journals tended to be under-valued, a finding of particular relevance to logistics/SCM journals as they tend to be on the 2nd or 3rd tiers of the major journal lists. Since 2010/11, there has been some overall improvement in the relative standing of these journals, though a couple have been downgraded in the widely-used ABS list. Fortunately the backlash against journal rank “fetishism” has begun with bottom-up campaigns such as DORA and top-down, government-led initiatives in countries such as the UK and Australia aiming to make research assessment fairer, more transparent and more rigorous.

Alan McKinnon is Professor of Logistics in Kühne Logistics University, Hamburg and Professor Emeritus at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh. You can find out more about his research and publications at www.alanmckinnon.co.uk and follow him on Twitter @alancmckinnon.

McKinnon, A.C. (2017). Starry-eyed II: The Logistics Journal Ranking Debate Revisited. International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management, 47 (6). DOI: 10.1108/IJPDLM-02-2017-0097

The End of Supply Chain Theory?

It is among the common research practices in our field to build a statistical model with a limited set of variables in order to take the lens of a theory – often being alien to our field – on a supply chain phenomenon, and to test this model based on maybe 200 datasets. Other researchers collect data from three or four case companies to build or extend a research model that comprises a small set of propositions. So far so good. “So far so outdated”, I should say if I were to be malicious. Why? Researchers in fields like supply chain management might soon (or already?) be competing with “companies like Google, which have grown up in an era of massively abundant data, [that] don’t have to settle for wrong models”, as the editor in chief of Wired put it already back in 2008, proclaiming The End of Theory. So, is the data deluge about to make our research obsolete? If so, how should our community adapt to this new reality?

Business vs. Economic Perspectives on the Supply Chain

I recently discovered an interesting overview, Supply Chain Perspectives and Issues: A Literature Review by Park, Nayyar & Low (2013), which has been published by the World Trade Organization. It explicitly distinguishes between the economic and business perspectives on supply chains. Indeed, many supply chain phenomena take place somewhere between these two worlds, as the “supply chain” system is broader than the “organization” system and also different from the “market” and “economy” systems. As the authors write, “[t]he economics perspective attempts to understand [supply chains] through trade theory, along with the motivations for specialisation and production location decisions. […] The focus in the business literature is more concerned with a firm-level perspective.” My impression is that SCM research has often covered the latter perspective but neglected the former one. The authors also link the supply chain management and global value chain literatures, which is a promising path to go, as I have also highlighted in a previous post.

Value of Air Cargo: Air Transport and Global Value Chains

I recently found an interesting report: Value of Air Cargo: Air Transport and Global Value Chains, published by Developing Trade Consultants. The authors write: “Global Value Chains (GVCs) represent a new trade and development paradigm. They enable countries to specialize in narrowly defined tasks, such as component production, research and development, or assembly. Tasks originating in a variety of countries are then combined through a complex network of trade and investment links, to produce finished goods […].” The report analyzes data to investigate the linkages between GVC trade and air cargo. It shows that countries engage in more trade in value terms if they have better air cargo connectivity – which is measured by an “Air Connectivity Index”. A strong association is found between a higher ACI score (i.e. stronger air connections to more countries) and a higher total trade value: “[O]ne percent increase in air cargo connectivity is associated with a 6.3% increase in total exports and imports.”

Global Supply Chain Report 2017 (Guest Post by Dexter Galvin)

I am happy to share the following guest post by Dexter Galvin, Head of Supply Chain, CDP. Thank you for contributing to my blog.

Our latest Global Supply Chain Report 2017, written in partnership with BSR and the Carbon Trust, revealed emissions savings of 434 million tonnes disclosed by suppliers in 2016. That’s more than the annual emissions of France, and it shows that the supply chain is a critical component – the missing link – in securing our sustainable, low-carbon future. Our data showed that supply chain action isn’t just about reducing emissions; it’s also good for the bottom line. Companies with emissions reduction projects disclosed cost savings of $12.4 billion as a result of their carbon-cutting measures – double what was reported in 2015. Almost half of the top 100 projects by savings were related to energy efficiency, and with a payback period of three years or less, the majority of projects had an attractive investment profile too. While the savings achieved by suppliers were certainly impressive, around half of the 4,300 companies we surveyed didn’t report any emissions reduction activities at all. So think what the impact could be – on costs and carbon levels – if they all took action?

Dexter runs the Supply Chain program at the global climate change NGO, CDP, from their London Headquarters. He has launched a number of important global initiatives to drive climate action in private and public sector supply chains, including CDP’s Action Exchange initiative. You can follow him on Twitter: @GalvinDex

Shifting from “Linear Thinking” towards “Circular Thinking”

Shifting from “company thinking” to “supply chain thinking” has successfully replaced the system, managers had in mind when making their decisions. This shift has put some of the parts of what has formerly been considered the company’s unmanageable environment into their unit of analysis. A supply chain, however, is per definition linear. In the age of sustainability, we might thus need to go one step further and shift from “linear thinking” towards “circular thinking”. The circular economy (or closed-loop supply chain) could replace the linear system by a circular system in the minds of decision makers. This is illustrated in a video released by the European Commission.

Frequency of “Supply Chain” in Books

The following Google Ngram Viewer graph shows the frequency of the terms “supply chain”, “logistics” and “procurement” in books published between 1975 and 2008. It turns out that the use of the term “supply chain” accelerated in the late 1990s and overtook “logistics” in 2007. We can only speculate about the current use, as Google’s database ends in 2008.n-gram_supply_chain_logistics_procurement

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