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Let Us Not Go Back To Normal

Many observers are currently talking about how we could go back to normal as quickly as possible. But what is “normality” and is it desirable? Should we really turn to cost reduction and just-in-time processes again? Wasn’t that the reason to put all medical supply eggs in the China basket? Didn’t that make our supply chains extremely vulnerable? We should accept the corona crisis as a warning sign, as an opportunity to fundamentally question the structure of our global supply chains. The corona crisis has fortunately led to effective political measures worldwide. Based on scientific knowledge, political decision-makers seem to be able to anticipate the catastrophic consequences of not taking such measures. These measures certainly hurt, but they are necessary. Unfortunately, effective measures to flatten the curve of the climate and biodiversity crises have so far largely failed to materialize. The corona crisis has shown us that we cannot look at global supply chains in isolation, but can only understand them in a larger context, and we have understood that they require reformation. Hopefully we will be able to transfer this understanding to other crises. Instead of going back to normal, we should anticipate the catastrophic consequences of the old model and reimagine our global supply chains accordingly, thereby having the larger picture in mind. If we can do that, then there is at least something good about the corona crisis, however tragic it is overall. This transformation of our economic system should also guide our academic work in the months to come. Stay healthy!

CfP: 15th CSCMP European Research Seminar (ERS) on Logistics and SCM

COVID-19 Update: These are extraordinary times that require all of us to depart from what we had planned! We, the chairs of the 2020 CSCMP European Research Seminar and the whole scientific committee, have decided to move the planned seminar in Barcelona to a virtual space.

We are aware that a virtual conference is not the same as a traditional conference. Some features of a conference can just not be virtualized. However, online formats can also offer new opportunities that will allow us to be experimental, involve new ways of interaction, provide new forms of feedback, and strengthen the ERS community. The more we discussed these opportunities, the more we are excited by them!

The virtual conference will take place at and around the time originally planned: June 18 and 19, 2020 plus probably a few days to also allow for some asynchronous formats. In addition, we will extend the deadlines for submission of full papers, conference papers, research idea proposals, and proposals for discussion forums by two weeks (i.e., until April 8). If you have already submitted, you don’t need to do anything.

We will soon inform you via our webpage about further details, but we can already promise that the virtual ERS will provide several exciting new formats that we are sure you will like!

Please visit: https://www.ers-conference.org/

Carl Marcus Wallenburg (WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management) & Andreas Wieland (Copenhagen Business School), conference co-chairs

Supply Chain Resilience and COVID-19

The COVID-19 outbreak demonstrates that our global supply chains have become very vulnerable systems. I had the pleasure of speaking to Future Insights Network about the impact of COVID-19 on the global supply chain and resilience last week.

Overcoming the Gender Gap in SCM Research

Today we celebrate International Women’s Day. This occasion gives me the opportunity to talk about an imbalance between the number of female and male scholars in our academic discipline. In a recently published analysis, Babbar et al. (2019) identified the top 50 SCM authors world-wide based on a measure of publication score. It turns out that less than 10 out of these top 50 authors are female. What could be done to make the great achievements of our female colleagues more visible? One way could be to explicitly mention the gender of female authors. In the case of multiple authors this could be done by replacing “Lastname et al.” with “Lastname and her coauthors” or “Lastname and her research team”, or in the case of a single author by replacing a neutral “the author” with “she” or “her”. Such linguistic tricks will certainly not solve the problem, but could help to produce role models and thereby inspire female readers to pursue an academic career. Could it be a good idea to include such suggestions in the author guidelines of our leading SCM journals?

The Reproducibility Crisis

In her insightful Nature comment Rein in the Four Horsemen of Irreproducibility, Dorothy Bishop describes how threats to reproducibility, recognized but unaddressed for decades, might finally be brought under control, by avoiding what she refers to as “the four horsemen of the reproducibility apocalypse”: publication bias, low statistical power, P-value hacking and HARKing (hypothesizing after results are known). In the video below she makes several important points. My perception is that the SCM research community does not take the reproducibility debate seriously enough.

Personal Predictions for Supply Chain Management in 2020

When I made my predictions last year, the first one being about new technologies, the second one related to our planetary boundaries, I certainly underestimated the pace of these developments.

The first prediction has now already materialized in many companies across the globe. More and more supply chain managers I have talked to have implemented innovative solutions, such as robotic process automation and process mining. What I can also see are more and more business models that rely on machine learning.

The second prediction came true in an oppressive way: Europe was hit by an unprecedented heat wave, Southern Africa by a terrifying drought. The Amazon – on fire. Siberia – on fire. And now? Australia is on fire; it is estimated that, so far, at least 480,000,000 mammals, birds and reptiles were killed. This is not a Mad Max movie; the world is in climate crisis. Political leadership is lacking from some of those countries with the highest per-capita emissions, including the U.S. and, tragically, Australia. What gives hope is the emergence of a global climate movement.

Instead of just repeating my predictions from last year, I would like to recommend three books related to these topics (see link). Visionary companies and courageous supply chain managers don’t look back, they don’t waste time with 20th-century business models. They look forward and are part of an exciting journey that shapes a digital, post-carbon economy. They will turn challenges into first-mover advantages and create great business opportunities. Isn’t this what SCM is all about?

I wish you a good start into the new year!

Exciting Times Are Ahead

The whole world can see it clearly. A wind of change is currently blowing through the air and the past eventful weeks have almost turned it into a storm: The IPCC published its Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate; world leaders at the Climate Action Summit in New York demonstrated growing recognition that the pace of climate action must be rapidly accelerated; climate activist Greta Thunberg received the Right Livelihood Award “for inspiring and amplifying political demands for urgent climate action reflecting scientific facts”; several million people across the globe joined the Global Climate Strike; Germany followed other countries by introducing a carbon price; and the European Investment Bank decided to divest from fossil fuel projects. It is becoming increasingly clear that the fossil era, which has long shaped the global power structure, is coming to an end. While late movers are now desperately trying to conserve the obsolete fossil solutions of the 20th century with the help of trade barriers, those states relying on green technologies are gaining significant influence. The task of our discipline is now to adapt our theories, methods and practices to this new reality. Exciting times are ahead!

Mapping the Cobalt Supply Chain

Cobalt has become a key commodity for battery-powered vehicles and other electronic products. The Democratic Republic of Congo is the largest producer of cobalt. The so-called “Copperbelt” in the southeastern part of the country hosts most of the cobalt ore, mainly extracted through large-scale industrial mining but also through artisanal and small-scale mining activities by more than 100,000 miners. The sector faces numerous sustainability challenges within local supply chains, such as child work and other human rights violations. The Federal Institute of Geosciences and Natural Resources from Germany has now published a report, titled Mapping of the Artisanal Copper-Cobalt Mining Sector in the Provinces of Haut-Katanga and Lualaba in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which analyzes the cobalt supply chain in the Congo. The focus of the mapping lay on the beginning of the supply chain, i.e. from the cobalt ore to the first domestic sale of production, which is often overlooked by Western consumers and users.

Supply Chains in the Bronze Age

The European car industry has supply chains that criss-cross the English Channel. Therefore, 23 automotive business associations across Europe have now joined forces to caution against a no-deal Brexit. “The UK’s departure from the EU without a deal would trigger a seismic shift in trading conditions, with billions of euros of tariffs threatening to impact consumer choice and affordability on both sides of the Channel,” their joint statement says. However, pan-European supply chains are not a new idea. A research team has now uncovered the geographic origin of archaeological tin artifacts from the Mediterranean. They could demonstrate that tin from Israel, Turkey and Greece originated from tin deposits in Europe. These findings show that even in the Bronze Age, i.e. around 4000 years ago, far-reaching and complex trade routes must have existed between the Eastern Mediterranean and Europe. It is interesting to observe that millenia-old truths have been forgotten by those promoting a no-deal Brexit these days.

Berger, D. et al. (2015). Isotope Systematics and Chemical Composition of Tin Ingots from Mochlos (Crete) and other Late Bronze Age Sites in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea: An Ultimate Key to Tin Provenance? PLoS ONE 14 (6), e0218326. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0218326

Supply-chain Trade

Today, I would like to call attention to a highly-cited article by Baldwin & Lopez-Gonzalez, titled Supply-chain Trade: A Portrait of Global Patterns and Several Testable Hypotheses, which was published in The World Economy in 2015. The journal’s perspective – trade policy and other open economy issues – differs from the supply chain management perspective I normally talk about here, which gives this article an interesting complementary perspective. The authors use the term “supply-chain trade” to characterize “complex cross-border flows of goods, know-how, investment, services and people”. They compare two positions: “According to policymakers [supply-chain trade] is transformative; among economists, however, it is typically viewed as trade in goods that happens to be concentrated in parts and components”. Based on two rich datasets, they argue “that the facts are on the side of the policymakers”, as “[f]lourishing supply-chain trade has revolutionised global economic relations and the revolution is still in full swing”. Definitely a good read!

Baldwin, R. & Lopez-Gonzalez, J. (2015). Supply-chain Trade: A Portrait of Global Patterns and Several Testable Hypotheses. The World Economy, 29 (1), 65-83. https://doi.org/10.1111/twec.12189