This year feels like being pushed into the “online teaching water” to learn to swim. And for many SCM educators and students, the teaching season is just around the corner. In their recent article (Online Learning Can Still Be Social), Mucharraz y Cano & Venuti (2020) talk about ten keys to building a supportive digital community of learners: (1) plan and establish community norms; (2) provide extra emotional support; (3) allocate a space for informal interaction; (4) employ the right tools to organize team activities; (5) take advantage of gamification and nudges; (6) stimulate the senses; (7) consider the crowd; (8) promote peer learning; (9) use humor to reduce tension; and (10) embrace art as a way of learning. What I like about this list is that it acknowledges that properly supporting teachers and learners during this challenging time involves addressing social aspects, not just the choice between Zoom and Teams.
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?
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.
The Guardian has recently published an interesting article with a provoking title: Why We Should Bulldoze the Business School. The author writes: “[In] the business school, both the explicit and hidden curriculums sing the same song. The things taught and the way that they are taught generally mean that the virtues of capitalist market managerialism are told and sold as if there were no other ways of seeing the world.” The author demands “an entirely new way of thinking about management, business and markets” and argues: “If we want those in power to become more responsible, then we must stop teaching students that heroic transformational leaders are the answer to every problem, or that the purpose of learning about taxation laws is to evade taxation, or that creating new desires is the purpose of marketing. In every case, the business school acts as an apologist, selling ideology as if it were science.” To what extent does that also apply for our SCM courses?
Trust plays an important role in supplier–buyer relationships. One way to approach this important concept is game theory. If you have ever wondered how game theory could be taught in a supply chain management course, I can recommend Nick Case’s The Evolution of Trust – an interactive guide to the game theory of why and how we trust each other. The guide starts by explaining the game of trust (= the prisoner’s dilemma). Then it illustrates what happens if multiple games and multiple tournaments are played with different players. We can learn from this guide that “the game defines the players” but also that “the players define the game”. We can learn that, in order for trust to evolve, we need the knowledge of possible future repeat interactions, we need a win–win situation, and we need a low level of miscommunication. I will definitely use The Evolution of Trust in my future supply chain management courses.
I have been using Fisher’s (1997) supply chain–product match/mismatch framework (What Is the Right Supply Chain for Your Product?) in my teaching for years! Herein, the author argues that functional products require a physically efficient supply chain strategy, whereas innovative products require a market-responsive supply chain strategy. Fisher’s framework finds empirical support: Wagner et al. (2012) demonstrate that “the higher the supply chain fit, the higher the Return on Assets (ROA) of the firm”. Interestingly, a majority of the firms from their sample achieve a negative misfit, i.e. they target high responsiveness for their supply chain although their products are functional. Extensions of the framework exist, for example by Lee (2002), who adds a “supply” dimension, and more recently Gligor (2017), who argues that “benefits generated by perfect supply chain fit might be offset by the resources deployed to achieve that fit”. Research presented by Perez-Franco et al. (2016) helps to “capture, evaluate and re-formulate the supply chain strategy of a business unit”.
Fisher, M.L. (1997). What Is the Right Supply Chain for Your Product? Harvard Business Review, 75 (2), 105-116.
Today’s guest post comes from Lydia Bals, who presents project PERFECT’s recent insights on competences in purchasing & supply management.
Professional purchasing & supply management (PSM) forms the link between a complex network of internal and external stakeholders with increasing international dependencies and performance requirements. As part of the PERFECT project (Purchasing Education and Research for European Competence Transfer) a group of researchers conducted case study research to identify individual buyer competences, knowledge and skills that are required to cope with such current requirements and prepare for future trends. In total, 46 interviews were conducted with representatives from 16 companies, standing for various industries in the European Union, and differing in their sizes and business models. The practitioners emphasized that PSM employees should possess both operational and basic PSM knowledge as well as competences related to communication and relationship management. In terms of specific future competences, “sustainability” and “digitization” stood out. Digitization is expected to particularly impact PSM operational tasks with regards to automation: Sub functions, especially taking care of the purchase-to-pay process, are expected to disappear. As a result, companies are advised to qualify personnel accordingly to facilitate their transfer to other, more strategic roles. Regarding the strategic PSM tasks, looking at the source-to-contract process, the critical question for the future is how technology will enable different ways of working, e.g. by application of big data analytics. As these are newer competence areas, the practitioners indicated that a breakdown of knowledge and competences for “sustainability” and “digitization” is needed to prepare employees as well as students adequately for such future developments. For more information, see the full Project PERFECT Intellectual Output 2 White Paper.
Lydia Bals is Professor of Supply Chain & Operations Management at the University of Applied Sciences Mainz and affiliated with the Department of Strategic Management & Globalization, Copenhagen Business School. She was the project lead for the PERFECT case study data collection and analysis.
The Case Centre has recently selected the winners of their 2017 Awards and Competitions. This year’s winning case in the Production and Operations Management category is closely related to supply chain management: Zara: The World’s Largest Fashion Retailer, written by Kasra Ferdows, Jose A.D. Machuca & Michael Lewis. This case is an updated version of the 15th in the ranking of top 40 overall best selling Zara case. The new case “presents a detailed and updated description of Zara’s unique operating model and many of its best practices: its retailing, design, order administration, production, and distribution systems” and “also includes new sections about Zara’s on-line business and Inditex’ increased attention to ethical and sustainability issues in its extended supply chain”. The learning objectives cover several important aspects of global supply chain management, including the design and operations of global supply networks, making this teaching case particularly relevant for courses related to our discipline.
My students tend to use their laptops in classes. I have forwarded this very interesting article by Mueller & Oppenheimer (2014) to them. It was published in one of the most influential journals in psychology and contains good arguments to stop this practice. First, the authors summarize existing research that finds that laptops serve as distractions. Students typically self-report a belief that laptops in class are beneficial. Even when they admit that laptops distract them, they believe the benefits outweigh the costs. Research finds that students using laptops are not on task, show lower academic performance, and are less satisfied with their education than students who do not use laptops. Second, the authors’ own results suggest that “even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing”. They found that “students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand”.
Mueller, P., & Oppenheimer, D. (2014). The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard. Psychological Science, 25 (6), 1159-1168 DOI: 10.1177/0956797614524581
Who would have said ten years ago that SCM is an exciting discipline? Not many! But isn’t it exciting what is currently going on? We can observe a number of disruptive innovations that are about to shift the way business is done. If we want to get a taste of what we will experience in SCM in the near future, we can look at how high-tech companies define it already now (see for example Microsoft’s definition of SCM): It will be about true visibility across end-to-end processes – and these processes involve raw material suppliers, component suppliers, …, and ultimately consumers. We might soon need to trash current textbooks that are based on over-simplistic OR models and Excel sheets. Such approaches are often too static to keep pace with current developments. Business schools will have to re-think their SCM curricula: Programming skills and knowledge about artificial intelligence might soon be expected by any SCM graduate.