Keywords applicable to this article: inventory, logistics, supply chain network design, transportation
network design, distribution network design, warehousing, push and pull supply chain, supply chain
efficiency and effectiveness, supply chain performance drivers, demand forecasting, aggregation planning,
economies of scale, supply chain risk management, global supply chains, IT management in supply
chains, E-supply chains, Lean Six Sigma in supply chains, sustainable supply chains.
By: Professor Nand Kishore Prasad, Principal Consulting Officer
Thesis and Dissertation topics related to Supply Chain
Management, Procurement Management, Inventory Management,
and Distribution Management.
Supply Chain Management is one such area that will never have dearth of research topics for dissertation and thesis projects. This is because the global
business framework is changing very rapidly due to the challenges posed by globalization, which directly affects supply chain design and management of an
organization. Environmental issues, rising oil prices, increase of carbon footprints, rising tariffs, rising threats in international waters and air cargo, increasing
supply chain risks, high competition, rising customers' expectations, etc. are significant challenges facing modern supply chain managers that are already
under pressure to reduce lead times in every step of supply chain management. Modern supply chain practices need to be highly proactive, horizontally
integrated, information driven, network based, and technology enabled. These challenges are rapidly eliminating the old beliefs and practices giving way to
new ways of managing the components of supply chain. The core elements of supply chain, viz. procurement management, production management, inventory
management, distribution management, and retail management, can no longer operate as distinct verticals but need to be integrated horizontally with the help
of accurate and timely information management and flow, synchronous activities, effective coordination, decision-making power at lower levels, better
economies of scale, elimination of wastes, increased reliability on actual demands (than demand forecasting), organization wide cost reduction targets and
excellent service delivery. In this context, I hereby present some of the key areas in which, the students may like to conduct their research studies:
(A) Functional Integration of Procurement, Production, Inventory, Distribution, and Inventory Management: In modern supply chains, organizations are
giving high emphasis on horizontal integration of supply chain components by breaking all the traditional functional barriers that have existed since the
concept was born. Modern supply chain agents integrate effectively by sharing timely and accurate information with everyone in very transparent manner. For
example, if the supply chain has multiple inventory points (Stock Keeping Units), the procurement manager may have access to daily, or even hourly, updates
of the inventory levels at all the points. Functional integration is evident even with suppliers and customers. The systems like automatic reordering by an IT
enabled system at fixed pre-negotiated prices whenever inventory levels dip below the reorder points, continuous flow of consumption information upstream
and shipping information downstream between the endpoints, supplier managed inventory at customer premises, exact and timely flow of actual demand
information reducing the need for demand forecasting, etc. are no longer just theories. I suggest that students may like to undertake academic research studies
on how supply chain integration is carried out by modern companies, by conducting on-field surveys and interviews. The studies can be conducted on a
particular company or on the entire supply network of a commodity.
(B) Supply Chain Network Design: The concept of network design is rapidly gaining popularity in supply chain management. In fact, many modern scholars
are talking about renaming "Supply Chain Management" to "Supply Network Management". This is because companies no longer just manage multi-tier
suppliers in the form of chains but rather manage a whole network of suppliers for every key purchase. The concept of supply network has evolved as a result
of globalization and rapid growth of Internet leading to reduced gaps between suppliers and buyers of the world. The network design concepts are applied in
the areas of location of facilities, transportation, distribution, and retailing. The actual design depends upon the supply chain strategy, scope, cost, risks and
uncertainties, and demand information. The key design considerations in network design are - nodes and links, direct shipments, milk runs, in-transit mergers,
domestic transit routes, international transit routes, last mile transit routes, locations of plants, depots, warehouses, distributor storage, retail outlets, and risks
related to each node and link. The key factors that need to be taken into account are - strategic factors, technological factors, macroeconomic factors, political
factors, infrastructure factors, competitive factors, socioeconomic factors, localization, response time expectations (of customers), facility costs, and logistics
costs. In my view, network design in logistics and supply chain management has ample opportunities for conducting academic studies for students and
professionals. The studies will be based more in interviews because the students will need to learn from specialist network designers in supply chains.
(C) Pull Supply Chain Strategy: It is almost official now that the world is drifting towards pull supply chain strategy. Now the business houses are focusing
more on gaining exact demand information rather than depending upon demand forecasts. The companies have already faced significant problems due to high
inventory costs and wastage of unconsumed products in light of forecast inaccuracy. However, it may be noted that pull supply chain strategy is not as
straightforward as push strategy. The strategists no longer have the leverage to just depend upon demand models, viewed as magic wands in the past, but are
required to proactively collect actual demand information. This change requires effective integration with suppliers and buyers, and large scale information
sharing through sophisticated information systems. The companies need to think much beyond Japanese Kanbans or lean strategies (even they have backfired,
really!!). The students may like to study on what companies are doing or can do to shift to pull strategy as much as possible.
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interruption; please continue reading.
(D) Supply Chain Efficiency and Effectiveness: Every organization spends significant amounts on supply chain management. Effective financial planning,
cost control, timely service, high quality of service, and return on investments in supply chain are key drivers of efficiency and effectiveness. A number of
metrics are taken as inputs to the strategic supply chain planning to ensure that optimum efficiency and effectiveness can be achieved. This research area may
require on-site quantitative data collection, and quantitative analytics using SPSS and such other statistical analysis tools to arrive at the results. The students
may have to discover independent and dependent variables and their correlations using descriptive and inferential statistical methods.
(E) Supply Chain Integration: This research area may be taken as an extension of functional integration (point A). The student may like to study how
companies are integrating with key suppliers and customers to improve flow of information about demands (upstream) and supply (downstream) and to
reduce lead times. The modern concepts like direct delivery (from suppliers to customers), vendor managed inventories (VMI), cross-docking, optimal
procurement policy, optimal manufacturing strategy, inventory minimization, input and output control, aggregation planning, process integration, real time
monitoring and control, optimization of operations, supply chain object library, enterprise supply chain integration modelling, 3PL and 4PL, quick response
(QR), efficient consumer response (ECR), continuous replenishment planning (CRP), and collaborative planning, forecasting, and replenishment (CPFR) are
included in the scope of supply chain integration. The students may chose a particular area and conduct on-site interviews of supply chain experts about how
these practices are incorporated by organizations in their supply chain integration strategies. The studies may be mostly qualitative.
(F) Supply Chain Performance Drivers: The key performance drivers of supply chain management are - facility effectiveness, inventory effectiveness,
transportation effectiveness, information effectiveness, sourcing effectiveness, pricing effectiveness, delivery effectiveness, quality effectiveness and service
effectiveness. These drivers comprise multiple performance indicators that may be measured quantitatively by collecting data and applying them in SPSS. The
studies in this area may primarily be quantitative with descriptive statistical analysis. In modern world, sustainable supply chain management to support the
triple bottom-line (equity, environment, and economy)is also included in the scope of supply chain performance drivers. This is, however, a new research area
and hence students may face shortage of references.
(G) Demand Forecasting: The concept of demand forecasting is diminishing as more and more companies are now focusing on getting accurate and timely
demand information rather than depending upon forecasts. This is carried out by effective integration of information from all the nodes of the supply chain and
disseminating upstream as well as downstream. However, there are many industries that will continue to depend upon push strategy and demand forecasting.
The students may like to study about the drawbacks of traditional forecasting methods (like time series forecasting, moving averages, trend analysis, etc.) and
the ways of improving forecasting accuracy. Many companies want to incorporate real time data in their forecasting models and focus on forecasting for shorter
periods. This requires lots of additional knowledge over and above the traditional ways of working upon past demand data. The modern forecasting models
may be based on accurate knowledge of customer segments, major factors that influence forecasting accuracy, information integration, bullwhip effect, scenario
planning, simulations, external factors, risks, and causal (Fishbone or Ishikawa) analysis. Most of the studies may be qualitative or triangulated.
(H) Aggregation Planning: Aggregation is carried out by a company to determine the levels of pricing, capacity, production, outsourcing, inventory, etc. during
a specified period. Aggregation planning helps in consolidation of the internal and external stock keeping units (SKUs) within the decision and strategic
framework for reducing costs, meeting demands and maximising profits. It may be viewed as the next step of either demand forecasting (push strategy) or
demand information accumulation (pull strategy) for carrying out estimations of the inventory level, internal capacity levels, outsourced capacity levels,
workforce levels, and production levels required in a specified time period. The students may like to conduct qualitative case studies to research about modern
practices of aggregation planning in various industrial and retail sectors.
(I) Global Supply Chains: In the modern world, suppliers in a country are facing direct competition from international suppliers as if the latter are operating
within the country. This has happened due to modernization of information management and dissemination, supply routes, payment channels, electronic
contracts, leading to improved reliability and reduced lead times of international suppliers. The students may like to undertake study on monitoring and
management of global supply chains/networking by professionals working in MNCs.
(J) E-Supply Chains: E-Supply Chains are linked with E-Businesses that use Internet as their medium for accepting orders and payments, and then using the
physical channels to deliver the products. E-supply chain is an excellent example of pull strategy and short term demand forecasting. Information flow across
the supply chain is instantaneous because both end points and the intermediate agents work through a single Internet enabled portal. E-Bay is viewed as one of
the founders of this concept at global scales with built-in electronic contract signing and management, electronic payment processing, and electronic delivery
processing. The students can find various case studies on E-Supply chains, although the empirical theories are still evolving. The research studies would be
quite challenging, modern and unique, but poorly supported by literatures as the field is still evolving.
(K) Supply Chain Risk Management: Supply chain risk management is gaining immense popularity due to globalization of competitive landscapes, and
growing threats and uncertainty. Risk management in supply chains is directly linked with supply chain agility and hence it needs to be done in very
organized and objective manner, incorporating quantitative models. The students will find this area very interesting although it is currently not very well
supported by literatures. The student may like to first familiarise with risk management practices by studying the literatures on Enterprise Risk Management
(ERM), and then focus on how supply chain risk management domain can be mapped with it. Study of COSO (Committee of Sponsoring Organisations of the
Treadway Commission) framework of Enterprise Risk Management and ISO 31000: 2009 will be very useful in this regards. If you want to study risk
management in Supply Chain Information Systems, then the study of ISO 27005: 2008, Risk IT, NIST Risk Management Framework, COBRA, OCTAVE and
FRAP will prove to be very useful for your research (Please visit the pages on IT Governance and Information Risk for more information). Please note that you
may not find a direct application in supply chain risk management, however once your concepts are clear you will be able to seamlessly apply them in
designing risk management practices in supply chain management. Some empirical theories found in past research studies will be useful in aligning the
application of general risk management concepts more accurately, although they are currently limited in number. Based on our vast experience in
implementing risk management in corporations, we can effectively map the risk management theories and applications with risk management requirements
and practices in supply chains, and build an effective research foundation for you.
(L) Information Technology in Supply Chain Management: A number of information technology platforms are popular in supply chain management. Some of
the key IT tools in supply chain management are IBM Supply Chain Simulator, Rhythm (by i2 Technologies), Advanced Planner and Optimizer by SAP,
Manugistics, Matrix One, Oracle Supply Chain Management, etc. These tools possess various functionalities - like, enterprise planning, demand planning,
production scheduling, distribution planning, procurement and replenishment planning, facilities location planning, replenishment planning, manufacturing
planning, logistics strategy formulation, stocking levels planning, lead times planning, process costing, customer service planning, procurement, supply and
transportation scheduling, global logistics management, constraint-Based master planning, demand management, material planning, network Design and
optimization, supply chain analytics, transportation management, Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) planning, continuous replenishment planning (CRP),
and many more. The students may like to study about various IT systems and software tools for carrying out such activities in supply chain management. The
studies may be primarily qualitative or triangulated. Your focus should be on application design and integration, system features that are practically useful in
supply chain operations, decision-making and decision-supporting tools (like, dashboards, supply chain intelligence, supply chain performance monitoring,
etc.), on-line analytical processing, collection, storage, and integration of information, sharing and dissemination of information, internal and external
integration, process design, mapping, and integration, enterprise resources planning and IT enablement of global best practices (like, quick response, supply
chain synchronisation, virtual supply chain, efficient customer response, collaborative planning, forecasting, and replenishment, etc.).
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