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

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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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(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. Supply chain risk management is a novel dissertation/thesis research area based on the
known and teething current problems in logistics/supply chain management. The root of the problems lie somewhere in the uncertainties in upstream as
well as downstream flows of materials, funds, and information. For example, if there are errors in calculating economic order quantities (EOQ) and reorder
levels, the ordering process may not synchronize well with the lead-times. On the other hand, the lead-times are uncertain due to various delay factors and
fluctuation in costs if a transportation mode is changed. Holding inventory is the safest haven for logistics managers, but I am sure the top management of
any organisation will never like it. The primary purpose of this subject matter is to keep lowest possible inventories while ensuring consistent, timely, and
accurate supplies to the end users. The challenges are in the following areas:

(a) Lack of integration/synchronization/co-ordination
(b) Lack of appropriate quantitative models
(c) Lack of integrated information availability, even if the quantitative models are in place (i.e., the company has invested in SCM software tools)

The solution is somewhere in implementing an appropriate supply chain risk communication system. You will appreciate, supply chain risk is also a
floating entity just like materials, funds and information. If the entire chain is integrated through an extranet portal system, and updates of every
consignment code are uploaded periodically by all agents connected with the portal, there can be proactive risks generated by the software for the logistics
managers such that they can take operating level, tactical level, and even strategic level mitigation actions. Although such a system is still in its conceptual
stage, academic researchers can contribute to its overall conceptualisation and design. It may be integrated as a layer above the traditional SCM software. An
agent sensing any variations in delay or cost may log a threat and its probability against a consignment code. The probability and impact levels may be fed to
the logistics agents that can calculate the impact (like stock-out by a date). The outcome will be a risk value which will be escalated to an appropriate
authority level, and appropriate mitigation action will be suggested. For example, if there is a temporary unrest in a country, the current consignments can be
airlifted and subsequent orders placed to an alternate supplier.

I suggest that you may like to study the source of supply chain risks in a selected sample of transactions in your field and design a novel SCRC (supply chain
risk communication) framework employing the ISO 31000, M-o-R, COSO, COBIT v5, and similar Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) frameworks for
enterprise wide estimation and communication of risks (please visit our articles on IT governance and Information Risk Management). The key risks that you
can target in your SCRM framework can be categorized as: disruptions, delays, forecast errors, procurement risks, supplier risks, lead time risks, receivable
risks, capacity risks and inventory risks. You may collect a list of known supply chain threats in your area of interest, categorize them under one of these risk
categories, judge the impact on business, judge the vulnerabilities, and arrive at the risk values using the quantitative formulations of the chosen model. Once
the risk values are calculated, you may propose mitigation strategies pertaining to redundant suppliers, better supplier relationships (i.e., eliminating
procurement hops), alternate routes (i.e., alternate loading/unloading ports and links), add capacity and inventory, shift warehouses, change distribution
model (direct shipments, cyclic shipments, milk run shipments, in-transit merging, adding retail stores, cross-dock distribution, etc.), change transportation
media, etc. You may validate the proposed SCRC framework by interviewing supply chain experts in your country. Hence, the problem statement of your
thesis will be related to the known threats and vulnerabilities in supply chain management in the selected transactions (chosen by you), and the solution will
be a novel Supply Chain risk communication framework to manage the risks resulting from these threats and vulnerabilities. It will be a quantitative research
with descriptive and inferential statistical analysis. The outcome of this model will be on-the-fly alerts on risk levels and their mitigation as soon as a risk is
logged (you will need to define mitigation actions against various risk levels, and the suggested authorities to make decisions). You may like to validate your
model by surveying experts in your network. A short, and to-the-point structured questionnaire may be used such that you can present validity and
reliability analysis using SPSS.

(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.).

(M)
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) in Supply Chain Management and Value Chain Management: RFID may be viewed from two perspectives: (a) a
highly innovative technology for location-based services, and (b) a tool for achieving process excellence in industrial engineering, supply chain management,
vehicle tracking, asset management, government services, and many other applications. I hereby suggest you some topics in which, both the perspectives are
integrated. Especially in the field of value chain management, many studies are emerging on the relationships between technology excellence variables and
process excellence variables.

Let us visualize the variables of the two sides:

RFID Technology:

(a) Cost effectiveness
(b) Distributed information tagging (information attached with assets)
(c) Asset owner identification
(d) Information sharing accuracy
(e) Real time information sharing
(f) Ubiquitous coverage
(g) Location identification (both outdoor and indoor positioning of assets)
(h) Connectionless
(i) Integration with cloud-based information systems
(j) Integration with industrial sensors / control systems
(k) Assets security (against thefts and sabotage)
(l) Rapid incident response
(m) Integration with environmental sensors (like, continuous emissions and contamination reporting)
(n) RFID technology and Internet enabling (for communications and information sharing over the Internet)
(o) Rapid scalability
(p) Rapid commissioning and decommissioning

Value Chain process excellence:

(a) Multi-echelon information sharing
(b) Strategic supplier relationships
(c) Strategic customer relationships
(d) Automation of processes and tasks
(e) Multi-echelon collaborations
(f) Real-time information sharing
(g) Quality excellence
(h) Elimination of wastes (eliminating processes and tasks that do not add value)
(i) Elimination of defects and errors (quality excellence)
(j) Multi-skilled employees
(k) Cellular production systems
(l) Lean consumption of resources
(m) Agility in demand fulfillment
(n) Flexible assembly systems
(o) Demand pull strategy
(p) Just-in-time inventory management
(q) Real-time communications

There may be many more variables that we can add in these two lists. In addition, we can also add sub-variables (or latent variables to each of them).
If you observe, each of these areas demand a separate study, which may incorporate explorations of designs, relationship building, and simulations. Such
designs can be implemented in modeling software (like, OPNET Modeler). We have completed multiple technical studies involving design of architectures
using RFID sensors and WiFi networks in different application scenarios, and simulating the key variables reflecting performance, behavior, efficiency,
effectiveness, and problem areas. You may design your research in two directions: Technical architecture and designs with the help of significant levels of
system reviews, product reviews, design reviews and their detailing, and quantitative studies for exploring relationships between RFID variables and process
excellence variables in supply chain / value chain management.

Other possible proposed research areas are the following:

(M) Lean and Six-Sigma in Supply Chain Management
(N) Sustainabile Supply Chain Management
(O) Sustainable Procurement
(O) Sustainable Transportation
(P) Logistics and Supply Chain Process Excellence
(Q) Reverse Logistics and Supply Chains for Remanufacturing
(R) Cloud computing in Supply Chain Management
(S) Cloud computing based production and industrial engineering
(T) Internet Of Things in Supply Chain Management
(U) Transportation Networking through Location-based services
(V) Strategies to counter supply chain inefficiencies - like Forrester effect (Bullwhip effect), Beer Gaming, Order Rationing, Lead Time Uncertainties,
Disintegrated Processes, Wastes, and Unsustainability
(W) Supply Chains as Value Chains networks
(X) Gold mining supply chain management - special studies needed as they are quite different from the traditional supply chains
(Y) Business continuity planning in supply chain management
(Z) Relationships between supply chain performance variables and business performance variables
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