The Center for Supply Networks will be at the leading edge of the frame-breaking changes in supply chain research that are starting to occur. First, supply chains are being framed as a complex adaptive system. Second, supply chains are recognized as being at the root of sustainability concerns.
Historically, the field of supply chain management has focused on "dyads" as the most basic unit of a supply chain--what happens between a single buyer and a single supplier. The goal of most SCM research today is to provide suggestions on how buyers can select suppliers and then manage them to meet requirements. The dominant frame is buyer-centric and control-oriented. Suppliers are regarded as passive actors who mechanically respond to the commands of the buying companies.
SCM Research is Evolving
However, our field is beginning to evolve, extending beyond these commonly accepted assumptions and genres of research. Many scholars, with research leadership provided by Professor Kevin Dooley and I, have started to address supply chains as networks with dynamics through multi-levels of supply chains. They also have started to investigate the buyer-supplier dynamics not just from the buyer's perspective but also the supplier's.
The center will take the leadership in this effort that addresses suppliers as independent actors and addresses a supply chain more realistically, as a network made up of many companies that are simultaneously both buyers and suppliers. They are autonomous companies making decisions obeying local rules, yet they also are a collective emerging into a coherently organized system—a complex adaptive system.
Sustainability in Supply Networks
Sustainability is a global supply network issue. Historical concerns about the environmental impact of products and services have focused on the local and regional impact. But the larger issues of resource and energy sustainability, irreversibility of some chemical changes, global climate and ecological system changes, and differential responsibilities and economic realities create the need for a truly global perspective regarding the environment.
Planning decisions are more complex if long-term impact and cost implications are considered at the global level for an entire supply network. More research is needed on how to make tactical decisions in response to major strategies such as:
- Full product take-back
- Design and manufacture for disassembly
- Design and manufacture for zero toxic waste disposal
- Manufacturing new products with mostly reused and remanufactured components
- Manufacturing without depleting resource reserves
- Designing to minimize energy usage over a product/service bundle's entire life cycle of creation, use, reuse, down-cycling and recycling.
In an era of rapidly reduced product life cycles and increased supply network coordination, we need to develop models to allow quick and accurate analysis of environmental impacts and risks over the entire supply network.