Supply chain moves goods, grows jobs

Anthony RossThere are lots of misperceptions about “supply chain” and “supply chain management.”

“Essentially, supply chain is about satisfying the consumer – moving goods and services to precisely where the consumer wants them, and when they want them, and then supporting the consumer even after the sale has been made,” says Anthony Ross, the Rockwell Automation Endowed Chair in Supply Chain Management and a professor in UWM’s Lubar School of Business.

But supply chain management is bigger – much bigger – than the production and logistics processes.

“Supply chain spans many aspects of the economy beyond manufacturing to include where and how we procure supplies, and how and when we arrange for storage and eventual delivery of the finished products down the very last mile to the consumer,” Ross explains.

And today, more than ever, even small companies can compete globally – thanks to the emergence of the information age and economic integration among countries.

“Technology has reduced the distance between customer and supplier, and the time it takes to receive and fulfill an order. Economic integration has made it easier for distant companies and distant consumers to do business in many ways.

“Today’s consumers are coming to expect higher and higher levels of service from companies,” Ross continues. “Despite the associated business risks, companies are realizing that serving these sophisticated and globally dispersed customers, and collaborating with supply chain partners, requires new business models.”

Supply chain strategy

Supply chain management comprises the strategies companies use to design, build, deliver and support their products (and services) faster, cheaper and better than competitors. This is why graduates of supply chain management programs draw attention and job offers these days.

“At the Lubar School, we’re educating students to ‘think deeply and broadly’ about people, processes and technology, and how different organizations combine these assets to serve their consumer base,” says Ross.

“Believe it or not, supply chains exist in nonprofit organizations, hotels, hospitals, insurance companies and, of course, traditional product manufacturers and logistics providers. Supply chain management is all about anticipating customers’ future needs today and planning to serve those needs.”

UWM becomes supply chain central

Students, faculty and members of the business community are connecting through the Lubar School’s new Supply Chain Management Institute, which seeks to become the destination for industry and policy leaders looking to discuss, exchange and disseminate key ideas and insights impacting the management of the supply chain.

“Education, particularly in supply chain and the business sector, can benefit from partnering with companies by bringing real-world projects into the classroom and allowing practicing executives and managers to interact with students from start to finish,” says Ross.

“Practitioners, faculty and our student teams actively engage in studying a problem and testing approaches and solutions. The process includes understanding why some potential solutions are impractical, then comparing the final recommendations with the company’s current practices. We are not aiming to change companies. Rather, we are exposing students to the complex nature of real-world decision-making.”

Through the institute, faculty and industry interaction leads to better-prepared graduates and collaborative research partnerships addressing the pressing issues on industry managers’ minds. Companies also have a say today in how the talent of tomorrow is prepared, and students meet prospective employers.

This approach helps students acquire the skills needed in today’s fast-moving, globally connected environment, according to Ross.

“Students may be able articulate concepts brilliantly. We aim to put them in poorly structured problem environments and inspire them to practice managing projects and relationships in a low-stakes environment.”

Global outlook

Besides being able to think and analyze, Ross also points to the importance of speaking a foreign language, pursuing an internship abroad and appreciating other cultures.

“We should look comprehensively at how companies manage their supply chain operations in other countries for the benefit of our students and to support our research. Increasingly, new college graduates must become geographically transferrable, industry transferrable and internally transferrable during their career. We are trying to provide them a small leg up.”

Supply chain management appeals to “those who have the passion to always learn something new,” says Ross. “The dynamics of the corporate supply chains today prove that nothing stays the same in business. The data for making decisions is often incomplete, but practitioners have to use their best available experience and tool sets to make good, timely decisions.”