Supply chains have gone from a fairly niche topic to front-page news, with several major upheavals from Covid to climate change and Russia’s war in Ukraine causing disruptions to global trade, making supply chains a focal point for business leaders.
The appetite for solutions to supply-chain challenges is exceptionally high, with business schools reporting strong demand for their executive education courses that focus on managing supply chains and making them run more effectively.
“Supply chains have certainly made it to the main pages of the newspapers, and this only highlights the importance of supply-chain management. The tremendous challenges for supply chains across the globe have only underlined that everyone in the organization is impacted by the disruptions -- and therefore everyone should understand how supply chains operate,” says Rudi Leuschner, an Associate Professor in the department of Supply Chain Management at Rutgers Business School, in New Jersey.
Just like supply chains need continuous improvement and an eye towards the future, so do educational programs. The Mini-MBA: Digital Supply Chain Management certificate program, offered at Rutgers, is being updated to reflect the latest thinking and best practice.
“This course is suited for those who want to learn techniques for re-evaluating and analyzing the current global supply chain management strategy and operations of their organizations -- and develop and implement fresh ideas to enhance their supply chain management processes and practices -- to increase the supply chain’s resilience and position,” says Vickie Anderson, the program’s Global Manager.
Building resilience into supply chains
“We explain the idea of supply chain resilience, its components, and instances of how they are used within a business. We outline the causes of supply-chain interruption as well as doable, tested, agile, and adaptable solutions that can be included in each company’s unique supply chain strategy to mitigate the effects of unavoidable supply disruption on operational efficiency,” she adds.
The program is also being refreshed to place more emphasis on geopolitical considerations including the trend of reshoring operations closer to home, after decades of outsourcing to cheaper offshore locations during the era of hyper-globalization that some experts say has stalled.
“Most companies’ supply chains operate on a global scale and therefore our modules are designed towards that paradigm. As geopolitical forces change best practices, our courses must take this paradigm shift into account,” says Leuschner.
“As most western companies are reorienting themselves away from Russia and China towards domestic and closer locations, we have to enable executives to transition their supply chains. The operational, informational and financial implications must be considered. We provide our attendees with strategies towards accomplishing this transition.”
Creating greener value chains
Other schools are updating their executive courses as well, including the Executive Master Class in Supply Chain Management offered by Vlerick Business School in Belgium.
“Our program updates itself, almost automatically, as we are continuously in conversation with potential students, current participants and our alumni. This gives us a direct link to the ground in what is an incredibly fast-changing field, and allows us to constantly fine-tune our program,” says Ann Vereecke, Professor of Operations Management and Partner at Vlerick Business School.
“We are emphasizing the role of technology and digitalization in modern supply chains. There is a greater element of visibility and transparency to supply chains than ever, and we highlight how technology plays a large role in responding to trends and challenges,” she adds.
Technology is seen as part of the answer to help companies create greener value chains. As businesses work towards net zero targets, they must account for the greenhouse gases emitted through their supply chains. “We invest heavily in research to make our supply chains more sustainable, in manufacturing as well logistics; we are keen to bring those solutions into the classroom,” says Robert Boute, Professor of Operations and Supply Chain Management at Vlerick Business School.
“For example, we work on using data-driven AI solutions to improve the sustainability of logistics -- one of the hardest sectors to decarbonize.
“We have developed AI-driven algorithms to combine the parallel usage of rail with road transport. While the use of rail transport is more eco-friendly, road transport helps to overcome the inflexibility inherent to rail. Our dual solutions improve the sustainability of logistics without any adverse impact on costs or service levels.”
Ultimately, participants leave having a much more holistic understanding of just how wide-ranging their supply chain may be, and just how interconnected it is with different parts of their business.
“From marketing and sales to operations and customer care – we link the management of supply chain to every aspect of the business. This way, when there is a crisis, our participants are far more prepared to quickly understand the other aspects of their business that will be impacted by changes or disturbances within their supply chain,” says Vereecke.
She adds: “I think perhaps the most important learning outcome is that you leave understanding that your company strategy really is a key aspect of your supply chain strategy; it is at the very core of achieving KPIs and business goals.”