The pandemic put supply chain management on the radar of the C-suite, reminding organizational leaders that the function is the “secret sauce” of a successful business model.
But supply chains also hit the headlines under a negative spotlight, with pictures of paralyzed ports and halted assembly lines, and suggestions that supply chains were broken, slowing down economic growth.
Supply chain professionals are reviewing their priorities after updating their risk profiles in light of recent experiences. And a growing number are seeking the support of business schools, delivering a boost to enrolment on executive education courses in operations management. The career outcomes for such participants have also strengthened and diversified.
“During the pandemic, money that cannot be spent on services fueled demand for physical goods, which are mostly produced far from the main consumer markets,” says Enver Yucesan, Professor of Operations Management at INSEAD. “Lockdowns and confinements kept the workforce at home, reducing production and stopping port operations. Backlogs and bottlenecks sprang up along the entire chain, frustrating managers [and] angering consumers.”
Yucesan is the director of the Supply Chain Management program at INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France. The executive program is designed for managers involved in creating, optimizing or redesigning a supply chain: operations, manufacturing, logistics, procurement, information technology management, marketing, new product development or distribution.
Participants benefit from discovering tools to align core processes for operational excellence — and frameworks to manage risks and opportunities for sustainable supply chain management on a global scale.
“While the key supply chain management pillars have not changed, the pandemic has provided us with many examples and illustrations of those concepts, and the opportunity to discuss novel approaches to make supply chains more resilient without compromising on value creation and capture,” says Yucesan.
Digital transformation: An emerging topics on supply chain executive courses
One key addition to the course content at INSEAD, however, is digital transformation. “We view digital transformation as a catalyst for business model innovation in mitigating the trade-off between lean and resilient supply chains,” Yucesan adds. “We focus on hardware (IoT and additive manufacturing) and infrastructure (cloud and blockchain) to enhance visibility across global networks for timely access to high-granularity information.”
Ann Vereecke, Professor of Operations and Supply Chain Management at Vlerick Business School in Belgium, agrees that digital transformation is having a huge impact on supply chain management, and it has been accelerated because of COVID. “Companies are using digital transformation to make operations leaner, more cost-effective and more environmentally friendly, through better use of their assets and resources,” she says.
In addition to increased digitalization in supply chains, in the pandemic it’s become more difficult for companies to effectively forecast demand and plan capacity and supply, which Vereecke says is a real challenge for supply chain managers. “It has shown that risks need to be managed effectively,” she says. “Though difficult, it is possible. Being aware of potential disruptions and having contingency plans is ever more important.”
The Executive Master Class in Supply Chain Management at Vlerick helps participants build their knowledge and understanding of managing agile, sustainable, cross-functional and global supply chains. “They learn how supply chain management links in with the rest of the organization, and how it can impact areas such as sales [and] finance,” says Vereecke.
The core modules look at supply chain planning, strategies, resilience and risk management, collaboration and sustainability, whilst electives look at operational excellence, digitalization in supply chains and broader management, leadership and finance knowledge.
“We see a range of different profiles taking the program: a vast number of senior professionals with experience in other departments wanting to learn more about supply chain management and how this affects other parts of the business,” Vereecke says.
It’s a similar story at Singapore Management University, which puts on the Global Supply Chain Management Program for mid and senior industry executives from product and service-oriented multinationals, supply chain partners like distribution firms, and consultancies managing global and Asian supply-chain operations.
“There is an increased interest in the course,” says program director Shantanu Bhattacharya, because of how the pandemic has influenced supply chain management with an increased focus on risk and resilience as well as digitization and localization. “Supply chains had been globalizing rapidly for the last two decades. The pandemic seems to have seen a bigger push towards localization, primarily for mission critical goods like healthcare,” says Bhattacharya.
“The amount of content that has focused on the topics of risk and resilience, digitization, globalization and agility in supply chains has been in higher demand, so we have updated and strengthened content in these modules,” he adds.
Focusing more on doing
There has been a big change in terms of pedagogy too with a shift to online learning. “While we had more case studies in the past, the online learning modules have made that a bit more difficult,” says Bhattacharya. “We have responded by adding more gamification and simulation content, focusing more on learning by doing.”
Additionally, he says that participants’ career outcomes have been enhanced too. “In the area of operations and supply chain management, we see an increased set of roles related to risk management and digitization — specifically analyst roles [requiring] specific technical skills including knowledge of R, Python and data science,” Bhattacharya says.
In addition, he says risk and compliance role descriptions have increased in frequency in job postings. “While we also see an increased need for sustainability training, we think that is more of a long-term trend,” he adds. “We also see an increased need of integrative and holistic experience being asked for by recruiters, as they ask for participants who have end-to-end knowledge of the supply chain.”