As director of the MSc Global Supply Chain Management at Cass Business School, Canan Kocabasoglu-Hillmer spends much of her time assessing the impact of disruptive technologies on the international supply chain.
Managers are having to assess and incorporate innovations like additive manufacturing — 3D printing — cloud computing, robotics, and data analytics into their increasingly global and complex supply chains.
These are themes that have been edging their way into Cass’ MSc. Launched in 2013, the 12-month-long program requires a UK 2.1 or above degree, or the equivalent from an overseas institution. Tuition fees for 2016/17 are undisclosed, but this year’s brochure details £18,000 in tuition fees.
How are disruptive technologies such as 3D printing shaping the global supply chain?
Consumers want more individualized, customized products. With 3D printing that shift seems to be accelerating. What we will probably see more and more of is that 3D printing is going to be used for mass customization.
It’s also changing the existing supply chain structure. What we might see more and more is that the production gets closer to the customer. If you think about supply chains, a lot are extended and global — china is used heavily for production. That may change a little.
3D printing could also potentially replace labour. Right now labour cost is an important component of deciding where you want to set up production.
There also seems to be some work with robotics and drones, if you look at where Amazon is going.
What impact are big data and advanced analytics having on the role of the supply chain manager?
It’s having a huge impact. Everybody talks about the importance of restructuring or adjusting your supply chain according to what your big data is telling you. That’s the final goal — to have a supply chain structure more in line with the needs and demands of your customers.
As a manager you have to contribute and have an understanding of the analytics strategy. Companies are incredibly pleased that they have access to data, they are just not completely sure what to look for within it.
Do supply chain managers need to master analytical tools?
There is a need for more analytical skills. Business managers really need to be retrained to able to process incredibly large data sets.
It’s very likely they will need to improve their IT skills [too] because a lot of that data is collected through IT systems.
But you also need to understand your audience; you need to understand consumer patterns. We haven’t exactly mastered that.
There are also some soft skills needed. For example, for an organization to be able to act upon what they [have] learned from the big data, they will work with other businesses. So you need good communication skills.
And as we may see some significant changes in supply chain structure, you have to be willing and open to change.
Given that supply chains are cross-functional, what difficulty do schools face in training managers to master all facets of a chain?
It’s the million dollar question. And at the strategic level these cross-functional links become even more apparent.
It seems to be an overarching problem across all programs. In the supply chain masters what we really try to do is to get the balance between technical and analytical versus soft skills right.
It’s a challenge to work on all of those dimensions in a year so we have a lot of help form other departments at Cass.
What impact have sustainability practices had on the supply chain?
Customers have become more sensitive to it, and more information is being disseminated about companies’ practices.
The big challenge in sustainable supply chains is that even if your company hasn’t had a sustainability problem, if they are the leading brand in that supply chain, they will be affected.
There are huge opportunities for resource conservation. Companies like Unilever have restructured their entire vision based on their use of resources. Clearly many organizations are quite aware of the difference they could make in this arena and are working on it.