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21st Century Logistics and Supply Chain Management by Prof Edward Sweeney: 27 January 2022

In these challenging times the world of Logistics and Supply Chain Management faces positive opportunities as well as difficulties, and these can benefit both companies and our wider wellbeing. The profession has attained recognition for its pivotal role in delivering economic and societal wellbeing, and the role of higher education will be key to its future success.

Brexit and the pandemic have ensured that we live in interesting times. Challenges that we face include:

• competition and markets, producing demand pressures;
• rapidly developing technology, which may leave Small and Medium Enterprises struggling;
• big data;
• talent availability - the HGV driver shortage is replicated across other sectors;
• the need for resilience, where the lessons of the last two years may have taken us from faith in Just in Time to placing more reliance on Just in Case;
• international economic and political volatility; and
• environmental degradation, led by the Climate Emergency.

The New Normal is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, and there is no play-button to answer all our questions.

The Four Fundamentals of Supply Chain Management are:

• setting objectives;
• SCM philosophy and integration, i.e., a shift away from the fragmentation that was a characteristic of many traditionally-managed supply chains.
• managing supply-chain flows; and
• supply-chain relationships.

The vaccine rollout brought new recognition of SCM's critical role, requiring innovation in our response to the pandemic's unprecedented challenges and harnessing the critical part played by new technology. If the technological dimension can be termed "hard-wiring", the people one is "soft-wiring". Research feeds through teaching into learning, and through technology transfer of innovative processes into company support, which also benefits from innovation through people in programmes like graduate apprenticeships. Heriot-Watt leads the way along with Cambridge and Westminster Universities on research into sustainable roadfreight, but it is important that our focus should go beyond the purely academic. Strong and sustainable innovation ought not to become change for change's sake since if properly applied it can avert the risk that standing still might turn into falling behind, and must involve policymakers if it is to embrace environmental sustainability and structural resilience.

Ed Sweeney and Donald Waters have co-authored "Global Logistics: New Directions in Supply Chain Management" in which they ask whether logistics has the right skills to meet likely demands. Is there too much focus on technology as a silver bullet that will solve everything, and not enough on developing the talents of the industry's people? How do we ensure that innovation is at the same rate across the sector, avoiding a "digital divide" so that the smaller companies may not be left behind by the big players? The crisis across the supply chain has many different contributory causes, and what CoVid-19 did was to reveal a shortage of the key people, who had to become more agile.

Brexit and CoVid-19 have called into question the balance between Just in Time and Just in Case, highlighting the benefit of strategic stockholding to cope with the uncertainties that may interrupt the chain. Putting appropriate control systems in place often represents a significant challenge in its own right.

Report by John Yellowlees.


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