Surveying a road map for future supply chain research

Readers of posts here will be aware of just some of the vast range of supply chain related research, supported variously by the EU, national and local governments, and industry, that ZLC is involved with. What has been missing, though, is an overall research agenda at a strategic level covering all the bases for supply chain development in an inherently unpredictable future.
That is the purpose of the NextNet project, funded by the EU from the Horizon 2020 budget, in which Mustafa Çagri Gürbüz and Victoria Muerza from ZLC are taking leading roles. The idea in brief is to create a European network involving a critical mass of the most important stakeholders (as generators, commissioners and users of supply chain research) across industry – manufacturing, process, logistics and distribution –and academe. This network is involved in identifying likely (and less likely) future economic and industrial scenarios looking out to 2030 or so based on analysing socio-economic trends and drivers and how they may impact on supply chains. Out of that it is hoped to develop a strategic research agenda and an action plan to support the most promising enabling technologies and help develop research and innovation priorities.
Based on the trends and drivers identified in the first phase of the project that could affect the way that requirements placed on supply chains evolve, six ‘macroscenarios’ representing more or less likely lines of development for global, and particularly European industry and commerce were considered. Two of these might be regarded as ‘optimistic’: PrOCEEDINg (e.g., stable social and economic environment in a highly digitised world), and aSPIRANT; two as distinctly ‘pessimistic’: ENDANGEr (e.g. one trend being the political instability and collapse of EU) and UNEasE; and two fall somewhere in between: DiThER (e.g., Europe develops digitally and technologically but not enough to be globally competitive and automation leading to unemployment and social disequilibrium) and oFFsET. The definitions of scenarios are based on six dimensions from a PESTLE (Political, economic, social, technological, legal, environmental) analysis, and 22 descriptors with two to four projections each leading to projection bundles (named scenarios) were ordered for consistency and sorted by plausibility (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Scenarios definition (Source: NextNet project)


The scenarios mentioned above obviously do not present an exhaustive list of what might happen in the future and how likely or desirable any of these scenarios are of course to some extent a personal matter. We also note that a dominant scenario wouldn’t necessarily emerge everywhere, in every sector, or at the same time. Nonetheless, authors of this article believe that these scenarios and the resulting supply chain models along with the associated challenges serve as a framework that any particular company or organization could utilize to design and implement future-proof business models to remain competitive.
These scenarios suggest a number of possible supply chain models, characterised for example as ‘hyperconnected’, ‘humanitarian’, ‘global’, ‘resource efficient’, ‘closed loop’, ‘urban manufacturing’, ‘human centred’, ‘customer driven’, and ‘servitization’. Each of these (and several could apply in any given scenario) brings its own challenges. An extensive list of such challenges is presented, focusing on the sourcing strategy, distribution practices, supply chain integration, and finance.
From this ‘long list’ of supply chain and technological challenges we used insights into scenarios and models to ‘cluster’ individual challenges into larger themes and workshopped our results with NextNet consortium partners and industry stakeholders. The result is a list of 23 ‘Supply Chain Challenges’ and 13 ‘Technological Challenges’.
These challenges form the ‘headlines’ around which we believe a Strategic Research Agenda for the supply chain should be developed. A detailed analysis of each challenge area in terms of operational, technological, legal, financial and behavioural issues is needed to scope out the research work that is needed. One particular challenge which is relevant in most scenarios for example is the ‘need for developing new collaborative supply chain models’. The deployment of collaborative models require trust building mechanisms to encourage supply chain actors to share plans and information, easing supplier-buyer financial relationships (e.g., financial support for smaller cash-constrained firms and relaxing payment terms), and promotion of end-to-end supply chain solutions to create agile/responsive supply chains matching supply and demand. The more detailed definition of the challenges and the reason why they are relevant are available upon request to Mustafa Çagri Gürbüz and Victoria Muerza.
The detailed description of each aforementioned emerging supply chain model (e.g., hyperconnected), along with its associated behavioural, operational, financial, technological, legal challenges and the top priority research needs to overcome the same will form the next stage of the NextNet project, on which we hope to report in a few months.