By Yossi Sheffi, Ph.D.
More and more companies today are finding innovative ways to collaborate with supply chain research centers. When the projects are well planned and supported, the benefits of such partnerships can be substantial. Supply chain professionals often are surprised by how much value they derive, and the students involved enjoy the unique experience of applying their classroom-based knowledge in the real world.
One initiative that has proven to be especially rewarding for both parties is collaboration on graduate program theses or capstone research projects. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Global Supply Chain and Logistics Excellence (SCALE) Network, the typical research project process starts with finding prospective sponsor companies. Each center has an outreach program that companies can join to interact with faculty, exchange ideas, engage in research, and attend special events.
As part of their membership, partner companies can sponsor master’s program research projects. Those who are interested pitch their project ideas, and the relevant center matches projects with students. Each research project is focused on answering a question, and that question must be research, rather than consulting-based. Examples of typical research topics include setting the optimal delivery frequency for products, improving demand forecasting, and finding how a vendor-managed inventory program can be cost- and value-justified.
“Students are very good at tackling clearly defined problems, especially ones that involve quantitative analyses and modeling where they have to collect data from a variety of sources,” says Bruce Arntzen, executive director of the supply chain management program at the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics. Research questions that require students to analyze scenarios or alternative solutions to understand the key drivers of decisions also are well suited to these projects, he adds.