Friday, July 15, 2016

Why We Wrote the Competing on Supply Chain Quality Book

I was thrilled when my new book, "Competing on Supply Chain Quality: A Network Economics Perspective," was published last month by Springer. The book was co-authored with my former doctoral student at the Isenberg School of Management, Dong Li, who is now an Assistant Professor at the School of Business at Arkansas State University. The book is the second book in the new Springer Series on Supply Chain Management that is edited by Distinguished University Professor Christ Tang of UCLA's Anderson School of Management.

We had conducted research on supply chain networks with a focus on quality for over half a decade.

The book was published last month, June 2016, and a box of copies arrived at the Isenberg School but I was at Oxford University as a Visiting Fellow at All Souls College for the Trinity term. Luckily, Christine Crigler of Springer was gracious to express mail two copies to me at Oxford.  Although this is my 13th book, the excitement of seeing the package and opening it up and then looking through your new book is always thrilling.
My co-author at that time was still visiting China but upon my return to Massachusetts, we were delighted to see each other and to look at the book together.

Writing the book was a passion and it was done in the US, while I was also in Sweden, as a Visiting Professor at the University of Gothenburg, and everything was finalized recently.

The study of supply chains, a critical area of both operations research and operations management has, interestingly, evolved completely separately from the literature on quality management, another much studied topic in operations management that has a long history. Moreover, there had been numerous instances of product failures that had resulted in not only such negative effects on humans as illnesses but even death. Consumers, when they purchase infant formula want to make sure that it is safe; the same holds for the cars that we drive, the food that we eat, and the high technology products that we use, to start.  Frankly, in many cases when we would read news articles, noting medicines that not only did not do the job that they were designed for but actually injured people, or airbags that would explode and injure people, or ignition switches that resulted in accidents and the death of young people, we were, frankly, furious!

As scholars and educators what we can do is do research so we began to develop supply chain network models that were realistic and that were computable. This was critical since much of the literature would consider only very small supply chains that one would never see in practice (but might be easy to solve and get some insights for). Clearly, producers in many cases would have more information about the products that they had manufactured than consumers would so we explored information asymmetry and also the impacts of minimum quality standards. An issue in our work that was fundamental was to give a precise definition of what we meant by quality. Quality sometimes has a rather qualitative flavor and we cared about quantitative measures.  W also wanted to quantify the impact on a firm's reputation if there were quality failures of is products. In contrast to much of the other literature, we also considered decentralized decision-making as opposed to centralized decision-making. Hence, we utilized network theory, optimization theory, and also, importantly, game theory to explore competition.

Our passion for product quality and the reality of globalization and outsourcing also drove us to develop supply chain network models with explicit supplier selection and make or buy decision-making and associated quality.  We were also able to develop a framework, which I am very proud of, that identifies the importance of suppliers to a firm's supply chain network and that of the supplier to the supply chain network economy. Clearly, one can then rank suppliers accordingly and, this provides decision-makers with important tools of assessment. Pay attention to those suppliers that affect you bottom line, should their production be disrupted, be it because of natural disasters  or other events.

Of course, since transportation has always been my love, along with logistics, we also explored the meaning of quality in freight. You want to make sure that Christmas trees arrive in time for the holiday, that the goods that you ordered are not damaged, and that the food does not spoil in transit!

Our research was documented in a series (many) papers since this was essential to get peer review done. After close to a dozen papers on the paper it became essential to synthesize all of our material and the book was the result.

The passion for product quality and supply chain networks continues as will the research.

Another thrill was seeing our book on display at the EURO 2016 conference in Poznan, Poland, which took place July 3-6, 2016, and which I wrote enthusiastically about in a previous blogpost. 
And, yesterday, we celebrated the publication of our book in a meaningful way and I expect there will be more celebrations.

Thanks to UMass Amherst for noting our new book by the News Office. This was a great collaboration, which continues.