Nothing Academic About This initiative: IBM and OSU Partnership

July 29, 2014 - SCMR Editorial

“If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.”
- Thomas A. Edison

Mr. Edison summed it up succinctly; we are literally astounded when looking at our supply chain capabilities today. Our supply chains are extensive networks of interconnected global businesses used to provide products and service to customers on a 24/7, 365 days a year basis.

Critical in providing this ability is the proper understanding and employment of supply chain technologies (e.g. demand planning systems, order management systems, supplier lifecycle management, warehouse management systems, etc.) by supply chain managers. These tools are used to help drive competitive advantage through differentiated customer service capabilities, expansion of business to new market segments, and greater operational efficiencies and operating cost reductions. This, however, can prove to be a daunting task for many supply managers who are faced with time constraints as well as the multitude of technology choices available today or the general lack of experience with specific supply chain technology solutions.

Equipping supply chain managers with an understanding of how to select and efficiently use these tools is essential in today’s operations. Yet, too often these decisions fall to the responsibility of an IT staff that may or may not fully understand the operational impacts of a chosen solution. This situation can result in the exact opposite effect for the company when employing supply chain technology.

What can be done? In Columbus, IBM and the Ohio State University have teamed up to provide companies with future managers who have a solid understanding of the “right” tools needed to meet customer service and business expectations. Back in 2012, the two organizations formed a partnership through IBM’s Academic Initiative to add supply chain technology solutions into OSU’s logistics management curriculum at the graduate and undergraduate levels.

Students in the logistics major get “hands on” experience using IBM supply chain solutions such as ILOG®, SPSS®, and IBM Sterling TMS® during their programs. Students are able to use these tools on classroom exercises as well as on business-sponsored projects. These projects are “real world” supply chain problems provided by our business partners, Fortune 100, 500, and 1000 companies, for students to develop solutions using supply chain technology. Since 2012, this partnership has been a huge success for OSU’s Logistics Department, our business partners, and more importantly our students.

Due to the success of this partnership, IBM invited OSU to speak at the 2014 IBM Smarter Commerce conference in Tampa, Florida. During this conference I had the opportunity to speak to formally and informally to IBM’s business partners and clients on our academic partnership. Overwhelmingly IBM and OSU were applauded by members of the academic and business communities for this effort as well as repeatedly stating that today’s supply chain managers need to be equal parts coach, engineer, manager, and technologist. Attendees felt that while new mangers come out of college programs with a conceptual understanding of how technology works, too few have the practical experience necessary for its use in the operational setting.

This is where the IBM/OSU partnership creates value for the business community and the students. Our logistics programs use a combination of conceptual and practical focused content to provide supply chain technology skills to our students. This enables the students to compress the learning curve when arriving at the workplace and start contributing value sooner.

The real point of this column isn’t just to laud the partnership we have established at OSU. Rather, its to encourage other academic institutions to launch similar initiatives. In conversations with peer universities, many asked me how difficult was it to get the business community “buy-in” in providing support to the logistics management program and students as this was typically the most challenging part of their academic initiatives. I responded that when explaining the value that this partnership and program created for their companies they enthusiastically agreed to help wherever they could.

This support by the business community of the IBM/OSU partnership was evident in OSU’s Master’s in Business Logistics Engineering (“MBLE”) program where 66% (up 9% from 2012) of the December, 2013 graduating class reported job offers. This is especially significant since this program is predominantly comprised of international students who tend to have a more difficulty in obtaining employment in the U.S. At the undergraduate level, 83% (up 9% from 2012) of students graduating in 2013 reported job offers, which again seems to confirm the value this partnership brings to the business community and students.

Gone are the days when operational experience and know-how were “the” skills to have for supply chain managers. Today, supply chain managers are expected to understand how to employ supply chain technology as effectively as running a receiving dock, managing back stock, or overseeing the shipping operation.

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About the Author

Patrick Burnson, Executive Editor
Patrick Burnson is executive editor for Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management Review. Patrick covers international trade, global logistics, and supply chain management. He lives and works in San Francisco, providing readers with a Pacific Rim perspective on industry trends and forecasts. Contact Patrick Burnson


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