In the IT world, supply chain management is often associated with software packages offered by ERP vendors, but it’s still a business process many organizations struggle to master.

To better educate executives on both the tech and non-tech elements of supply chain management and logistics, York

University’s Schulich School of Business has launched an executive development program aimed at supply chain managers.

The program will be offered through the school’s Executive Centre for Supply Chain and Logistics Management and will include 11 courses in 2002-03, and the number of courses will double in the next two years, says Alan Saipe, the centre’s program director.

“”By the end of 2004 we’d like to be up to full complement (of courses),”” he says. The cornerstone is a five-day residential course called Essentials of Supply Chain Management that is offered three times a year.

The school already offers two courses and is now adding eight more. Saipe says the initial two were well-received. “”We had a sense there was a demand,”” he adds, hence the expansion of programs offered.

Participants can take individual courses, says Saipe, or enrol in the centre’s certificate program, which offers a wide selection of courses. There are four streams: management, functional and process, technology and industry, and cover a wide range of topics, including collaborative business, outsourcing, supply management, technology for transportation management, customer management and network optimization.

The “”Advanced”” certificate is granted for completing the “”Essentials”” course plus six additional courses within four years. Most coursework is done outside of the executive’s regular working hours.

Saipe says one of the centre’s strengths is its interaction outside the academic environment. The centre has assembled a blue-chip advisory board with strong industry ties to develop the program and deliver curriculum. “”We staff our courses with experienced practitioners,”” he says.

Phillipe Lamarche, project manager for logistics at Petro-Canada, decided to take courses at the Centre because he found himself working on a project.

“”Initially in the planning phase I wanted to validate my thinking and recommendations,”” he says. That led him to enrol in Logistics Management, and as he moved out of planning and directly into implementation, he says he began thinking about how he might leverage the decisions he had made months earlier.

“”It was at this point I decided I required a more comprehensive view of the ‘state-of-the-art thinking’ in and around supply chain and logistics,”” says Lamarche. His next step was to take the Essentials course, and since then he has attended the Collaborative Planning and Forecasting seminar.

Lamarche intends to continue to round out his knowledge with courses offered by the Centre, but says it was difficult to find training in this area for someone such as himself who is already midway in his career, even though there are a lot of degree options available.

“”A ‘one off’ three day seminar is not adequate to make one fully conversant with all the topical issues in this field of study,”” says Lamarche. “”That is why the Essentials course and the remaining courses are a valuable offer to practitioners. I did consider Northwestern’s one week seminars but was interested in something that would allow me to accumulate a more complete body of knowledge via follow-up seminars such as I am doing at Schulich.””

Lamarche says it’s important to note that supply chain management and logistics is not about being a technician. “”Technology is the enabler,”” he says. “”This is about process, about change management, about creating a vision that will render service to your customer and/or allow you to create a competitive advantage,”” adding that managers need a more holistic perspective on how to change the entire enterprise.

Lamarche says the training he has received so far relates to what he was experiencing at Petro-Canada and what he is trying to accomplish at his job. “”The case studies provided valuable insights into where others have tread before me.””

Lamarche says he is pleased to see practitioners from around the continent attend Schulich’s seminars because interacting with others and hearing their challenges adds to the learning experience.

While there have been supply chain management courses and seminars offered over the past decade by universities and commercial firms, says Mary Lou Fox, president of Fox Consulting and a member of the centre’s advisory panel.

She feels there needs to be a comprehensive, integrated approach that can be taken by professionals in the field that provides both overview perspectives as well as focused topics.

Fox also says technology must be included in the education of any supply chain executive. “”Many people currently working in the field have had minimal exposure to technology education,”” she says, “”(and) executives are in a position to drive key technology decisions for their corporations that can have a major impact on competitiveness and growth.””

Fox says many companies recognize that business executives should drive the strategic direction for IT implementations.

For example, she says, three key areas for supply chain improvement are improving supply chain responsiveness, communicating and collaborating with customers and suppliers, and reducing inventory.

“”Each of these initiatives will require technology changes as well as process and business practice change. Executives must understand the key aspects of the technology at a high level so that they can ensure the total solution they desire will provide the desired benefits.””

Another area that is critical for executives, and practitioners as well, says Fox, is understanding the link between financial performance of the corporation and effective supply chain performance.

“”Supply chain improvement projects can have a major impact on growth, competitiveness, reduction of assets and the efficiency of capital utilization which will have a major impact on financial performance,”” she says. “”Practitioners should be able to make these linkages for their CEO and CFO who frequently do not understand the power of supply chain effectiveness.””

Nick Tzoumis, vice-president of business innovation with Fujitsu Consulting, says the main drive for executive training in the supply chain is that it’s an area where misalignment can cost a company a tremendous amount of money. “”It’s always been looked at that there’s a lot of value to unlocking a real return on a company’s assets by looking at its supply chain.””

Most of the executive training that has been going on to date has been around business performance from a tools perspective — discrete tools that were basic for the supply chain, says Tzoumis.

“”Now with some of the newer tools and technology, the thought is (executives) can actually do better if they understand a little bit more on how the technology works as it applies to the supply chain.””

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