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Evolving functional perspectives within supply chain management.


The field of supply chain management (SCM) has undergone significant development and change over the past three decades, as the term was first coined by Keith Oliver in a 1982 Financial Times article (Laseter 81 Oliver, 2003). In fact, even after 31 years, there is little agreement on the primary functions responsible for SCM; there is no overarching and unifying theory of SCM; there is not even a consensus definition of SCM. Yet, there are over 82 periodicals that now publish SCM articles and case studies (Menachof, Gibson & Hanna, 2009). An increasing number of functions are being identified as directly relevant to SCM. In addition to the four functions identified as foundational -- operations, logistics, supply management, and marketing (Frankel, Bolumole, Eltantawy, Paulraj Gundlach, 2008) -- management information systems (MIS) is increasingly viewed as integral to SCM.

Further, areas such as finance, economics, accounting, psychology, sociology, human resources, and organizational behavior are being included as relevant (Bertrand & Fransoo, 2002).

The result has been a lack of clarity regarding the meaning and scope of SCM, "siloed" research methodologies, and parallel research efforts. In fact, a meta-analysis of SCM research documents that different interpretations of the same concepts, as well as using different concepts with the same meaning, is highly problematic for researchers (Fabbe-Costes & Jahre, 2008). A more cohesive understanding of SCM is needed for researchers to develop a consistent stream of research that builds on what has been carried out in the past, helps identify relevant research directions, and establishes acceptable rigorous methodologies. In addition, a clearer understanding of SCM would enable researchers and executives to work more collaboratively to address particularly complex and intractable problems endemic in today's business environment. The ability to address emerging SCM challenges, such as global value creation and delivery, healthcare services delivery, or improving food distribution networks in emerging economies, would benefit from a more unifying, definitional, and theoretical lens.

To better understand these issues, we interviewed 50 journal editors across a range of key functions, as well as 20 SCM executives. Interviews are ideal to capture the state of a field when it is undergoing rapid change and there are significant time delays from when a change occurs to when it is reported in academic journals (Melnyk, Lummus, Vokurka, Burns & Sandor, 2009). We interviewed scholars from operations management, logistics, supply management, and marketing -- the functions identified as foundational to SCM (Frankel et al., 2008). In addition, based on responses from academic participants, we included scholars from MIS. Our objective was to extract commonality of opinion regarding the current state of SCM and its future direction and to develop a better understanding of SCM across functions. We did not attempt to introduce a new or novel definition or conceptualization of SCM, but rather find "common ground" from which to advance the development of SCM. Identification of commonalities and differences between the functions was seen as a precursor to exploring opportunities for constructive change.

To complement the theoretical perspective, our interviews also included SCM executives to develop a more comprehensive view of SCM and to understand SCM implementation challenges at the firm level. Although the executives underscored many of the same challenges raised by the academics, they offered a complementary perspective. For example, the executives noted their own views of SCM as being organizationally and industry "siloed" and very much focused on their own function. They also noted that functional roles within business organizations have changed as SCM has evolved in importance within the firm. In this paper, we present these findings and provide a view of the evolving functional roles in SCM based on the collective wisdom of these scholars and executives.


Divergent Definitions

Researchers from many functions have put forth varying definitions of SCM. A subset of these definitions taken from introductory textbooks within each function is shown in Tables 1 and 2. Most attempt to be as comprehensive and as inclusive as possible, elaborating on both downstream and upstream management of networks of organizations and processes, with a focus on the end customer. Reviewing these definitions, however, reveals a definitional bias influenced by the unique perspective of each function. For example, operations' definitions of SCM typically focus on issues related to the mechanism of design and delivery of goods; logistics definitions focus on the flow of materials; purchasing definitions focus on raw materials; and marketing definitions focus on the link to the channels of distribution.


Select Definitions of Supply Chain Management by Discipline

Discipline    Authors              SCM Definition

Operations  Metnyk et al.     An integrated system that
            (2009)            brings together the supply
                              base (the
                              upstream portion including
                              the supply network), the
                              firm, and its
                              customers (the downstream
                              portion including the

            Simchi-Levi,      A set of approaches
            Kaminsk and       utilized to efficiently
            Simchi-Levi       integrate suppliers,
            (2007)            manufacturers, warehouses,
                              and stores, so that
                              merchandise is
                              produced and distributed
                              at the right quantities,
                              to the right
                              location, and at the right
                              time, to minimize
                              systemwide costs while
                              satisfying service level
            Swink, Melnyk,    The design and execution
            Cooper and        of relationships and flows
            Hartley (2010)    that connect
                              the parties and processes
                              across a supply chain.

Logistics   Christopher       The management of upstream
            (1998)            and downstream
                              relationships with
                              suppliers and customers to
                              deliver superior customer
                              value at less
                              cost to the supply chain
                              as a whole.
            Mentzer et al.    Applying analytical tools
            (2001)            and frameworks to improve
                              processes that cross
            Lambert,          The integration of key
            Garcia-Dastugue   business processes from
            and Croxton       end user through
            (2005)            original suppliers that
                              provide products,
                              services, and information
                              that add value for
                              customers and other
                              stakeholders through 8
                              supply chain management
                              processes (customer
                              customer services, demand,
                              order fulfillment,
                              manufacturing flow,
                              supplier relationship,
                              product development, and
            Stock and Boyer   The management of a
            (2009)            network of relationships
                              within a firm and
                              between interdependent
                              organizations and business
                              consisting of material
                              suppliers, purchasing,
                              production facilities.
                              logistics, marketing, and
                              related systems that
                              facilitate the forward
                              and reverse flow of
                              materials, services,
                              finances, and information
                              from the original producer
                              to final customer, with
                              the benefits of
                              adding value, maximizing
                              profitability through
                              efficiencies, and
                              achieving customer
            Coyle et al.      A pipeline or conduit for
            (2013)            the efficient and
                              effective flow of
                              services, information, and
                              financial from the
                              supplier's suppliers
                              through the various
                              out to the customer's

Purchasing  Burt, Petcavage   The process of managing
            and Pinkerton     the flow of raw materials
            (2010)            from Mother
                              Earth to the original
                              equipment manufacturer. It
                              is the upstream
                              portion of the value
            Monczka,          Involves proactively
            Handfield,        managing the two-way
            Giunipero and     movement and
            Patterson (2008)  coordination of goods,
                              services, information, and
                              funds (i.e., the
                              various flows) from raw
                              material through to end
                              user and requires
                              the coordination of
                              activities and flows that
                              extend across
            Leenders et al.   Is the systems approach to
            (2006)            managing the entire flow
                              of information.
                              materials, and services
                              from raw materials
                              suppliers through
                              factories and warehouses
                              to the end customer. SCM
                              represents a
                              philosophy of doing
                              business that stresses
                              processes and

Marketing   Kotler and        Managing upstream and
            Armstrong (2010)  downstream value-added
            Grewal and Levy   flows of
            (2008)            materials, final goods,
                              and related information
                              among suppliers, the
                              company resellers, and
                              final customers.
                              Refers to a set of
                              approaches and techniques
                              that firms employ to
                              efficiently and
                              effectively integrate
                              their suppliers,
                              manufacturers, warehouses,
                              and stores, and other
                              firms involved in the
                              transaction such as
                              transportation companies,
                              into a seamless value
                              chain in which merchandise
                              is produced and
                              distributed in the right
                              quantities, to the right
                              locations, and at the
                              right time as well as to
                              minimize systemwide costs
                              while satisfying the
                              service levels required by
                              their customers.
            Lamb, Hair and    A management system that
            McDaniel (2009)   coordinates and integrates
                              all of the
                              activities performed by
                              supply chain members into
                              a seamless process, from
                              the source to the point of
                              consumption, resulting in
                              enhanced customer and
                              economic value.


Select Definitions of Supply Chain Management by Association

Association   SCM Definition

ISM          The design and
             management of
             processes across
             boundaries to meet
             the real needs of
             the end customer.
             The development
             and integration of
             people and
             resources are
             critical to
             successful supply

CSCMP        SCM encompasses
             the planning and
             management of all
             involved in
             sourcing and
             conversion, and
             all Logistics
             Importantly, it
             also includes
             coordination and
             collaboration with
             channel partners,
             which can be
             service providers,
             and customers. In
             essence, Supply
             Chain Management
             integrates supply
             and demand
             management within
             and across

APICS        Supply chain is
             made up of the
             process from the
             initial raw
             materials to the
             consumption of the
             finished products
             linking across
             companies. The
             functions inside
             and outside a
             company enable the
             value chain to
             make products and
             provide services
             to the customer.
             SCM is the
             organizing, and
             controlling of
             supply chain

AMA          Not available.

Although there is commonality, each function has defined and conceptualized SCM slightly differently and there is a lack of definitional consensus (Stock & Boyer, 2009). There is even disagreement as to whether SCM is a management philosophy, implementation of a management philosophy, or a set of management processes (Gundlach, Bolumole, Eltan-tawy & Frankel, 2006). These different perspectives have resulted in a "siloed" study of SCM. They have also resulted in "turf wars" for the ownership of SCM and the creation of numerous barriers for the progress and evolution of SCM theory.

Topical and Methodological Differences

Functional areas of study sometimes lock into a particular paradigm, theory, or research method, ignoring complementary developments in other functions that could provide additional insights (Merchant, Van der Stede & Zheng, 2003). Reviewing textbooks and research articles by function enables identification of dominant SCM research areas and methodologies; Table 3 lists commonality and research gaps across the five functions.


Summary of Common Topics and Methodologies by Function

Operations    Study of processes that transform inputs into goods
              and services (Krajewski, Ritzman & Malhotra, 2006)

Common        Transformation processes: total quality management,
topics        lean manufacturing, materials management, and service
              operations,  bullwhip effect, supply chain design,
              vendor managed inventory, supply chain coordination,
              and information sharing (Frankel et al., 2008;
              Kouvelis, Chambers & Wang, 2006)

Common        Originally modeling (mathematical, optimization,
methods       simulation; Bertrand & Fransoo, 2002) and more recently
              empirical research methodologies, including surveys,
              rigorous case studies, and conceptual quantitative
              modeling (Frankel et al., 2008)

Logistics     Study of management of materials in motion and at rest
Common        (Russell, 2000) Flow and storage of goods, services,
topics        and related information, between the point of origin
              and the point of consumption ( order
              management, inventory, transportation, warehousing,
              material handling, and packaging (Bowersox, Closs &
              Cooper, 2010)

Common       Surveys, simulation, and mathematical modeling, with a
methods      smaller percentage involving case studies and experiments
             (Craighead, Hanna, Gibson & Meredith, 2007)

Supply       Study of processes to ensure reliable supply of materials
management   and services (Wisner & Tan, 2000)

Common       Upstream management: procurement, strategic sourcing,
topics       supply management, consumption management, vendor
             selection, contract negotiation, contract management,
             total cost of ownership, supplier relationships, and
             supply base rationalization (Martinez-de-Albeniz &
             Simchi-Levi, 2005; Poirier, 1999)

Common       Surveys, case studies, and interviews, with less
methods      reliance on experiments and modeling (Carter &
             Ellram, 2003)

Marketing    Study of exchange relationships (Hunt, 1983) in the
             context of conception, promotion, and delivery of a
             positive customer experience (Frankel et al., 2008)

Common       Upstream management: marketing management, services
topics       marketing, structure, relationship marketing and
             interaction, and network approach in business marketing,
             and marketing channels, with an emphasis on power and
             conflict management, understanding collaborative
             relationships, governance, role of channel captain,
             and channel performance (Moller, 2007)

Common       Originally empirical methods, such as survey research,
methods      experimental studies, and case studies and more
             recently quantitatively based methodologies, such as
             econometric and mathematical modeling

Information  Study of understanding, interpreting, adapting to, and
Systems      effectively managing technologies that have been, and
             currently are in use, as well as emerging technologies
             (Banker & Kauffman, 2004)

Common       Digitally enabled interfirm process capabilities to
topics       increase visibility, connectivity, and synchronicity:
             decision support and design science, understanding the
             value of information, human computer systems design,
             and the economics, organization, and strategy of
             information technology (Banker, Bardhan, Hsihui & Shu,
             2006; Klein, Rai & Straub, 2007; Rai, Patnayakuni &
             Seth, 2006; Subramani, 2004)

Common       Surveys, case studies, math and simulation modeling

As seen in Table 3, the five foundational SCM functions exhibit topical and methodological commonality. All are increasingly focused on elevating their function as a critical strategic element in achieving a competitive advantage. In addition, each function is evolving toward a broader, external orientation, in line with the study of SCM (Frankel et al., 2008). However, each function remains "siloed," conducting SCM research within their own domain. Each function is also shifting their methodological focus, with some adopting more mathematical methodologies, and others shifting to a broader use of empirical methods.

A review of function-based SCM research reveals common trends across all five functions. First, all five functions have recognized the need to evolve from an intrafirm focus to a more holistic, strategic, and collaborative focus across the supply chain. Second, although each function tends to favor a particular research methodology, such as preferring empirical methods or modeling, the functions have begun to overlap. As a result, utilizing the different research methodologies and different perspectives to collaborate on a myriad of SCM research issues would likely lead to more reliable solutions.

Consider that many of the dominant SCM research problems and topics are addressed across multiple functions. An example is the study of inventory, which is an underlying focus of "inventory management and production planning" in operations, "distribution planning and transportation management" in logistics, "supplier management and contracts" in supply management, "buying strategies" in marketing, and "sharing of inventory information and demand forecasts" in information systems. The opportunity for more convergence across functions is apparent by reviewing existing research by domain (operations, supply, logistics, marketing, and information systems) on key managerial SCM decision-making contexts. Table 4 reveals that many of the important managerial SCM decision-making contexts are studied across the five main disciplines. While each domain provides a distinct contribution to each decision-making context (e.g., for B2B relationships: insights on customer relationships by marketing, third-party logistics relationships by logistics, supplier relationships by supply management, and connectivity enablers by information systems), effective management decisions often involve multiple perspectives (e.g., customer relationships and third-party relationships) of each issue. Research triangulation suggests that results are more credible when multiple research methods are utilized. Significant value would be gained by having multiple functions bringing their preferred research methodologies, philosophies, and topical expertise to bear on a particular SCM problem.


Sample of Percentages of Supply Chain Research in Managerial
Decision-Making Contexts by Domain (a)

Managerial           Operations  Marketing      Supply  Logistics
Decision-Making         (%) (c)        (%)  Management        (%)
Context (b)                                        (%)

Innovation/NPD               12         12          11         10

Market/customer              14         15          18         18

Customer                     10         15           7         32

Demand and                   12          5          13         25

B2B relationships            20          6          20         14

Global supply chain          23          3          18          7

Risk                          8          1           7         13

Environmental                 4          4          13          6

Managerial           Information
Decision-Making      Systems (%)
Context (b)

Innovation/NPD                 4

Market/customer                6

Customer                      13

Demand and                     9

B2B relationships             10

Global supply chain            8

Risk                          12

Environmental                 10

(a) Percentages of articles published in associated journal

(b) Topics were developed based on review of existing literature
and were reviewed and approved by 20 executives.

(c) Review of Journal of Operations Management, Journal of
Marketing, Journal of Supply Chain Management, Journal of
Business Logistics, and MIS Quarterly.

In summary, the literature review reveals a lack of definitional and boundary consensus, as well as lack of general agreement on accepted methodologies. Although there is a universal shift away from an intra-firm focus, functional isolationism is dominant. Yet, the significant topical commonality and strong focus on SCM across functions underscore the importance of this issue. This strongly suggests the need for greater consensus across functions to address increasingly complicated SCM problems and a joint path forward in the evolution of SCM.


Research objectives and corresponding research questions should drive selection of the research methodology (Patton, 2002). Past researchers have relied on Delphi studies to assess the future of SCM (Melnyk et al., 2009; Monczka & Markham, 2007; Ogden, Petersen, Carter & Monczka, 2005). In contrast, this research study seeks to combine both a literature review and qualitative interviews of 70 SCM thought leaders to extract "common ground" across functional boundaries.


The initial set of interviewees solely consisted of journal editors. Each editor was then asked to list five additional editors or thought leaders who should be interviewed to ensure a comprehensive study. These additional individuals were automatically added to the list of participants if mentioned by more than three interviewees. Saturation of findings (Strauss & Corbin, 2008) was reached with 50 academic scholars, 47 of which are serving or have served as editors across a total of 22 journals, many of these being premier journals in their respective functions. Tables 5-7 provide the sample selection process, the journals, and functions from which editors were interviewed.

In the course of asking interviewed editors for names of additional "thought leaders", occasionally we were given names of executives. This led to the interviewing of an additional 20 executives, following the same interview protocol. The interviewed executives spanned a range of industries as can be seen in Table 8.


Sample Selection Process to Reach Theoretical Saturation

Step  Process

1     Contacted editors from the three highest ranked SCM journals
      across operations, logistics, and supply management in the
      Financial Times Top 45. For disciplines without three journals
      on the list, we evaluated ISI rankings and Zsidisin, Smith,
      McNally and Kull's (2007) survey ranking of journals.

2     If the editor agreed to interview, he/she was asked to list
      five additional thought leaders who should be interviewed.

3     The thought leader was then added to the list of participants
      if mentioned by more than three interviewees. This list
      included both academics and SCM executives, and led us to
      include marketing and information systems disciplines in our

4     Saturation of findings (see Strauss & Corbin, 2008 for a review
      of this process) was then reached, followed by additional
      interviews to confirm saturation of findings.

5     Ten more academic thought leaders and five more executive thought
      leaders were interviewed to ensure saturation of findings,
      resulting in a total of 70 thought leaders in total.


Alphabetical Listing of Journals from Which Editors
Were Interviewed

Decision Sciences   Journal of Operations Management

Information         Journal of Public Policy & Marketing
Systems Research

International       Journal of Purchasing & Supply Management
Journal of
Integrated Supply

International      Journal of Retailing
Journal of

International      Journal of Strategic Information Systems
Journal of
Distribution &

International      Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science
Journal of
Operations &

International      Journal of Supply Chain Management
Journal of
Research in

Journal of         Management Science

Journal of         Manufacturing & Service Operations Management

Journal of         Management Information Systems Quarterly
Marketing          Production and Inventory Management Journal
                   Production and Operations Management


Academics Interviewed: Summary by Function

Discipline               Number of Academics

Operations Management              18
Supply Management                   8
Logistics Management                8
Marketing                           8
Management Information              8
Systems Total                      50


Executives Interviewed: Summary by Industry

Industries            Number of Executives

Automotive                     4
Chemicals                      1
Consulting Services            1
Consumer Products              2
Electronics                    2
Food/Beverages                 3
Logistics                      3
Pharmaceutical                 4
Total                         20

Data Collection

The guidelines presented by McCracken (1988) were strictly followed during the interview process. We developed an interview protocol to guide the interview process based on the extant literature on SCM research and practice (e.g., Cooper, Lambert & Pagh, 1997; Melnyk et al., 2009; Mentzer, DeWitt, Keebler, Min & Zacharia, 2001; Monczka & Markham, 2007; Ogden et al., 2005; Stock & Boyer, 2009). Questions included: "What is SCM, what are its boundaries, and how has it changed?", "What is the future direction of SCM as it relates to existing functions?", and "How would you improve upon the Thought and Practice of SCM?". Our interest was to capture similarities and differences among interviewees' perceptions and attitudes about the phenomenon in question, not to provide generalizability.

Each in-depth interview lasted anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes. A minimum of two of the authors of this paper conducted all the interviews. Twenty-one of the thought leaders were interviewed face-to-face, and the other 29 were interviewed by telephone. The interview questions were open-ended and varied in sequence. While the interview protocol was followed, probing questions were also explored in areas that thought leaders discussed (McCracken, 1988). All the interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed to minimize researcher bias and provide data quality and reliability in the analysis. We subsequently provided each thought leader with the transcribed interview text of his or her interview to ensure accuracy of transcription.


Each interview was analyzed through coding techniques recommended by Strauss and Corbin (2008), which was facilitated by the QDA Miner 3.2.3 software package. Recent supply chain research has begun to apply variants (Suddaby, 2006) of this analysis technique (Mello & Flint, 2009; Page11, 2004), which attests to its value in generating depth of understanding about a phenomenon. To ensure trustworthiness of the findings (see Appendix A), the authors carefully followed Strauss and Corbin's (2008) open, axial, and selective coding process to derive the themes and categories from the data. This involved conducting the systematic process through which concepts were identified. Their properties and dimensions were discovered in the data, relating themes to their corresponding subthemes, properties, and dimensions, and integrating and refining the findings in such a manner to be presented in manuscript form.



Trustworthiness Criteria         Method of Addressing Criteria in
                                          This Research

Credibility                      Three coders analyzed text and
                                 reviewed interpretation.

Extent to which the results      Responses of initial interpretations
appear to be acceptable          were provided to the participants
representations of the data      for feedback.

                                 Result: Emergent themes were
                                 altered, participants bought into

Transferability                  Theoretical sampling

Extent to which the findings     Result: Data from all participants
from one study in one context    were represented by the emerging
will apply to other contexts     concepts.

Dependability                    Participants reflected on many
                                 opinions and experiences covering
                                 recent events as well as long past

Extent to which the findings     Result: Found consistency across
are unique to time and place;    participants' responses regardless
the stability or consistency of  of position in organization.

Confirmability                   More than 800 pages of
                                 transcriptions independently
                                 reviewed by three researchers.

Extent to which interpretations  Result: Interpretations were
are the result of the            expanded and refined.
participants and the phenomenon
as opposed to researcher

Integrity                        Interviews were professional, of a
                                 nonthreatening nature, and

Extent to which interpretations  Result: Researchers never believed
are influenced by                that participants were trying to
misinformation or evasions by    evade the issues being discussed.

Fit                              Addressed through the methods used
                                 to address credibility,
                                 dependability, and confirmability.

Extent to which findings fit     Result: Concepts were more deeply
with the substantive area under  described, and the integration of
investigation.                   emerging themes was made more fluid
                                 and less linear, capturing the
                                 complexities of social interaction
                                 discovered in the data.

Understanding                    Participants were asked during the
                                 interviews to confirm whether
                                 researcher's initial interpretations
                                 were accurate.

Extent to which participants     Result: Interviewees and
buy into results as possible     participants bought into the
representations of their         findings.

Generality                       Interviews were of sufficient length
                                 and openness to elicit many complex
                                 facets of the phenomenon and related

Extent to which findings         Result: Captured multiple aspects of
discover multiple aspects of     the phenomenon.
the phenomenon

Control                          Participants can influence almost
                                 all emerging variables.

Extent to which organizations    Result: Participants can influence
can influence aspects of the     boundary spanning.

Thus, themes and concepts that emerged during the analysis were compared, analyzed in detail, and combined into categories. Each interview was read multiple times by the authors to ensure the essence of participants' responses was appropriately captured. The authors then compared the findings to identify discrepancies. If any disagreement initially existed, the issue was examined exhaustively until consensus was achieved.

In addition to independently coding the interview data and comparing the findings, the authors took meticulous care in understanding researcher biases throughout the coding and writing process. Because the researcher is the primary mechanism for collecting and interpreting data in qualitative research, there is potential for the researcher to allow preconceptions and personal interests to influence the findings (Glaser, 1992). Following qualitative research guidelines for addressing potential biases (Becker, 1993; Glaser, 1992; Polkinghorne, 1998), the primary researchers were especially sensitive to these biases (e.g., authors' functional area or background) and made every attempt to remove presuppositions and a priori assumptions (Wallendorf & Belk, 1989).

Findings are presented from the interview analysis in the following section, based on the overall themes that emerged. This included the definition and boundary of SCM, the evolving functional perspectives within SCM, relevance of SCM research, and impact on SCM business practice. As is the case with qualitative research, all of the quotes in each theme or category were not included; however, quotes included were those deemed most representative of the themes and categories that emerged. While there were hundreds of usable quotes, only a few representative quotes are presented for each theme.


The first objective of our study was to extract commonality of opinion of leading SCM scholars, regarding the definition, scope, and future of SCM. Although there was some disagreement among the scholars, there was consensus on a few key issues. Most notably, there was consensus regarding the fundamental definitional characteristics of SCM, as well as the identification of interdisciplinary research as a key element for the development of SCM into a respected discipline. It was acknowledged that SCM is not yet a discipline, in the Kuhn (1970), Popper (1961) and Wacker (1998) definitional sense, which would require the achievement of a common paradigm or theoretical foundation. Further, as SCM is being studied by a wide range of diverse functions and theoretical perspectives, it runs the risk of fragmentation.

The overall findings focused on the importance of interdisciplinary research and the distinction between apparently competing terms, such as interdisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, multidisciplinary, and transdisci-plinary research (Ausburg, 2006; Klien, 1990, 1996). Cross-disciplinary research, for example, refers to methodological approaches where literature reviews support one discipline from the perspective of another or use examples from one discipline as points of departure for confirming similar relations in other disciplines. Multidisciplinary research, on the other hand, involves bringing together research from two or more disciplines in a manner that is additive, although not integrative. Transdisciplinary research differs in that it refers to integrating research from different disciplines to create models or frameworks that capture dynamics of several disciplines from a more holistic understanding not allowed by the vision of any one discipline alone (e.g., the use of general systems theory). Interdisciplinary research, by contrast, refers to a process in which researchers go beyond weaving together research from different disciplines, but actually construct new knowledge, solutions, and methods (Ausburg, 2006). The interviewees made it clear that it is specifically interdisciplinary research that is needed as a unifier for the disparate areas involved in the study of SCM, adding reliability and relevance to research. In this section, we present each of these findings.

Finding Common Ground Across Functional Boundaries

The interviewed scholars were unanimous that a significant lack of understanding continues to exist regarding the meaning of SCM. One interviewee noted, "When we talk about supply chain management, one of the reasons it's been hard to define it is because at some schools, it's in the business school, some places it's in engineering. In some places it's just out there in the transportation world. So there's no clear area where it's housed and that makes it difficult to actually define what it is." Another succinctly stated, "People still don't get it."

Others observed that the popularity of the term was leading to its misuse, with non-SCM research increasingly using the term. This was perceived as highly detrimental to the field, possibly leading to dilution and fragmentation.

One identified challenge for SCM researchers was the need to work across boundaries. "So I think one of the biggest challenges for supply chain management has been that a lot of it really has been somewhat fragmented and you've had all these boundaries, some of which have been functional, some have been organizational." Another added, "In somewhat stable environments you didn't expect these dependencies across these boundaries to change, but now what happens is the dependencies change somewhat rapidly across these boundaries; I guess that is the opportunity for supply chain management." It was recognized that successfully working across these boundaries involves integration. An interviewee noted: "I believe that as we move shaping the future of supply chain, we're going to learn more and more about integration, and it's managing across boundaries. Not only functional boundaries in the firm, but around enterprise boundaries and enterprise boundaries in an international context. So we 've got functional boundaries, firm boundaries and globally related boundaries and it's that boundary management that is really the focus of the future and I think we'll become much more sophisticated in how we interrelate with our supply base and our customer base."

Another identified challenge was the need to view SCM from a systems perspective and incorporate a more holistic view. "The good side is that it could very well open up more opportunities for supply chain people to disseminate their ideas. It's good because it may open the door for truly more cross-functional collaboration so I see that." However, potential problems of the systems perspective were also noted: It's bad in the sense that it could be too diffused and too spread and then I think the risk is becoming that we go back to our narrow areas. We go back and say I'm really in supply, okay and I'm really in inventory, and I'm really a logistics guy and we forget how holistically the whole thing comes together. How also it's changed is I do think supply chain management has moved into more domain areas."

The scholars were asked to define SCM. Although differing definitions were provided, there was some consensus. This was most succinctly articulated by one of the thought leaders who defined SCM as simply the "management of flows" between organizations. Another stated, "I view it as the direct and indirect management of flows." Indeed this was the common element of every definition offered. Some provided elaborate definitions that differentiated between forward and backward flows, including products, finance, and information. Others expanded the definition to include flows of technology and services. Some added the element of complexity of managing flows in a multinational network, such as managing relationships and processes across organizations. The common element from all the interviewees, however, was that the essence of SCM was the management of flows between organizations. "Supply chain management basically has to do with the flow of information, the flow of goods, services, and the flow of cash. Basically at its core are flows."

Further, we looked to divide the definitions into three possible categories: an activity, a process (chain of activities), or a system (a holistic collection of interrelated processes) (Burgess, Singh & Koroglu, 2006). Ninety-two percent viewed SCM as a system and eight percent as a process, whereas none viewed it as an activity. Therefore, we conclude that the foundational elements of SCM are the following: (a) a systems perspective and (b) cross-organizational management of flows. This provides an initial common ground from which the definitional boundary of SCM can evolve and be refined over time. Importantly, this is not an attempt to explain the complexities of SCM by reducing it to its fundamental components (i.e., reductionism). Rather, the identification of a shared understanding across disciplines suggests, at a minimum, these are necessary foundational elements of SCM that are important to facilitate cooperative efforts in the evolution of SCM research and practice. It provides a "common ground" between disciplines, from which SCM researchers can initiate collaborative cross-disciplinary research and practice, rather than reverting back to the comfort and safe haven of one's own function.

The scholars agreed that no one function has ownership of SCM, although roughly 13 percent saw its core theoretical development in operations and logistics. They were clear, however, that SCM does not exclusively belong to any one functional area and that all organizational functions had some stake in it. "If you look around the business school, the marketing people, for example, say 'we do this,' or 'we do that,' the challenge with an interdisciplinary strategy is if you're really successful there is no supply chain discipline because everybody else says, 'yes we do that." Another stated, "It's very difficult to fit into a typical organization structure." Further, areas of study outside of business--engineering, political science, law--also legitimately study aspects of SCM. "It is interesting to see what comes out of the woodwork that is now portraying themselves as supply chain people--psychologists, sociologists, mathematicians, industrial engineers; this could be good, it could be bad, but there's a big group that's now saying 'I am in supply chain management." As an example, one of the interviewees pointed to, for example, MITs political science group that studies "Just SCM" which looks at the ethical issues in use of labor in the network of global supply chains.

Changing Role of Disciplines

The second objective of our study was to provide insight into the evolving functional roles within SCM. The most notable finding was a consensus among the thought leaders regarding (a) the changing functional roles within SCM and (b) the impact of those changes on being able to address current and future SCM challenges.

Research has documented that the role of SCM has also shifted within firms, becoming more elevated and strategic, due to increased globalization, changing technology, organizational power shifts, government policy and deregulation, and empowered consumers (Coyle, Langley, Novack & Gibson, 2013). Our interviews reveal that the result of this has been an unclear locus of responsibility of SCM within organizations, ranging from being housed in operations to information systems to finance to being an independent area within the organization that includes a few or more of the aforementioned functions. The scholars and executives agreed that no one function has ownership of SCM. The varying functional involvement in SCM often leads to a fragmented approach when solving complex SCM problems, as each function views these problems via their own theoretical lens.

Indeed SCM has experienced shifting theoretical perspectives during its evolution (Miles & Snow, 2007). Research in SCM has evolved over time to emphasize differing theoretical perspectives, from being a strategic choice to the creation of multifirm networks of organizations. Also, different functions, such as operations, logistics, purchasing (supply management), marketing, and information systems, have developed their own models of SCM, with limited cross-referencing. The result has been a reduction in the normal build up and accretion of theory, based on past research (Stock 2009). Scholarship in a discipline is largely dependent on the progressive creation, exchange, and accumulation of knowledge over time (Linderman 7 Chandrasekaran, 2010).

Further, Kuhn (1970: 460-461) contends that to constitute a discipline a field of study needs to "... have absorbed the same literature and drawn similar lessons from it. Because the attention of different [disciplines] is focused on different matters, professional communication across [discipline] lines is likely to be arduous, often gives rise to misunderstanding, and may, if pursued, isolate significant disagreement." Our findings acknowledge that SCM is not yet a discipline, in the Popper (1956) and Kuhn (1970) definitional sense, lacking a commonly agreed upon theoretical foundation. In fact, the thought leaders did not necessarily advocate the need for a unified SCM theory. However, they discussed the value of developing a common understanding that can serve as a unifying basis for the disparate processe, and functions involved in its study. These responses are consistent with Popper (1956) and Lakatos (1970), with the existence of a "core" with common and shared ideas, as part of a "research program."

Based on interview findings, there appear to be both an inner core and outer core that are central to SCM. The inner core appears to include operations, logistics, and supply management, and the outer core marketing and MIS. While other functions, such as accounting, finance, organizational behavior, strategy, and economics, are viewed as relevant to the advancement of SCM, they are seen as being outside the "core." According to Popper (1956) and Lakatos (1970), researchers attempt to shield this "core" from falsification attempts behind a "protective belt" that includes auxiliary hypotheses. In the case of SCM, the protective belt" seems very much in flux as disparate disciplines study aspects of SCM. According to Laka-tos (1970) adjusting and developing this protective belt is not necessarily a bad thing for a research program and serves to further theoretical development.

While it was recognized that all disciplines study phenomena that are important to SCM, it was perceived that each discipline works on SCM research in isolation leading to a fragmented approach that will reduce the ability to deal effectively with highly complex supply chain problems. Our analysis of interview responses revealed that this discipline-based perspective is largely related to two factors: (a) discipline maturity (age of discipline) and (b) discipline inclusiveness (willingness to seek knowledge and insights from other disciplines). Highly disparate views of SCM across the five functions emerged from the interviews. Based on the cumulative evidence of the thought leaders' perspectives, we developed findings regarding each function's position relative to its maturity and inc_lusiveness, as depicted in Figure 1.

Marketing, one of the "outer core" SCM functions, was viewed by the thought leaders as considerably more mature compared with the others. The size of marketing faculty was viewed to be substantially larger, and their existence as a functional area is much longer in comparison with other functions. Based on the interviews, this appears to have resulted in marketing viewing SCM as much smaller in scope and importance. One marketing scholar noted, "I think a marketing person's take on supply chain management is probably more narrow than I think what people in operations look at it as." For example, some marketing thought leaders viewed SCM as only concerned with costs (e.g., transportation and logistics), residing at a lower level of the organizational hierarchy, and/ or focusing only on the upstream portion of the supply chain. "My view of SCM is a much more upstream function from the focal firm." While there are some notable marketing academic exceptions, the overall impression from our interviews is that marketing as a discipline appears relatively less willing and interested in reaching out and collaborating with the other functional areas. The reason provided by the thought leaders is that cross-functional and interdisciplinary issues are more salient to the "inner core" functions and MIS than the relatively more mature functional areas that are steeped in disciplined-based traditions.

When compared with the interview responses from the other four functions, marketing academics appear to see little value in interdisciplinary research, as they believe they can continue making advancements in marketing theory and practice without insights from other disciplines. For example, one thought leader outside of marketing stated, "Our discipline is not cited by other disciplines when they are doing supply chain work. Look at the recent Journal of Marketing articles on SCM. They are not even citing us on relevant work we have already done." Another stated, "It could be there is a bit of superiority. You know every undergraduate school in the country has a marketing program in business but very few have supply chain so you have a lot of marketing people in colleges. They are big in numbers and if you look at their curriculum, their curriculum is still pretty traditional business to consumer instead of business to business." Another felt there was hope that marketing would become more inclusive out of necessity: "1 think they will come to the table but it's grudgingly."

On the other hand, the other "outer core" function, MIS, is viewed as a relatively less mature academic discipline. As one IS interviewee stated, "I see MIS as really in its infancy as a discipline. Perhaps its earliest publications were in the 60s, but it wasn't until the 70s that it was categorized as a research discipline and viewed as a functional area in the business." In contrast to marketing, our interviews found MIS to be much more inclusive. MIS was interested--even excited--about the opportunities that exist in collaborating with other disciplines in SCM. They appear to recognize the centrality of SCM to advancing MIS and vice versa. As one respondent from MIS stated, "every discipline has to play for [SCMI to work, so [MIS researchers] see more clearly the need to work with other disciplines."

The "inner core" functions of SCM (OM, logistics, and supply management) were perceived as positioned roughly between marketing and MIS in terms of discipline maturity and inclusiveness. While these three functions were viewed as more academically mature compared with MIS (with OM being comparatively more mature than logistics and supply management; Sprague, 2007), they too were relatively less willing to reach out to other functional areas for insights. For example, when discussing research on supply chain relationships, one interviewee stated, "I do not think a lot of [operations] people realize there is a whole channels literature in marketing 'that has researched B2B relationships for decades]." As another example, an interviewee stated that in behavioral research "... our publications only conduct a cursory review of [other disciplines] much less pull in coauthors from those disciplines to gain a more thorough understanding of the phenomenon." Therefore, we conclude that a discipline-based perspective of SCM can reduce the effectiveness or capability of being able to solve highly complex supply chain problems.

Interestingly, however, the executives did not differentiate the core SCM functions based on inclusiveness or maturity. Some certainly recognized that these functions played a lesser role in the "C-suite" relative to finance and that functional turf wars existed within their firms. 'There are problems when we get siloed in our respective functions, the problems are more one of duplication of effort where you know people in marketing don't know what people in operations are doing, people in operations don't know what people in logistics are doing and so on. That's the problem of silos. I completely understand that and that's a waste because you end up not learning from each other, not knowing what others have done." Another stated, "The rewards structure is for silo performance so the finance guys don't want you to invest in plant equipment to build in flexibility because they want to see those assets sweat; they get paid for making EVA look better. The marketing guys are coming out with all these new SKIls. They don't have to worry about profitability because we pay them for revenue, right and then the plant guys are expected to keep costs per case low. So figure it out, what's going to happen is the function that's the most powerful is going win that argument and anytime any business function dominates the business you're going to sub-opti-mize."However, the cumulative evidence of their interview responses suggests that differences in the level of respect and interest in collaborating across functions vary by industry and company. In fact, the analysis reveals that most executives are unaware of the maturity and inclusiveness differences that exist in academia that were highlighted by the scholars. While they continually indicated that academics tend to provide functional-based function, solutions, the executives were not aware of why academic solutions were not more cross-functional or the challenges academics face in overcoming these barriers.


In summary, we conducted in-depth interviews of 50 academic scholars across a range of relevant functions and 20 SCM executives to extract commonality of opinion and discuss the future of SCM. The interviewed scholars spanned the operations management, logistics, supply management, marketing, and information systems functions, while the business executives interviewed held SCM positions across multiple industries. There are, however, other stakeholders that will also play a significant role in SCM's future. It would be meaningful to further investigate perceptions from junior faculty, deans, international faculty, and international executives, who will also influence and shape the thought and practice of SCM.

The objective of our research necessitated qualitative research as it attempts to develop a body of knowledge about a particular research interest by capturing the individual's point of view and provide rich descriptions. However, this qualitative approach is not without limitations. Findings from qualitative research are derived from attitudes, perceptions, and opinions of a limited number of informants. Our qualitative research approach appropriately allowed the important, relevant issues, and actions to address the future of SCM thought and practice to emerge. Future research can now extend our qualitative findings by surveying relevant academics and practitioners to determine the generalizability of our findings. This would provide strong empirical evidence to use in driving the action plans recommended by influential SCM thought leaders identified in our article.

In this article, we presented research findings based on the collective wisdom of both editors and executives who had commonality of opinion on certain key issues. First, they supported--what had already been evident by the literature review--that SCM continues to exhibit a "siloed," functional-based perspective which restricts adequate response to complex and pressing SCM problems business organizations are facing. Second, the thought leaders identified a systems perspective and the management of flows as the necessary, although not sufficient, definitional criteria for SCM research. Also, the boundary of SCM was established as not being functionally based, as SCM is legitimately being studied by numerous functions even outside of business. Third, we establish that it is incumbent on the "inner core" functions of SCM to initiate and promote collaborative initiatives, based on discipline maturity and inclusiveness. Finally, it is hoped this research will encourage academics and executives to better understand the evolving roles and perspectives of various functions within SCM and consider opportunities to collaborate across functions to better address complex, intractable SCM problems.


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Zach G. Zacharia (Ph.D., University of Tennessee) is an assistant professor of supply chain management in the College of Business and Economics at Lehigh University is Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. His research has focused primarily on understanding the relationships between functions within a single firm, relationships between two firms (buyers and suppliers), and relationships across multiple firms. Dr. Zacharia has published his work in a variety of academic and managerial journals, including the Journal of Operations Management, Journal of Business Logistics, Decision Sciences, Journal of Retailing, Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing, and the Wall Street Journal. He also has contributed chapters to Supply Chain Management (Sage Publications, 2000) and Managing Innovation: The New Competitive Edge for Logistics Service Providers (Kuehne Foundation Book Series, 2008).

Nada R. Sanders (Ph.D., The Ohio State University) is the Iacocca Chair and Professor of Supply Chain Management in the College of Business and Economics at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Her research interests include supply chain management strategy, business forecasting, the role of information technology in the supply chain environment, and the impact of sustainability on organizations. Dr. Sanders is the author of Supply Chain Management: A Global Perspective (John Wiley & Sons, 2011) and the co-author of Operations Management, (John Wiley & Sons, 5th edition, 2012). She also has published in a variety of periodicals, including the Journal of Business Logistics, Journal of Operations Management, Journal of Supply Chain Management, and California Management Review. Dr. Sanders is the cofounder and Associate Editor of Foresight, an applied forecasting journal from the International Institute of Forecasters.

Brian S. Fugate (Ph.D., University of Tennessee) is an associate professor of supply chain management in the Department of Management in the College of Business at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. His research interests include supply chain sustainability, supply chains in emerging economies, and managing knowledge flows across the supply chain. In addition to his academic work, Dr. Fugate has practical experience working in logistics and industrial engineering in the airline and automotive industries. He also has provided consulting and education services in logistics, lean, forecasting, and supply chain information systems. Dr. Fugate has published his work in many outlets, including the Supply Chain Management Review, Journal of Business Logistics, Journal of Operations Management, the International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management, and International Logistics Management.


BRIAN S. FUGATE Colorado State University
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Author:Zacharia, Zach G.; Sanders, Nada R.; Fugate, Brian S.
Publication:Journal of Supply Chain Management
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Date:Jan 1, 2014
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