Thesis and Dissertation topics related to
Supply Chain Management, Procurement
Management, Inventory Management, and
Distribution Management: By: Professor
Nand Kishore Prasad, Principal
Consulting Officer

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Supply Chain Management is one such area
that will never have dearth of research topics
for dissertation and thesis projects. This is
because the global business framework is
changing very rapidly due to the challenges
posed by globalization, which directly affects
supply chain design and management of an
organization. Environmental issues, rising oil
prices, increase of carbon footprints, rising
tariffs, rising threats in international waters and
air cargo, increasing supply chain risks, high
competition, rising customers' expectations, etc.
are significant challenges facing modern supply
chain managers that are already under pressure
to reduce lead times in every step of supply
chain management. Modern supply chain
practices need to be highly proactive,
horizontally integrated, information driven,
network based, and technology enabled. These
challenges are rapidly eliminating the old
beliefs and practices giving way to new ways of
managing the components of supply chain. The
core elements of supply chain, viz.
procurement management, production
management, inventory management,
distribution management, and retail
management, can no longer operate as distinct
verticals but need to be integrated horizontally
with the help of accurate and timely
information management and flow,
synchronous activities, effective coordination,
decision-making power at lower levels, better
economies of scale, elimination of wastes,
increased reliability on actual demands (than
demand forecasting), organization wide cost
reduction targets and excellent service
delivery. In this context, I hereby present some
of the key areas in which, the students may like
to conduct their research studies:

(A) Functional Integration of Procurement,
Production, Inventory, Distribution, and
Inventory Management
: In modern supply
chains, organizations are giving high emphasis
on horizontal integration of supply chain
components by breaking all the traditional
functional barriers that have existed since the
concept was born. Modern supply chain agents
integrate effectively by sharing timely and
accurate information with everyone in very
transparent manner. For example, if the supply
chain has multiple inventory points (Stock
Keeping Units), the procurement manager may
have access to daily, or even hourly, updates of
the inventory levels at all the points. Functional
integration is evident even with suppliers and
customers. The systems like automatic
reordering by an IT enabled system at fixed
pre-negotiated prices whenever inventory
levels dip below the reorder points, continuous
flow of consumption information upstream and
shipping information downstream between the
endpoints, supplier managed inventory at
customer premises, exact and timely flow of
actual demand information reducing the need
for demand forecasting, etc. are no longer just
theories. I suggest that students may like to
undertake academic research studies on how
supply chain integration is carried out by
modern companies, by conducting on-field
surveys and interviews. The studies can be
conducted on a particular company or on the
entire supply network of a commodity.

(B) Supply Chain Network Design: The
concept of network design is rapidly gaining
popularity in supply chain management. In
fact, many modern scholars are talking about
renaming "Supply Chain Management" to
"Supply Network Management". This is
because companies no longer just manage
multi-tier suppliers in the form of chains but
rather manage a whole network of suppliers for
every key purchase. The concept of supply
network has evolved as a result of globalization
and rapid growth of Internet leading to
reduced gaps between suppliers and buyers of
the world. The network design concepts are
applied in the areas of location of facilities,
transportation, distribution, and retailing. The
actual design depends upon the supply chain
strategy, scope, cost, risks and uncertainties,
and demand information. The key design
considerations in network design are - nodes
and links, direct shipments, milk runs,
in-transit mergers, domestic transit routes,
international transit routes, last mile transit
routes, locations of plants, depots, warehouses,
distributor storage, retail outlets, and risks
related to each node and link. The key factors
that need to be taken into account are -
strategic factors, technological factors,
macroeconomic factors, political factors,
infrastructure factors, competitive factors,
socioeconomic factors, localization, response
time expectations (of customers), facility costs,
and logistics costs. In my view, network design
in logistics and supply chain management has
ample opportunities for conducting academic
studies for students and professionals. The
studies will be based more in interviews
because the students will need to learn from
specialist network designers in supply chains.

(C) Pull Supply Chain Strategy: It is almost
official now that the world is drifting towards
pull supply chain strategy. Now the business
houses are focusing more on gaining exact
demand information rather than depending
upon demand forecasts. The companies have
already faced significant problems due to high
inventory costs and wastage of unconsumed
products in light of forecast inaccuracy.
However, it may be noted that pull supply
chain strategy is not as straightforward as push
strategy. The strategists no longer have the
leverage to just depend upon demand models,
viewed as magic wands in the past, but are
required to proactively collect actual demand
information. This change requires effective
integration with suppliers and buyers, and
large scale information sharing through
sophisticated information systems. The
companies need to think much beyond
Japanese Kanbans or lean strategies (even they
have backfired, really!!). The students may like
to study on what companies are doing or can
do to shift to pull strategy as much as possible.

Do you want to explore more research areas in
Supply Chain Management? Please click here
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topic development on lean, six sigma, and
sustainability in supply chain management
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(D) Supply Chain Efficiency and
Effectiveness
: Every organization spends
significant amounts on supply chain
management. Effective financial planning, cost
control, timely service, high quality of service,
and return on investments in supply chain are
key drivers of efficiency and effectiveness. A
number of metrics are taken as inputs to the
strategic supply chain planning to ensure that
optimum efficiency and effectiveness can be
achieved. This research area may require
on-site quantitative data collection, and
quantitative analytics using SPSS and such
other statistical analysis tools to arrive at the
results. The students may have to discover
independent and dependent variables and
their correlations using descriptive and
inferential statistical methods.

(E) Supply Chain Integration: This research
area may be taken as an extension of functional
integration (point A). The student may like to
study how companies are integrating with key
suppliers and customers to improve flow of
information about demands (upstream) and
supply (downstream) and to reduce lead times.
The modern concepts like direct delivery (from
suppliers to customers), vendor managed
inventories (VMI), cross-docking, optimal
procurement policy, optimal manufacturing
strategy, inventory minimization, input and
output control, aggregation planning, process
integration, real time monitoring and control,
optimization of operations, supply chain object
library, enterprise supply chain integration
modelling, 3PL and 4PL, quick response (QR),
efficient consumer response (ECR), continuous
replenishment planning (CRP), and
collaborative planning, forecasting, and
replenishment (CPFR) are included in the
scope of supply chain integration. The students
may chose a particular area and conduct on-site
interviews of supply chain experts about how
these practices are incorporated by
organizations in their supply chain integration
strategies. The studies may be mostly
qualitative.

(F) Supply Chain Performance Drivers: The
key performance drivers of supply chain
management are - facility effectiveness,
inventory effectiveness, transportation
effectiveness, information effectiveness,
sourcing effectiveness, pricing effectiveness,
delivery effectiveness, quality effectiveness
and service effectiveness. These drivers
comprise multiple performance indicators that
may be measured quantitatively by collecting
data and applying them in SPSS. The studies in
this area may primarily be quantitative with
descriptive statistical analysis. In modern
world, sustainable supply chain management
to support the triple bottom-line (equity,
environment, and economy)is also included in
the scope of supply chain performance drivers.
Topic development in this area is presented in
an extension of this article (please click here).

(G) Demand Forecasting: The concept of
demand forecasting is diminishing as more and
more companies are now focusing on getting
accurate and timely demand information rather
than depending upon forecasts. This is carried
out by effective integration of information from
all the nodes of the supply chain and
disseminating upstream as well as
downstream. However, there are many
industries that will continue to depend upon
push strategy and demand forecasting. The
students may like to study about the drawbacks
of traditional forecasting methods (like time
series forecasting, moving averages, trend
analysis, etc.) and the ways of improving
forecasting accuracy. Many companies want to
incorporate real time data in their forecasting
models and focus on forecasting for shorter
periods. This requires lots of additional
knowledge over and above the traditional
ways of working upon past demand data. The
modern forecasting models may be based on
accurate knowledge of customer segments,
major factors that influence forecasting
accuracy, information integration, bullwhip
effect, scenario planning, simulations, external
factors, risks, and causal (Fishbone or Ishikawa)
analysis. Most of the studies may be qualitative
or triangulated.

(H) Aggregation Planning: Aggregation is
carried out by a company to determine the
levels of pricing, capacity, production,
outsourcing, inventory, etc. during a specified
period. Aggregation planning helps in
consolidation of the internal and external stock
keeping units (SKUs) within the decision and
strategic framework for reducing costs, meeting
demands and maximising profits. It may be
viewed as the next step of either demand
forecasting (push strategy) or demand
information accumulation (pull strategy) for
carrying out estimations of the inventory level,
internal capacity levels, outsourced capacity
levels, workforce levels, and production levels
required in a specified time period. The
students may like to conduct qualitative case
studies to research about modern practices of
aggregation planning in various industrial and
retail sectors.

(I) Global Supply Chains: In the modern
world, suppliers in a country are facing direct
competition from international suppliers as if
the latter are operating within the country. This
has happened due to modernization of
information management and dissemination,
supply routes, payment channels, electronic
contracts, leading to improved reliability and
reduced lead times of international suppliers.
The students may like to undertake study on
monitoring and management of global supply
chains/networking by professionals working in
MNCs.

(J) E-Supply Chains: E-Supply Chains are
linked with E-Businesses that use Internet as
their medium for accepting orders and
payments, and then using the physical
channels to deliver the products. E-supply
chain is an excellent example of pull strategy
and short term demand forecasting.
Information flow across the supply chain is
instantaneous because both end points and the
intermediate agents work through a single
Internet enabled portal. E-Bay is viewed as one
of the founders of this concept at global scales
with built-in electronic contract signing and
management, electronic payment processing,
and electronic delivery processing. The
students can find various case studies on
E-Supply chains, although the empirical
theories are still evolving. The research studies
would be quite challenging, modern and
unique, but poorly supported by literatures as
the field is still evolving.

(K) Supply Chain Risk Management: Supply
chain risk management is gaining immense
popularity due to globalization of competitive
landscapes, and growing threats and
uncertainty. Risk management in supply chains
is directly linked with supply chain agility and
hence it needs to be done in very organized
and objective manner, incorporating
quantitative models. Supply chain risk
management is a novel dissertation / thesis
research area based on the known and teething
current problems in logistics / supply chain
management. The root of the problems lie
somewhere in the uncertainties in upstream as
well as downstream flows of materials, funds,
and information. For example, if there are
errors in calculating economic order quantities
(EOQ) and reorder levels, the ordering process
may not synchronize well with the lead-times.
On the other hand, the lead-times are uncertain
due to various delay factors and fluctuation in
costs if a transportation mode is changed.
Holding inventory is the safest strategy for
logistics managers, but I am sure the top
management of any organisation will never like
it (except in gold mining supply chains because
they use gold stocks as the hedging asset). The
primary purpose of this subject matter is to
keep lowest possible inventories while
ensuring consistent, timely, and accurate
supplies to the end users. The challenges are in
the following areas:

(a) Lack of integration / synchronization /
co-ordination
(b) Lack of appropriate quantitative models
(c) Lack of integrated information availability,
even if the quantitative models are in place
(i.e., the company has invested in SCM
software tools)

The solution is somewhere in implementing an
appropriate supply chain risk communication
system. You will appreciate, supply chain risk
is also a floating entity just like materials, funds
and information. If the entire chain is
integrated through an extranet portal system,
and updates of every consignment code are
uploaded periodically by all agents connected
with the portal, there can be proactive risks
generated by the software for the logistics
managers such that they can take operating
level, tactical level, and even strategic level
mitigation actions. Although such a system is
still in its conceptual stage, academic
researchers can contribute to its overall
conceptualisation and design. It may be
integrated as a layer above the traditional SCM
software. An agent sensing any variations in
delay or cost may log a threat and its
probability against a consignment code. The
probability and impact levels may be fed to
the logistics agents that can calculate the
impact (like stock-out by a date). The outcome
will be a risk value which will be escalated to
an appropriate authority level, and appropriate
mitigation action will be suggested. For
example, if there is a temporary unrest in a
country, the current consignments can be
airlifted and subsequent orders placed to an
alternate supplier.

I suggest that you may like to study the source
of supply chain risks in a selected sample of
transactions in your field and design a novel
SCRC (supply chain risk communication)
framework employing the ISO 31000, M-o-R,
COSO, COBIT v5, and similar Enterprise Risk
Management (ERM) frameworks for enterprise
wide estimation and communication of risks
(please visit our articles on IT governance and
Information Risk Management). The key risks
that you can target in your SCRM framework
can be categorized as: disruptions, delays,
forecast errors, procurement risks, supplier
risks, lead time risks, receivable risks, capacity
risks and inventory risks. You may collect a list
of known supply chain threats in your area of
interest, categorize them under one of these
risk categories, judge the impact on business,
judge the vulnerabilities, and arrive at the risk
values using the quantitative formulations of
the chosen model. Once the risk values are
calculated, you may propose mitigation
strategies pertaining to redundant suppliers,
better supplier relationships (i.e., eliminating
procurement hops), alternate routes (i.e.,
alternate loading/unloading ports and links),
add capacity and inventory, shift warehouses,
change distribution model (direct shipments,
cyclic shipments, milk run shipments, in-transit
merging, adding retail stores, cross-dock
distribution, etc.), change transportation
media, etc. You may validate the proposed
SCRC framework by interviewing supply chain
experts in your country. Hence, the problem
statement of your thesis will be related to the
known threats and vulnerabilities in supply
chain management in the selected transactions
(chosen by you), and the solution will
be a novel Supply Chain risk communication
framework to manage the risks resulting from
these threats and vulnerabilities. It will be a
quantitative research with descriptive and
inferential statistical analysis. The outcome of
this model will be on-the-fly alerts on risk
levels and their mitigation as soon as a risk is
logged (you will need to define mitigation
actions against various risk levels, and the
suggested authorities to make decisions). You
may like to validate your model by surveying
experts in your network. A short, and
to-the-point structured questionnaire may be
used such that you can present validity and
reliability analysis using SPSS.

(L) Information Technology in Supply Chain
Management
: A number of information
technology platforms are popular in supply
chain management. Some of the key IT tools in
supply chain management are IBM Supply
Chain Simulator, Rhythm (by i2 Technologies),
Advanced Planner and Optimizer by SAP,
Manugistics, Matrix One, Oracle Supply Chain
Management, etc. These tools possess various
functionalities - like, enterprise planning,
demand planning, production scheduling,
distribution planning, procurement and
replenishment planning, facilities location
planning, replenishment planning,
manufacturing planning, logistics strategy
formulation, stocking levels planning, lead
times planning, process costing, customer
service planning, procurement, supply and
transportation scheduling, global logistics
management, constraint-Based master
planning, demand management, material
planning, network Design and optimization,
supply chain analytics, transportation
management, Vendor Managed Inventory
(VMI) planning, continuous replenishment
planning (CRP), and many more. The students
may like to study about various IT systems and
software tools for carrying out such activities in
supply chain management. The studies may be
primarily qualitative or triangulated. Your
focus should be on application design and
integration, system features that are practically
useful in supply chain operations,
decision-making and decision-supporting tools
(like, dashboards, supply chain intelligence,
supply chain performance monitoring, etc.),
on-line analytical processing, collection,
storage, and integration of information, sharing
and dissemination of information, internal and
external integration, process design, mapping,
and integration, enterprise resources planning
and IT enablement of global best practices (like,
quick response, supply chain synchronisation,
virtual supply chain, efficient customer
response, collaborative planning, forecasting,
and replenishment, etc.).

Other possible research areas are the following:

(M) Lean and Six-Sigma in Supply Chain
Management
(N) Sustainabile Supply Chain Management
(O) Sustainable Procurement
(O) Sustainable Transportation
(P) Logistics and Supply Chain Process
Excellence
(Q) Reverse Logistics and Supply Chains
(R) Cloud computing in Supply Chain
Management
(S) Cloud computing based production and
industrial engineering
(T) Radio Frequency Identification and
Internet Of Things in Supply Chain
Management
(U) Transportation Networking through
Location-based services
(V) Strategies to counter supply chain
inefficiencies - like Forrester effect (Bullwhip
effect), Beer Gaming, Order Rationing, Lead
Time Uncertainties, Disintegrated Processes,
Wastes, and Unsustainability
(W) Emerging management control systems in
supply chain management
(X) Gold mining supply chain management -
special studies needed as they are quite
different from the traditional supply chains
(Y) Business continuity planning in supply
chain management
(Z) Relationships between supply chain
performance variables and business
performance variables

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Do you want to explore
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Supply Chain
Management? Please click
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