Long before 2013, when Nick Vyas became an assistant professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business, he studied efficiencies in product supply systems. A former director of operations at Toys R Us, manager at Sears Logistics Services, and VP of global operations at Duty Free of America, Vyas had decades of experience on the front lines of product distribution. Leveraging his education in mathematics and engineering, Vyas gained expertise in every facet of supply chain management, from acquisition of materials through manufacturing, distribution and logistics, all the way to the home consumer.
It was from this vantage point that he observed systems expand as markets made progress around the world. “Look at the last 40 years,” Vyas said. “Forty years ago, there were 26 mega-cities worldwide. Now there are 70. The globalization cat is out of the bag. But how do we deliver to everyone?
“Companies like Alibaba and Amazon step up to fill the need,” he explained. “They use a highly sophisticated supply chain driven by people and technology. And they’ve changed the way we live.”
The Center for Global Supply Chain Management
As the director of the Center for Global Supply Chain Management, Vyas has built a program driven by research, teaching and industry partnerships. But he’s also created a consultancy of sorts, utilizing the latest academic research and the brightest students to work with the Department of Commerce, where he sits on an advisory panel, and the Ports of LA and Long Beach.
“We’re creating a consortium. We’re getting people together to create the future: policymakers, academics, industry." -- Nick Vyas,
An expert in Lean Six Sigma, a data-driven quality control mechanism for finding defects in processes, Vyas sees data as the answer to running efficient operations. “Big data has certainly changed the supply chain industry,” he wrote in the 2017 CIO Review article, “Disruptive Technologies in Supply Chain.” Soon, with advances such as the Internet of Things (IoT), sensor data will provide users with near real-time updates on product status, production output and emerging consumption patterns. “Armed with such information,” Vyas wrote, “retailers are able to achieve better revenue positioning because product offers can be instantaneously changed to respond to customer demand shifts.”
GSC Research: Tools and Trends
In addition to big data, new technologies are changing global supply chain. Drones, 3-D printing, cognitive calculation, predictive analytics—these, along with IoT provide entirely improved capacities for managing inventory. Drones, for example, can provide deliveries not only to last-minute shoppers but also to patients urgently in need of medical supplies. Robots equipped to cognitively calculate can learn to accomplish human tasks in half the time and then pivot to learning a new task almost seamlessly. “Amazon is the champion of using robotics,” said Vyas. “Automation, Intelligent Process Automation (IPA)—they are employing top-of-the-line stuff.”
So is Walmart. According to Vyas, Walmart has the largest information technology infrastructure of any private company in the world. Its system can accurately forecast demand, track and predict inventory levels, create highly efficient transportation routes, and manage customer relationships and service response logistics.
“The biggest thing right now in global supply chain is the blockchain,” Vyas said. A precursor to bitcoin, blockchain essentially records transactions. “It’s a distributed ledger, good for tracking where-when-what in industries like food safety and pharma. The technology can understand, track and measure everything. It eliminates legal issues, enables disputes to be resolved. This all helps reduce the inherent tensions of supply chain—that’s why we track everything. The byproduct is lower costs, faster speed and efficiencies for all. Everybody wants to solve life’s problems with blockchain.”
Learning to Manage Supply Chains
But can blockchain solve the labor shortage in the supply chain industry? For years, just as logistics leaders have seen supply chain account for larger percentages of the gross world product, they have worried about having enough workers. One solution has been technologies such as robotics and cognitive calculation.
Another has been stepped up efforts at training skilled workers and academic programs geared toward training the next industry leaders.
USC Marshall began addressing this need in 2013 when it launched the Online Master of Science in Global Supply Chain Management (MSGSCM). The program hit #6 in the 2017 US News & World Report’s rankings of online Masters business programs in the U.S.
“We are seeing success,” Vyas said. “One hundred percent of the MS students are in internships. We prep them.”
Just as USC Marshall launched the online program, it was also establishing the Center for Supply Chain Management. A key feature of the Center’s mission is to provide a superior education to students while teaching industry leaders current best practices.
“Everything we do is to put students and industry and policy in the same room,” Vyas said. “You can’t teach this without industry and policymakers integrated into supply chain discussions—there has to be a collaboration. We feed each other. We are creating an eco-system where all the forces are working together.”
The Excellence Summit
Alongside the establishment of the Center for Global Supply Chain Management, Marshall began an annual summit of academics, industry leaders and policymakers. Now in its sixth year, the Global Supply Chain Excellence Summit provides a forum for discussions of new technology, leadership recognition events and forecasting future developments.
“We’re creating a consortium,” Vyas said. “We’re getting people together to create the future: policymakers, academics, industry.”