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Understanding and Defining Supply Chain Complexity: A Mixed Method Approach for Basic and Applied Research

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The complexity of the supply chain process

An EU-funded project has studied the importance and management of complexity in the process of supply chain (SC).

Industrial Technologies icon Industrial Technologies

The project SCCOMPLEXITY (Understanding and defining supply chain complexity: A mixed method approach for basic and applied research) examined the ways that SCs manage the complexity surrounding them, for lower costs, better service and sustainable competitive advantage. SCs are networks of entities involved in the upstream and downstream flows of products, services, finances, and information between a source and customers. Managing SCs has become increasingly complex. This is due to shorter product life cycles, increased product variety, customisation levels and customer demands, and the geographically dispersed SC entities. These have led to an increase in the number and variety of interactions among products, processes and relationships that make up the SC and the uncertainty and constraints surrounding these elements. They are often referred to as supply chain complexity (SCC). Researchers conducted an extensive cross-disciplinary literature review and developed a conceptual, theoretical and measurement model of SCC. SCCOPMLEXITY identified components of SCC, such as suppliers, manufacturing plants, customers and other SC entities. It also identified components of supplier complexity, leading to the emergence of three concepts: supplier criticality, supplier reliability and supplier manageability. Additionally, results have suggested that there is a value in measuring perceived supplier complexity, despite the reliance of existing studies on objective complexity. By definition, complexity relates to non-linear, unpredictable changes in the system. Perceived complexity can be important for decision-making, as it may help capture elements that may not necessarily be included or included accurately in purely objective models. Several research projects and collaborations between multiple institutions commenced as a result of this project. The outcomes of this research will also help companies become more competitive, through various publications on supplier complexity. One pilot company has already benefited from this research, better identifying critical suppliers and reducing the number of customer complaints, due to a better understanding of complexity. The project also produced six presentations, one manuscript is under review and another two are in progress, and various other publications have been realised.


Supply-chain, SCCOMPLEXITY, supplier complexity, objective complexity

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