Title: The role of services in flexible supply chains: an exploratory study

Authors: Mark Stevenson

Addresses: Department of Management Science, Lancaster University Management School, Lancaster University, LA1 4YX, UK

Abstract: Prior research into flexibility has largely focused on intra-organisational aspects of manufacturing flexibility or looked at the role of manufacturing companies in flexible supply chains - it has generally failed to explicitly consider the role of services. This paper presents the results of an exploratory empirical study into service flexibility based on interviews conducted in six companies: a recruitment agency, a plant hire firm, two logistics providers, a procurement service, and a provider of supply chain software. Many of these services provide an important source of flexibility to supply chains. Five roles fulfilled by the services are identified as follows: to provide continuity, to allow for expansion, to provide expertise, to improve cost efficiency, and to reduce risk. In addition, it is found that the companies are able to play these roles through having internal flexibility (e.g., flexible resources and/or excess capacity) and by themselves supplementing this either through their membership of a parent organisation/group (group collaboration) or through external partners (e.g., subcontracting and horizontal collaboration). Future research could build on this contribution, e.g., by conducting an integrated study of a network of manufacturing and service firms, by conducting a quantitative survey to add generality to the findings, and by conducting longitudinal empirical work to observe how supply chains cope with change over time.

Keywords: supply chain flexibility; services; flexible supply chains; case study; supply chain management; SCM; service flexibility; recruitment agency; plant hire; logistics providers; procurement services; supply chain software; group collaboration; subcontracting; horizontal collaboration.

DOI: 10.1504/IJASM.2013.058200

International Journal of Agile Systems and Management, 2013 Vol.6 No.4, pp.307 - 323

Received: 12 Aug 2012
Accepted: 14 Feb 2013

Published online: 10 Dec 2013 *

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