The role of services in flexible supply chains: an exploratory study
by Mark Stevenson
International Journal of Agile Systems and Management (IJASM), Vol. 6, No. 4, 2013

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.

Online publication date: Mon, 21-Jul-2014

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