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What is Supply Chain Management? The Supply Chain Coffee Shop

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On the Ground
On the Trucks
On the Brand
In Short

When I’m meeting someone for the first time, I’m proud to announce my major as supply chain management — or SCM. Seven times out of 10, I’ll be saying a string of words they’ve never heard before.

Lucky for me, my favorite question usually follows: “What can you do with that degree?”

The answer is very simple: I can do nearly anything I want.

The beauty of being a supply chain management major is that every company on the planet has a supply chain of some kind. Being in SCM means job security and variety. A person purchasing the fabric for a private fashion designer and someone managing the flow of a packaging facility are both working within the company’s supply chain, just different parts of it. Naturally, it doesn’t stop there, but this article can only go on for so long.

To demonstrate a few of the different areas that SCM jobs can fall into, I’ve simplified the operations of a coffee shop into three tiers. Let’s use this timeless example to see what being an SCM major can lead you to.

What is supply chain management

On the Ground

Let’s say you’re a customer at our Supply Chain Coffee Shop. You’re looking forward to your favorite drink when you walk in the door and find there’s a huge line just to order.

Unfortunately, this situation is common in the real world. That’s because a long line can be caused by a number of problems.

For instance: As you’re waiting, you notice that the store has two cash registers and four employees. One employee is taking orders, while three people are making drinks. It seems to you that those drink-makers have a little extra time on their hands. You might say, “Why don't two people take orders while two people make drinks?”

It seems like an easy solution, but what if that’s not the problem?

Perhaps the people filling drinks won’t be able to keep up with two open registers because they’re not productive enough. Maybe the number of open registers doesn’t matter at all. It could be that the person working the register is new and still figuring out how to work the order interface. It could also be that the order interface itself is needlessly complicated, which adds to order time. All of these things could cause a long line and impatient customers.

These glitches — and many more — are the kind of problems solved by operations managers (who directly work for the company they are attempting to improve) and management consultants (who are outsiders who provide advice and knowledge from previous experience).

On the Trucks

Now, think about this: What if the line continues to grow, no matter how perfectly efficient the cashiers and drink-makers are? If we “zoom out” from the individual store, maybe it turns out the long lines are due to the fact this coffee chain only has one location in the entire Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. That would surely explain why they can never serve all of their customers no matter how fast the orders are processed or the drinks are made.

The natural follow-up questions would be: Should we build another store? If so, where should we put it? These are questions that can be answered through data analysis conducted by data scientists who specialize in finding patterns in the operational data that stores provide. They can make predictions about a store’s profits and the company’s well-being. They can also offer business suggestions by comparing their findings to larger trends in society — such as whether or not coffee drinking is becoming more popular.

Here’s another question: If a data scientist decides that a new store ought to be built, then who makes sure that the store is stocked?

That’s up to the people in the transportation and logistics departments. They’re the people who make sure the company’s inventory flows smoothly across all channels. They schedule the trucks that transport the paper cups and lids, as well as the beans that the baristas use to make our drinks. Their ultimate goal is to ship just enough and right on time.

You might recognize companies like Walmart and Amazon as the giants of this realm – and for good reason. As technology improves, so does our ability to transport products of all shapes, sizes, seasonality and perishability (fresh strawberries in the wintertime, for example).

On the Brand

Going back to our coffee shop, here’s the thing: In order for the transportation and logistics people to ferry coffee beans from supplier to store, contracts for those things must be arranged ahead of time. Purchasing and sourcing departments exist in every company, and for this coffee shop, they buy everything from the pens and pencils on an employee’s desk to the Costa Rican coffee beans that comprise the store’s signature blend.

Purchasing and sourcing are important for more than just office chairs and barista aprons, however. They are also the people making sure that companies adhere to some of their most basic (and most important) principles. Imagine a company that promises its cups are made from 100 percent recycled materials. They would lose a lot of brand value if it came out that they were actually manufactured from harmful plastics. To that end, it’s very important people in purchasing and sourcing are careful about who they buy from.

In Short

If you had a room full of random people who worked in supply chain management, you probably wouldn’t hear the same title twice. Their areas of expertise might overlap, but no two roles would be exactly alike, nor would their skillsets.

As long as there’s a will, there’s a way, to find a place for you in supply chain management, too!

For more information on becoming a Supply Chain Management major at The University of Texas at Dallas, please visit the Operations/Supply Chain Management Programs page.

Julia Cocco

Julia Cocco

Julia is a graduating senior and part of the 2020 cohort of the Davidson Management Honors Program. She is studying Supply Chain Management at UT Dallas. As a self-proclaimed Efficiency Aficionado, she enjoys exploring the ways our daily lives can be beautified through simplicity. Read more articles

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