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Supply Chain Alliance Unites Students, Faculty and Industry

An efficient supply chain has never been more important, say the leaders of a new industry-academic initiative at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business. In the increasingly "just in time" environment, raw materials must arrive "just in time" to be made into parts, which must become finished goods "just in time," and finished goods must arrive "just in time" to be sold. To increase efficiency in a setting that demands it most, Kelley has forged the Supply Chain Alliance to help companies meet ever-increasing challenges and teach students cutting-edge concepts for their careers.

Nearly 20 companies, all headquartered or with locations in Indiana, have joined the group. Rhonda Lummus, director of the alliance and Kelley clinical professor of supply chain management, describes it as an "institute" that will create learning opportunities for the companies, students and faculty.

It's also providing depth and creating awareness about Kelley's relatively new supply chain management bachelor's degree program; the major was launched just five years ago. Part of the challenge, says Lummus, is attracting students to an area of study the average person takes for granted, despite its central role in any product reaching the consumer. Listen

"It's been a bit difficult to attract students to the major because, number one, most studentsólike most of the publicódon't know what supply chain is. The parents don't know, and the students don't know," says Lummus. "We need students to be in this major, because everything you read about supply chain companies talks about the talent gap, or the fact that there will be not enough employees in this area going forward." Listen

Lummus believes the alliance also creates opportunities for companies to share best practices and learn from their "peers" in the industry. Dave Reed, vice president of operations and health care business solutions at Bloomington-based Cook Medical, hopes the company's participation in the alliance will lead to improvements in its supply chain; he says, historically, health care companies haven't had a heavy focus on supply chain. Listen

"As the health care industry tries to get its arms around making it more affordable and address the uninsured and lack of access, one of the significant challenges is how to increase the ability to take care of more patients, but do that in an economically viable way," says Reed. "In many other industries, there's a lot of good activity around supply chain that helps organizations be very efficient and effective in moving product where it needs to be. In health care, those products need to be at the bedside." Listen

In addition to learning strategies that could improve its supply chain, Reed believes Cook can also play a role in shaping the future work force.

"Having contact with students as they move through their education provides an opportunity for them to understand the industry," says Reed. "Conversely, it allows us to identify talented individuals who have a real interest in supply chain. Many people don't think about supply chain in health care, but we desperately need talented individuals focused on supply chain in health care to help us overcome our challenges."

Other companies in the alliance include ArcerlorMittal, FedEx, Chrysler Corp. and Target Distribution. Lummus says the real-world challenges of the 20 industry partners are becoming student projects and providing information for faculty conducting research. Listen

On a much larger scale, Lummus believes the alliance could enhance the state's position as a hub for supply chain activity.

"From a logistics standpoint, the location of Indiana provides great access to the rest of the country," says Lummus. "We have all of the interstates meeting in Indiana, and a new one soon to be finished. It's a great crossroads with lots of need for distribution centers and other [service providers] that can then access the rest of the country."

With unparalleled pressure on companies to maximize efficiency, Lummus is confident the alliance will help find solutions to some of industry's greatest challenges, while creating career pathways for students that connect companies to future workers.

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