Feds pony up for supply chain research

The loud ka-ching! heard at university campuses across Canada recently was the sound of the federal government opening up its cash drawer and spilling out $14.6 million for new research.

The windfall, awarded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, included $210,000 for an online business institute at Alberta’s Athabasca University.

“We will be working with SAP and IBM to develop a model of a fully integrated supply chain to exist at some time in the not-too-distant future, perhaps the next five to 10 years,” said Dr. Peter Carr, associate director of Athabasca’s Centre for Innovative Management.

The three-year, $2.5 million project will create a seamless, transparent data-tracking system designed to span five or more participating companies. Once the model is developed, both university researchers and staff from their partner organizations will run scenarios to test the effectiveness of the system’s strategies, software and hardware.

Speaking to from just outside Southwark Cathedral in London, England, where he was accompanying a group of Athabasca MBA students, Carr explained that his as-yet-unnamed institute would employ a full range of synchronous and asynchronous applications, including voice, video and text.

“What we learn about the IBM collaborative tools and the SAP (tools) will be useful to these organizations. It’s a step beyond where we are now, where some information can be made visible but basically most company systems don’t talk to the systems of other companies,” he said.

By using online tools to take a view across the whole industrial supply chain, from the process of extracting ore from the ground to the new cars on a sales lot built with that material, Carr said he sees broad implications for the institute’s work outside its university setting.

“What this technology should help companies do is work together across distance. In Canada that means it’ll be easier for Canadian companies to work together and possibly more importantly, for them to work with international partners. There should be a direct contribution to Canada’s bottom line”.

For further information about the research infrastructure and training programs supported by the CFI see http://www.innovation.ca. Athabasca University is located online at http://www.athabascau.ca.