IBM wants to make certain that the next generation of business managers will have the critical skills and creativity necessary for technology innovation, both to meet its own needs and those of industry as a whole. Consequently, the company has an active university relations program that includes a Shared University Research (SUR) initiative begun in 1999. Last year, IBM awarded 78 universities with grants totaling $16.4m under this program. The company's Integrated Supply Chain (ISC) participates in SUR by supporting students and research at four selected universities. Hector Granda heads this program and helped launch a three-day supply chain immersion course for students. David Fitzpatrick, director of the supply chain program at Howard University, says, "The IBM immersion course offers students the opportunity to study a major corporation's supply chain from beginning to the end, and is vastly superior to what we normally accomplish on campus with charts and guest lecturers."
Q: What does it mean to be responsible for learning and development within the Integrated Supply Chain at a large company like IBM?
Granda: I have a broad scope of responsibilities that includes education, recruiting and special programs that we have in place to develop talent. Also, I am a member of the talent team that oversees all of the talent activities within the ISC globally, which includes more than 60 countries. Essentially, it's my role to keep IBM's supply chain talent pipeline strong.
Q: What are the four universities that ISC works closely with and what are some of the ways that you work with these institutions?
Granda: IBM works with many universities but the ISC has academic partnerships with Penn State, Arizona State, the University of Dublin (Ireland) and Michigan State. We also just recently added Singapore University to this group.
We have several ways that we collaborate with these universities. In every case we look for a win/win so that both IBM and the universities benefit. Both parties gain insight to supply chain trends and theories that we probably wouldn't have access to if we didn't work together. We are also able to learn from all the experiences that these universities have with other industries that are not related to our business, so it brings value to IBM in terms of new ideas that we can potentially use internally.
At the same time, we help the universities with software and hardware so there is a shared collaboration approach on a technical level as well. One area that we are investing in is what we call the On-demand Supply-chain Solutions Labs. We have four labs, at Penn State, Michigan State, Arizona State and Dublin. We sponsor research projects that are of interest to IBM as well as for the students.
Currently, we have four main projects. for example, one is a project on the benefits of supply-chain security at Penn State and another is on RFID and its role within a supply chain. In another, the four labs will collaborate to simulate the workings of a complex global supply chain using grid computing, which optimizes supply-chain scenarios across a network of computers for faster results.
Additionally, we help the schools reshape their supply-chain curricula by identifying the skills needed for the supply chain of the future. This way, we know that we will have access to graduates who will be closer to meeting our pure business needs as well as the needs of our clients. Also we are working with the universities to develop executive sessions for training our current executives and leaders. And, of course, there is the immersion course.
Q: Tell me more about the immersion course.
Granda: The immersion course is an opportunity for the students to see an actual supply chain in a business environment. It is held for three days. This year's course was our second. It was held Feb. 28 to March 2 and was attended by 28 second-year MBA students from Howard University in Washington, D.C., and Penn State University. The students were from a diverse background and most of them had several years of supply-chain work experience. Three university heads attended the event as well: director of the supply-chain program from Howard, a supply-chain professor from Howard and a supply-chain professor from Penn State. The first event was held in October 2003 with 18 students from Penn State.
The immersion course has been very exciting for the university professors and, after two years, we can now see that is also is very good for the students. This year, over a period of three days, the students were presented a total of 15 comprehensive presentations on the value of an end-to-end supply chain. Topics included an ISC overview, ISC strategy, a labor-based supply chain, business growth initiatives, on-demand and supply planning, five different sourcing presentations, customer fulfillment, manufacturing and global logistics.
In addition, the students were given a tour of IBM's cutting-edge 300-millimeter semiconductor manufacturing facility in East Fishkill, N.Y, which uses RFID technology for material handling. A student exercise was also developed for them by two members of the IBM Learning Team. The students worked in groups, mixing the two schools together, to manufacture Lego car kits. They were given many supply-chain obstacles to help them apply their skills-things like missing parts, environmental issues with supply, warehousing problems and quality control issues. Some of the ISC executives also participated, role-playing as corporate auditors and suppliers. The students received prizes throughout the exercise and they all got to race their cars in the end. It was really a fun break from the many presentations.
Q: Do you look on this as a recruiting opportunity?
Granda: No, this is in no way a replacement for recruiting. In fact, we have a process and a dedicated team that manages recruitment. The students attending the immersion may become IBMers, of course, and they may also become clients. Either way, the more they know about IBM and the ISC, the better.
Q: Do you anticipate expanding this program to have more sessions?
Granda: We are not going to expand to more than twice a year because it is a very demanding activity for IBM and for the students. We try to give the students an overview of how we are organized and what our goals are, so we go function by function. This way, the students can relate to specific activities and processes within our supply chain. And they have an opportunity to interview the top executives of the supply chain in a panel so there is a lot of exchange via questions and answers. We really expose them to our entire supply chain and its executives.
Q: How are the students selected. Do you look for particular areas of interest?
Granda: The participating schools make the decision about which students attend. I would say that their strengths are mostly in procurement and logistics, which is not surprising. When we go around and see how the curricula are being built at various schools, the strength is typically in procurement, logistics and sometimes manufacturing.
Part of what we are trying do through our relationships is to inform the universities that the supply chain needs to be integrated. You can't teach it in a silo because when these students graduate we want them to understand the power of the supply chain as an integrated ecosystem and not as individual islands.
We are working with the four partner universities that I mentioned-Penn State, Michigan State, Arizona State and Dublin-on the supply-chain management profession. We are thinking ahead to what will be the requirements of this profession in the future and how we need to reshape the curricula going forward. It is a very interesting project.
Q: What are some of the things that need to be changed?
Granda: Primarily, it is what I mentioned before: the need for an end-to-end process within the different industries that goes beyond the traditional boundaries of procurement, logistics, fulfillment and manufacturing.
At IBM we have what we call a supply chain orientation program. Some of our new hires go into an orientation program for two years. During those two years they will change jobs four times, until we find them a final placement within the supply chain or within IBM. This is a very selective program with just a few people per year, but it has been very, very successful. We also have traditional hires of graduates or undergraduates. In the last four years we have hired about 200 people.
Within the ISC we also have the supply-chain leadership program. This basically encourages IBMers to work in logistics for a year, then go to procurement for a year, then to manufacturing and fulfillment, which really gives them a good, cross-reference on all of the jobs in the supply chain and it helps them on their career paths at IBM.
Our conclusion is that we need experts in the supply chain who can go very deep at the functional level, such as procurement or manufacturing. But we also need experts who understand the end-to-end processes and the connection of the different processes. In that sense, an experience in sales is always helpful, because they are our internal customers that we need to support.
In terms of a career path for supply chain, we would like to have two options for any professional. One career path would be at the functional level so a person could be an expert in logistics and become the senior executive responsible within IBM. At the same time, we need people that can connect the different processes within the supply chain and optimize that. So we want to offer a career path for those people as well.
Timely, incisive articles delivered directly to your inbox.