Supply Chain governance in the age of digital transformation

Call for papers for: International Journal of Operations & Production Management


Supply Chain Governance in the Age of Digital Transformation

Please note submissions open from January 2020 to September 2020

Guest Editors

PAOLO BARBIERI – University of Bologna, Italy
LISA ELLRAM – Farmer School of Business, Miami University, Oxford OH, USA
MARCO FORMENTINI – University of Trento, Italy
JOERG RIES – Cass Business School, City University of London, UK


The effective management of inter-organisational relationships across the supply chain is of paramount importance for all firms involved as it affects their ability to attain competitive advantage and sustainable business performance. In a turbulent and constantly evolving business environment, this requires appropriate and adaptive governance mechanisms that promote efficient collaboration within the supply chain while mitigating the risk of opportunistic behaviour through means of control. Governance of inter-organisational relationships can generally be contractual and/or relational. Contractual governance is based on binding formal agreements that specify obligations and roles of exchange partners. Formal contracts provide the safeguard to protect the individual entities from bounded rationality or opportunistic behavior. They determine compulsory deliverables, monitoring policies and non-compliance penalties. Relational governance, in contrast, refers to trust-based social and moral norms in supply chain relations. It is characterized by shared values, open communication and exchange, coordinated action and joint problem solving as well as flexibility. Contractual and relational governance mechanisms can be complementary and are therefore often used simultaneously in practice.
It is widely acknowledged that information technologies support information and process integration across the supply chain. As such, it is not surprising that the recent emergence of new, ICT-based technologies in the context of the so called “Digital Transformation” – a phenomenon also labelled as “Fourth Industrial Revolution” or “Industry 4.0” – is attracting enormous interest both in practice and research communities. Yet, a clear understanding of the impact of Digital Transformation on governance from a supply chain perspective is still lacking, since the large majority of research has been focusing on describing this new phenomenon, its diffusion, and its technological implications.
Accordingly, the objective of this special issue is to stimulate, and collect, highly impacting research contributions that investigate the relation between Digital Transformation and governance of inter-organizational relationships in supply chains.
The number of managerial and academic publications flourishing over the last few years highlights the substantial attention deserved to the Digital Transformation – a term that is becoming increasingly popular to identify the full integration of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the context of manufacturing, operations and supply chain. Digital Transformation is mainly influenced by Cyber Physical Systems, which include smart machines, warehousing systems and production facilities that have been developed digitally and feature end-to-end ICT-based integration, from inbound logistics to production, marketing, outbound logistics and service. It is a quite pervasive phenomenon, whose applications embrace all business sectors and hold a potentially disruptive impact over the architecture of manufacturing systems and the nature of the business processes. Although advanced manufacturing technologies (“Smart Manufacturing”) are central to the concept, the Digital Transformation also embraces technologies related to product (“Smart Product”) and supply chain (“Smart Supply Chain”) dimensions.
The broad and heterogeneous range of applications related to the Digital Transformation is enabled by a set of base technologies that provide the essential functionalities, such as extended interconnectivity, access to shared computing resources, advanced data processing, etc. Particularly, Internet of Things (IoT) and cyber-physical systems allow the virtualization of physical systems and permit their real-time control and rapid readjustment. Cloud computing and other networking technologies support a device’s functionalities through resources it can access from remote. Advanced analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence are key to the Digital Transformation, since the functions they provide – e.g., cost- and time-effective elaboration of big data, and ability to adapt to unforeseen conditions – result in distinctive features such as predictive capabilities and autonomous, increasingly effective decision-making. Finally, new physical-digital manufacturing technologies (e.g., additive manufacturing, advanced robotics) represent innovative production modes owning high potential in terms of output uniqueness, flexibility, and process productivity.
The Digital Transformation is expected to have a significant impact on inter-organisational governance for two main reasons. Its technologies lead to profound transformation of the firm’s processes (including manufacturing processes), the structure of the firm’s ecosystem, and even the firm’s business model (e.g., fast response to customer’s needs, detected by sensors installed on the product). Changes in the firm’s internal and external environment will necessarily lead to a modification in the way it interacts with business partners in the supply chain. Further, changes in the governance mechanisms of the buyer-supplier interaction will be likely driven by the modification and advancements in those technologies that specifically enable/support the buyer-supplier interaction itself, such as: blockchain, machine learning (ML) for automated decision-making (applied to the supply chain relationship), collaborative digital platforms, etc.
It is worth mentioning that these technological advancements, in fact, have the potential to influence – and even radically change – all types of collaborative practices. They can profoundly affect the nature and management of contracts, thus modifying the “formal” mechanisms of relationship management. They also allow for more extensive direct relationship management (i.e., centralized control, another type of transactional approach to governance). On the other hand, they enable superior coordination as well as new forms of collaboration, even at different tiers of the supply chain.

Topics of interest

This special issue pioneers research on how and why Digital Transformation influences governance of inter-organizational relationships in supply chains. We expect it to contribute to knowledge generation primarily with respect to the following issues:

1.    Impact on supply chain collaboration and integration – The Digital Transformation will impact on the way governance at the SC level can be managed (i.e. coordination and control). More transparency and visibility (provided by technologies such as Blockchain and IoT) could positively influence collaborative relationships (horizontally and vertically): when focusing on SC collaboration, the influence of the Digital Transformation at the SC level should discuss more in depth the evolution of the key pillars, i.e. information sharing, decision synchronization (i.e. ownership of the collaborative process), incentive alignment.

2.    Evolution of different types of governance mechanisms – Research should investigate the evolution of governance mechanisms in terms of collaboration vs. mandatory/power-based approaches, and formal vs. informal ones, in the context of the adoption of new technologies increasing transparency and visibility throughout the supply chain.

3.    Impact of Digital Transformation on the role of trust in buyer-supplier relationships – Apparently, possible diverging impacts may exist. Increased visibility and traceability of the information could reduce or even remove the importance of trust; but will any information be transparent? Will it be acknowledged as trustworthy by all the partners? Will trust, or perhaps “digital trust”, still be necessary?

4.    Impact on relationship governance in the multi-tier supply chain – Following the growing interest towards multi-tier relationships, when focusing on governance from a SC perspective, how are relationships (and governing and controlling these relationships) evolving when implementing the Digital Transformation across the “extended” supply chain? How is “governance-beyond the dyad” (e.g., governance of a triadic relationship) affected by the Digital Transformation, in terms of its form and effectiveness?

5.    Impact of Digital Transformation on governance of international relationships – It is well known that international relationships could suffer from lower levels of trust compared to the domestic ones, as well as from the different degree of infrastructural development between developed and emerging countries. Does the Digital Transformation help to overcome the cultural barrier(s) by making the transaction aspects more transparent and objective? Is its implementation in international relationships affected by infrastructural gaps between different countries?

6.    Size matters? Impact of Digital Transformation on power balance and governance practices in the relationships between large corporations and SMEs – Investments in the new digital technologies may be substantial. Large enterprises may afford them more than smaller ones, and therefore acquire – and possibly exploit – the resulting advantages in terms of visibility, control of information, data analytics and automated decisions. Is this further strengthening the bargaining power of big companies? How is governance changing in the relationships between large corporations and SMEs?

7.    Efficiency of self-executing governance systems – Research has recognised the importance of relational norms and informal governance as self-enforcing safeguard that can either be more effectively and less costly than contractual mechanisms or at least complementary to contractual mechanisms. Given the presence of self-executing smart contracts and AI-based control systems, the role and relevance of governance mechanisms in the presence of specific inter-organisational relationships needs to be reconsidered.

8.    Strategic sustainability objectives implications – Additional visibility and transparency driven by the Digital Transformation could have an important impact in the way companies can control and coordinate their supply chains for strategic sustainability objectives. It has been argued that traditional supply chain disclosures do not provide information on actual products wherefore they have limited impact on consumer behaviour and are less effective in preventing human rights abuse and environmental pollution. In addition, downstream companies that face consumer complaints may be able to monitor and enforce certain practices. This issue might be tackled by more effective governance mechanisms coupled with new technologies (e.g., blockchains in the mining industry or in apparel manufacturing). It would be very interesting to understand the governance implications from and environmental and social point of view.

9.    Implications of Digital Transformation on supply chain finance/cashflow – There has been an increased trend for buyers to reduce cash conversion cycles by deferring payments to their suppliers (to 90 days, 120 days or even longer) often without establishing financial support mechanisms. Suppliers are also asked to hold inventory until it is consumed. Yet the supplier may not be in the best financial position to finance the supply chain. Digital Transformation might enable visibility of invoices and inventory to improve financial flows, gain access to efficient supply chain finance mechanisms and trade terms, and reduce transaction costs. It might facilitate better understanding of the true financing costs within the supply chain, to improve payment terms, inventory levels and financing mechanisms.

10.    Improved systems of for accounting and costing – The promise of activity based costing has not reached fruition for a variety of IT and corporate cultural reasons. Ease of access to better data could facilitate improved understanding and allow firms to price products to customers based on the true cost total of serving that customer, including SCF costs. This can open up a true opportunity for customers to get what they value and are willing to pay for from their suppliers. 

In spite of the considerable attention received by inter-organizational governance theories and mechanisms in supply chain management research, very few papers so far have considered the impact of Digital Transformation on supply chain governance. This special issues aims to address this research gap.

Types of papers to be published

While, the novelty of the Digital Transformation obviously justifies phenomenon-driven research approaches, we also encourage submission of theory-driven research contributions, given the important implications, and challenges that Digital Transformation raises for the most common governance theories, e.g., Transaction Costs Economics, Social Exchange Theory, Resource Dependence Theory, etc. Proposal of novel theoretical framework, if valuable, will also be considered for publication.
Preference will be given to empirical papers. We are open to several methodological approaches including survey, case study, econometric analyses of archival/secondary data, experiments/behavioral operations, and action research, till the extent that they really help to grasp the innovation in governance driven by Digital Transformation. Modelling can be part of the methodology but we expect papers to be empirical in nature. Breakthrough theoretical papers with sharp thinking and highly innovative vision will be considered for publication. Instead, we discourage the submission of literature reviews.

Submissions and review process

Submission must be made via Manuscript Central with clear selection indicating that the submission is for this Special Issue.
Submitted papers have to comply with the normal author guidelines of the International Journal of Operations and Production Management, which can be found on the journal's page.
Papers submitted to the Special Issue will be subjected to normal thorough double-blind review process.

Manuscript to be submitted to the guest editors by: 30/09/2020*
First review outcome by: 30/11/2020
Revised manuscript to be submitted to the guest editors by: 31/01/2021
Second review outcome by: 28/02/2021
Second revised manuscript to be submitted to the guest editors by: 31/03/2021
Final decision outcome by: 15/04/2021

Accepted papers would be online first around 30 days after acceptance.

Special Issue Editorial Team

PAOLO BARBIERI, Ph.D in Management, is an Assistant Professor of Purchasing and Supply Chain Management at the Department of Management of the University of Bologna, and Core Faculty of the Bologna Business School. He has been Visiting Professor at Michigan State University, Clarkson University, North Florida University and Cass Business School. He is the Department of Management’s delegate in the Digital Transformation-Industry 4.0 Competence Centre (“BI-REX”) of the Emilia-Romagna Region, funded by the Italian Government and by a pool of 45 companies including leading firms such as Ducati Motor Holding, IMA, Eni, Philip Morris, Siemens and IBM Italy.
His research interests focus on governance of buyer-supplier relationships of complex engineered products, supplier performance measurements, global supply chain management and reshoring. On these topics he has published in leading journals such as: Journal of Operations Management, International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Omega – The International Journal of Management Science, Journal of Purchasing and Supply Management, European Business Review, International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management, and others.

LISA M. ELLRAM, Ph.D., C.P.M., CMA, Scor-S is a University Distinguished Professor and the Rees Distinguished Professor of Supply Chain Management  in the Department of Management at the Farmer School of Business, Miami University in Oxford, OH, where she teaches logistics and supply chain management at the undergraduate and graduate level. 
Her primary areas of research interest include sustainability in purchasing, transportation and supply chain management; services purchasing and supply chain management; offshoring and outsourcing; and supply chain cost management and finance. She has published in numerous top journals spanning a variety of disciplines, including Journal of Supply Chain Management, Academy of Management Journal, Journal of Operations Management, International Journal of Production and Operations Management, California Management Review, MIT Sloan Management Review, and other managerial and academic outlets.  She is Co-Editor in Chief Emeritus for the Journal of Supply Chain Management (2007-2016), and is currently Senior Associate Editor at Journal of Purchasing and Supply Management and on the editorial board of several other journals.  She has co-authored eight books, including academic books and textbooks.

MARCO FORMENTINI University of Trento, Italy, formerly an Associate Professor in Sustainable Supply Chain Management at Audencia Business School, Nantes (France). He received his PhD from University of Padova (Italy) and he has been previously Research Fellow at Cass Business School, London (UK) and Lecturer at University of Bath, School of Management, Bath (UK).
His research involves activities in the areas of Operations and Supply Chain Management, focusing mainly on sustainability - investigating corporate sustainability strategies and related governance mechanisms - supply chain collaboration with a specific interest on agri-food supply chains, strategic sourcing and integration of international supply chains.
He published in leading journals such as: International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Industrial Marketing Management, Journal of Purchasing and Supply Management, European Journal of Operational Research, International Journal of Production Economics, International Journal of Production Research, Transportation Research: Part E and Journal of Cleaner Production.

JOERG RIES, Ph.D in Industrial Management, is a Senior Lecturer in Operations and Supply Chain Management at Cass Business School, City University of London. He also is a member of the Digital Leadership Research Centre at Cass Business School and the Data Science Institute at City University of London.
His research mainly focusses on predictive and prescriptive analytics in the context of supply chain management – the exploration of text mining and artificial intelligence as enabler for smart and efficient supply chains – supply chain finance with a strong focus on process automation and purchase-to-pay optimisation as well as sustainable supply chain operations. On these topics he has published in leading journals such as: European Journal of Operational Research, International Journal of Production Economics, International Journal of Production Research, Omega – The International Journal of Management Science, and others.


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