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  October 1st, 2015 | Written by

Back To School

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Brenda Patton can’t talk much about her employer—as is the nature of government contractors—but she’s happy to talk about how her Master’s of Science in Supply Chain Management (MS-SCM) from the University of San Diego (USD) has made her a company asset. Patton, like thousands of other professionals, supplemented her education with financial support from her employer. In exchange for her company financing her master’s program, Patton put in the hours of study and hard work needed to “master” the art and science of supply-chain management, adding tremendous value—often in terms of dollars and cents—to her organization.

“We’re designed for the working professional,” says Lauren Lukens, director of MS-SCM for the School of Business Administration at USD. The 25-month program is conducted primarily online, but with five residences—three- to four-day, on-campus classes that provide the opportunity to participate directly with professors and other students from the individual’s cohort. What’s a “cohort?” It’s the student’s group of partners he or she works with for the program’s duration while putting together an individual project.

The university refers to this project as the “advanced integrative project,” which serves as the focal point of a student’s education for the second year of USD’s program. Other schools may use differing names, though many will have the same premise: a hands-on, real-life project created by the student with input from their company and school faculty for practical application of the principles, theories and practices of supply-chain management. The result is a classic win-win: The student gets a first-class educational experience, and the employer gets paid back in spades for the investment.

“We typically tell the students [the value saved or generated for the employer by the student’s project] needs to be on the order of $50,000 or more,” Lukens says. Consider that the program’s costs fall just south of that mark (it’s a 36-unit program priced at $1,380 per unit for a total cost of $46,080), and you begin to see how funding an employee’s MS-SCM is an excellent deal for an exporter.

Patton’s advanced integrative project was somewhat different than what’s typical, but her supply chain is different than what most of us call to mind when we hear the term. A 22-year veteran of her company, Patton was used to handling more standard production and materials-based supply chains. “The environment that I work in now does not have those same attributes to it. The attribute in my environment now is primarily software based,” she says.

“All my procedures, all my processes that I have to live by are developed for a manufacturing environment,” says Patton. “Here I am in this software environment and the risk is totally different.” One of the big challenges of her advanced integrative project wasn’t dealing with clients at all, but rather speaking the language of the higher-ups in her own company. She needed them to understand how and why the nature of her software-based supply chain was radically different than what the company was accustomed to, and what must be done to create efficiencies in her new “environment.”

One example was when Patton worked with a government customer that wanted her to take all of its disparate IT systems, which couldn’t talk to each other, and consolidate them into one system that could communicate. “So if you think about that, what do you deliver?” she asks. “You might deliver some servers. You’re likely to deliver some software. You might have modified some off-the-shelf software; you might create a new code. The supply chain is pretty flat.” Patton describes how the client had 433 sub-contracted personnel working to maintain all those systems; her team reduced the number to around 80, and it ultimately expanded to about 110.

Patton learned how to handle these items through her advanced integrative project, which she says had a four-fold focus: Review the procedures of the contract, then the terms and conditions, establish a supply-chain architecture, and develop a software tool that would create invoices for labor sub-contractors, standardized for every supply, and have the invoices automatically routed for internal approvals. This last item is known as SLIM: Subcontractor Labor and Invoice Management.

For an idea of the value generated by Patton’s participation in USD’s MS-SCM program, look no farther than SLIM: “That tool alone,” she says, “on one proposal, one program, is estimated to save us $3.5 million.

“The program at USD helped me with understanding some of the relationships between organizations, internally and externally.”