eSCM - An Interactive Education and Discussion Platform for Supply Chain Management

by Zsolt Kemény and Elisabeth Ilie-Zudor

As increasingly complex supply chains and related forms of cooperation emerge in today’s industrial production, so does a growing demand for proper education in supply chain management (SCM), both for future professionals and employees of the companies involved. To answer this demand, the eSCM project was launched with the goal of creating an Internet-based e-learning platform for interactive education and discussion of SCM-related topics.

An Internet-based education/training platform in the field of supply chain management, for students, teachers and industrial employees: under this title, with the acronym eSCM, an EU-funded international project of 30 months’ duration started in October 2004, within the framework of the Leonardo da Vinci Program. The key activity of the project is the creation of an education, training and discussion platform where future and current professionals could enhance and test their knowledge of supply chain management. Such professionals are students and employees of industrial companies, generally small and medium-sized enterprises, the so-called SMEs. In general, the creators of the platform intend only to extend traditional ‘face-to-face’ learning methods with distance-learning components. It is envisaged, however, that many current educational practices may impose limits on the efficiency of knowledge acquisition in such a rapidly changing field. These are likely to be discarded.

The platform has a number of significant features. The Internet-based character of the platform makes learning material accessible worldwide, eliminating travel costs and allowing further indirect savings for companies. Since participating institutions are often from different countries, a transnational view of the project is guaranteed. This aligns well with the fact that members of supply chains are increasingly located in different countries and their views of production may reflect different cultural backgrounds.

The freely configurable nature of the courses allows both instructors and students to tailor the learning material according to their specific needs. This addresses a traditional problem faced by participants of rigidly organized courses, in which some materials or knowledge acquired at high costs are never used in practice. As students can select courses according to their preferences, so can teachers personalize their lectures with additional material uploaded to the platform.

The platform supports a wide range of tests and examinations, including self-assessment material and interactive games, which allow students to prove their knowledge in a competitive way.

Aside from resources directly related to learning, a variety of other means of interaction is provided by the platform. An agenda is used to notify students of activities. Similarly, a blackboard is provided as a means of distributing short messages among registered users of a course. A discussion forum allows interaction within a given field of SCM, where further questions may be asked and open issues discussed. Registered users can also introduce themselves and their fields of expertise by a personal homepage within the framework of the platform.

The SCM-related knowledge represented by eSCM is organized in accordance with the allegory of a ‘house of SCM’. Here the foundations of the house are analogous with an underlying infrastructure, the walls and pillars within the building are the participating companies with various layers of function, and the roof depicts the cooperation activities within a supply chain. The model also expresses three layers of interest within the collaborative production: the supply chain level, the company level and the process level. Key topics to be dealt with in the courses are:

As for technical realization, the platform relies on Java technology (Tomcat 5.0), following the J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) standard. This allows it to be executed from a variety of application servers (eg JRun, Bea Weblogic, TomCat, IBM WebSphere). The eSCM platform database supports SQL Server and Access (advised for tests and lowest user loads only). An adaptation to MySQL support is in progress.

The consortium working on the eSCM project comprises five active partners: the project leader SZTAKI, Hungary; the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (FhG IPA), Germany; Politecnico di Milano; Department of Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering (POLI-DIG); and Department of Methods, Technolo-gies and Innovative Didactic (POLI-METID). Also involved are the Università di Bergamo, Department of Industrial Engineering (UNIBG), Italy; and Polytehnica University of Bucharest, Faculty of Engineering and Management of Technological Systems (UPB), Romania. Further members of the consortium are five so-called passive partners – SMEs contributing to the platform’s evaluation within their own range of business.


Please contact:
Elisabeth Ilie-Zudor, SZTAKI, Hungary
Tel: +36 1 279 6195