Title

A study of e-fulfilment in the logistics industry : a model of supply chain transformation

Date of Award

1-1-2009

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Management

Faculty

Faculty of Business and Law

Abstract

An understanding of the behaviour and management of the supply chain is essential to gain and maintain viable, competitive commercial outcomes. In particular E-business technologies are revolutionising the fulfilment components of the supply chain by allowing online transactions, fast response, wide spread geographical customer bases and virtualisation of organisations through tight alliances. These new pressures, and the logistics and transport industry's responses to them, have lead to a new term for traditional fulfilment organisations: e-fulfilment providers. The aim of this thesis is to examine the initiation and growth of this phenomenon, with the primary objective of determining what drives fulfilment to this new form. In so doing it has concentrated on four specific topics; how is e-fulfilment best defined, what is transforming it, what are the causes of that transformation, and based on the characteristics of the phenomenon, what are the strategies for achieving sustainable competitive advantage in this new area? To address these topics the thesis quantitatively analyses publicly available data from an extensive five-year survey of UK businesses offering outsourced fulfilment solutions specifically to e-businesses, many of them online retailers. The initial data analysis is followed by a qualitative analysis of 6 Australian cases to triangulate conclusions derived from the initial stage and to further address the proposed research questions. The study produced the following findings and outcomes: • A definition of e-fulfilment based on the presence of 13 core potential capabilities and a model showing how these interact. Such a definition provides a basis for comparisons with other. supply chain-related research projects, and also provides a practical benefit to industries in identifying the characteristics of their competitors and customers: • Development of a new technique for quantitatively assessing relative transformation of fulfilment capabilities, with practical application as a benchmarking tool; • An explanation for transformation of fulfilment capabilities based on a metamorphosis from physical to knowledge-based capabilities. The high value of knowledge in the e-economy is a popular concept and has generally been applied to businesses as a whole. In this thesis, in addition to the whole business, the phenomenon is examined quantitatively from individual activities the business undertakes, and also for the industry as a whole; • A conclusion that transformation is substantially the result of tactical activities undertaken by e-fulfilment competitors as they respond to online retailers' desires to fast track their business maturity (and in tum their own competitiveness). While there is a widespread academic acceptance that business changes are the result of long term planning, this thesis shows how this industry works contrary to that view. For managers in e-fulfilment businesses, the study provides support and specific direction for a tactical approach to conducting business; • A model to explain how, at a company level, old capabilities are transformed or shed from e-fulfilment companies' portfolios, and new ones adopted and retained. Such a model explains why companies' portfolios of capabilities are us they are, and provides a paradigm that businesses can use to evolve their business’s capabilities; • A model to show how the e-fulfilment industry is evolving based on new and transformed capabilities. This model provides a specific mechanism which explains how changing capabilities in e-fulfilment businesses shapes the market and how the (reshaped) market feeds these changes back as new requirements. Such an interaction between provider and customer is tacitly accepted in much of the academic literature but the dynamics of specific cases are not so readily found. At a practical level, the model has potential for showing businesses how to position for future customer expectations. Future research opportunities suggested by this research include developing transformation measurement to include other supply chain capabilities, undertaking ongoing surveys to track the continuing evolution of e-fulfilment providers and industry, and further developing the models provided in this thesis. Concepts and sections of this study can also be used to develop practical tools for the e-fulfilment (and potentially other supply chain-based) industries. These include further development of transformation measurement into a practical benchmarking instrument, analysis of the relative effectiveness of the portfolio of business capabilities, and development of lead indicators of customer expectations and industry direction.

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