CAPS Research: Sourcing supply chain insights

CAPS Research, a leading non-profit supply chain management research organization for nearly three decades, has a new leadership team and a new mission to help Tempe become “the center of the supply chain management universe.”

The new leaders are focused on revitalizing CAPS Research and on strengthening the organization’s partnership with the W. P. Carey Supply Chain Management Department and the Institute for Supply Management, a Tempe-based not-for-profit educational association that has been serving supply chain professionals around the world for 100 years.

Thomas Choi splits his time between CAPS Research and the W. P. Carey School to ensure that the school and its faculty are more involved with the organization and to maintain his strong ties with the academic world. Deborah K. Stanton, who has worked for such companies as Whirlpool, Honeywell and, most recently, MasterCard, where she was chief procurement officer, continues to interact with her industry peers and the organization’s corporate.

“We are charged with making CAPS Research the top-of-mind organization when it comes to research in the supply chain area,” Choi says. “We are trying to be true to our original identity as a place where the best of academia and the best of industry converge.”

John Fowler, chairman of the W. P. Carey SCM Department, says that increasing the collaboration between CAPS Research, ASU and ISM will result in Tempe becoming a national and global leader in all things SCM.

“I have a vision of Tempe, Ariz., becoming the center of the supply chain management universe,” Fowler says. “Pretty much anything anyone needs in terms of supply chain management they will be able to get in Tempe from one of these three world-class institutions.”

Competition growing in SCM research

CAPS Research was created in 1986, when interest in supply chain management was beginning to grow in the corporate and academic worlds, to conduct cutting-edge research in the burgeoning SCM field.

ASU Professor Emeritus Harold E. Fearon founded what was then called the Center for Advanced Purchasing Studies and served as its executive director for 10 years before retiring.

He was succeeded in 1995 by Phillip L. Carter, who served as executive director for 19 years before retiring this past summer. During his tenure, Carter grew the financial base of support to nearly twice what it had been, while increasing the organization’s reputation among Fortune 500 firms.

In recent years, CAPS Research had become more independent and there was little interaction with either the W. P. Carey School or ISM, Fowler says. At the same time, a number of consulting and for-profit organizations have started to offer SCM events and research, resulting in competition for CAPS Research in the now-hot SCM field, Fowler recognizes the competitive advantage of the partnership between W. P. Carey School, ISM, and CAPS Research.

CAPS Research remains the go-to source for supply chain management research and benchmarking that examines the current issues that affect industry, and its basic structure will remain the same. But there is a new sense of urgency to grow its membership and strengthen its brand as it strives to deliver the most relevant and current research, workshops and networking events on the topics that are most important to its corporate members and chief procurement officers around the world.

“It is very important for us to take a good look at how we stay relevant to the SCM profession,” Stanton says. “There is high sensitivity around making sure we are dealing with the most significant and meaningful topics in a timely manner.”

Wide variety of leading-edge topics

Choi agrees that the goal is to conduct research and benchmarking projects “faster and on edgier issues that leading companies face. We need to rise to the challenge by adding more cutting-edge topics our member companies are interested in and by providing more diverse and broad avenues of disseminating the information.”

For example, one of the current CAPS research projects explores the movement of money across the supply chain, which he calls “supply chain financing.” The goal is to identify the tools and strategies that leading manufacturing, and service companies use, for instance, to fund growth and the role of financial companies in this process.

Another project is being designed to identify critical suppliers that companies don’t even know exist. That information can help companies develop contingency plans should they lose their main suppliers during disruptions like the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami. “We already have identified suppliers embedded deep in the supply chain,” Choi says.

Yet another proposed research project would explore cloud-based services as companies look to work with suppliers of storage space, shared applications and software packages. The project will consider IT environment and procurement’s decision making “to find the sweet spot in value and investment.” It will identify risk issues involved in data reliability and security.

The ISM/W. P. Carey/CAPS partnership

CAPS Research is jointly sponsored by the W. P. Carey School and ISM, and while the organizations have collaborated on research over the years, it became clear to the stakeholders that their partnership would benefit from increased collaboration. CAPS shares office space at the ASU Research Park with ISM, which was founded in 1915 to enhance the value and performance of procurement and supply chain management practitioners and their organizations worldwide through education, research, standards of excellence and information dissemination.

Thomas W. Derry, CEO of ISM, says the new leadership team at CAPS Research and its commitment to work more closely with ASU and ISM will result in a common agenda to advance the SCM profession and will allow CAPS to better address the needs of senior procurement and supply chain executives.

"CAPS benefits from the respective strengths of ASU and ISM,” Derry says. “Through CAPS, practitioners have access to one of the world's best group of academics in the field, and ASU researchers and scholars likewise have access to the world's leading practitioners, understanding where the boundaries are and where they are shifting. ISM's global footprint and reputation attract companies from all over the world to CAPS."

CAPS Research projects and benchmarking studies are conducted by professors and researchers from around the world, either individually or in teams. W. P. Carey professors conduct some of the research, sometimes with the assistance of SCM students. Doctoral students have been involved in CAPS Research activities.

Corporate funding is crucial

CAPS Research has more than 100 corporate members, including such major global companies as Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, 3M, DuPont, Fannie Mae, Honeywell International, MasterCard Worldwide, and Rolls-Royce. Member companies pay membership fees that fund the organization, and in return can participate in CAPS Research’s events and benefit from its research publications and benchmarking studies.

Members also help select research topics, and may request that studies and surveys focus on topics specific to their industries. While much of the research is conducted specifically for members, results are often released to the public.

CAPS Research also sponsors a variety of events for members, including Chief Purchasing Officer (CPO) roundtables that provide opportunities for candid dialogue on topics, best practices workshops for procurement team members to exchange ideas and one-day critical issue events on hot topics selected by members. Events also are held in China and there are plans to expand in other regions of the world.

“Our corporate members provide the majority of our funding,” Stanton says. “It is very important for us to deliver a great value proposition to our members because they face new challenges every year.”

Stanton is well aware of what corporate members expect – and receive – from CAPS Research. During her career as a CPO, she encouraged the companies she worked for to join CAPS Research. She also served on the organization’s executive advisory board for four years before joining as executive managing director.

“I can use my perspective as a member of the industry to help determine what types of research and benchmarking activities we pursue, how we program our events and what topics are considered a high priority by companies,” she says.

Building on a solid foundation

Stanton says that her goal is to build on CAPS Research’s solid foundation and to strengthen its brand awareness so it stands out from the growing number of for-profit organizations that have started offering SCM events and research.

“Organizations in the event space have been picking up on the topic of supply chain management,” Stanton says, adding that companies also are touting their own SCM surveys and research. “But I don’t see anybody doing the quality, unbiased academic research that CAPs is doing.”

Derry of ISM agrees. "No other organization provides companies and executives with applied research in supply chain management produced with the academic rigor of a Top 100 global university,” he says. “It also provides a forum for the world's leading CPOs to network with one another in thinking through how to implement these research findings in their respective companies."

CAPS Research’s main advantage is its non-profit status and its refusal to allow consultants or vendors to join the organization. That allows members to engage in open dialogue at events without being concerned that a consultant will call three days later to try to sell them services.

“Members want to be told the truth, not information slanted toward the next sale or service,” Fowler says. “Research by CAPS is deeper than what is offered by consultants. We take a step back and think further about problems. We don’t try to immediately solve problems or to just treat the symptoms.”

Projecting a modern face

Choi and Stanton both agree that research projects need to be published with rigor, yet with a great sense of urgency. They are passionate about how impactful the research is to CPO’s and their organizations and it is critical to release it in a timely manner.

“We have to constantly probe our CPO members for the fresh challenges they face and translate them into rigorous research projects, and that is how we stay current with their concerns and provide up-to-date solutions,” Choi says.

Adds Stanton: “We need to work on getting us a current, modern face so we are the go-to organization and companies know we are up to date and relevant and important for them today and for their future needs.”

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