The Philosophy of Supply Chain Management

SCM reveals its historical and practical proximity with operations management by its borrowing of lean, agile, leagile, and other manufacturing tools. Some authors define SCM purely in operational terms, i.e. the flow of materials and products (Tyndall et al, 1998). Oliver and Webber (1982) use SCM to describe “the planning and control of the total materials flow”. Later, Houlihan (1984, 1985, 1987) uses “SCM” in reference to internal integration and material flow across organizational borders. To others (e.g. Ellram and Cooper, 1990), SCM is a philosophy of structure characterised by unity among elements. A minority consider the term to refer principally to management processes (e.g. La Londe, 1997).

SCM advocates a total systems approach, by its representation of the pipeline as a singular, whole entity (Houlihan, 1985; Ellram and Cooper, 1990). In SCM philosophy, the SC comprises interlocking partnerships cooperating in the flow of goods. The SC is managed as a stream of links, not a series of isolable firms.

Harrison and van Hoek (2002) synonymize SCM with co-operation and collaboration across partnerships within the SC. The bulk of the literature claims that collaboration and coordination via information interchange (Lee et al, 1997) are integral to SCM and the main ingredients of SC success. Despite the modernity suggested by notions of collaboration and integration, the SCM concept is not unlike systems theories of the 1950s and generalist concepts of holism and synergy (Cavinato, 1992). Antecedence is also perceptible in earlier theorisation on the benefits of holistic approaches to logistics chains (e.g. Lewis, 1956; and the “Total Cost” approach proposed by Heckert and Minor in 1940). Nor is the notion of logistics’ transformation into integrative patterning unique to SCM. At least three other models illustrate a similar path.