Platform-enabled supply chain and logistics excellence
Opening date: 30th March, 2023
Closing date: 30th November, 2023
Though definitions of platforms may differ according to the types, a digital platform can be generally known as a technological structure that connects groups of users for value co-creation. It has been prevalent in the age of digitalisation with its applications in diverse scenarios across various industries. Accordingly, there is a growing trend of using platforms to manage supply chains and logistics in different ways. Most commonly, as digital technologies advance, platforms with the enabling technologies, such as cloud computing, blockchain technologies and IoT, are used to trace and track information and processes (Papetti et al., 2019; Li et al., 2017). In addition to such service platforms, a handful of studies also look at transaction platforms from the perspective of supply chain and logistics. For instance, e-commerce platforms can choose between agency mode and reselling mode, provide financial services to capital-constrained business that sell products on them (Zhen et al., 2020), and online credit to consumers (Li et al., 2022; Zhang et al., 2022). Besides, the application of platforms can also be seen in various industries, such as the maritime transportation (Zeng et al., 2021). Platforms such as the DHL Supply Chain Connected Control Towers EMEA and the TradeLens Platform of Maersk are used to connect shippers, freights and customers. Despite the insights provided by the recent studies, platform-enabled supply chain and logistics is still not fully explored. Especially given the wide application of platforms, more knowledge can be developed in the following aspects.
First, more research is needed for examining the adoption of different digital technologies in the context of platforms. Researchers have directed their attention to how blockchain technologies can be integrated to leverage their capabilities to increase the supply chain visibility, such as diamond authentication and certification, and under what conditions blockchain technologies can be leveraged to maximize the benefits to those involved in the supply chain contexts (Choi, 2019). Due to the pandemic and safety issues, a growing body of knowledge has also focused on the adoption of blockchain platforms in agricultural and food supply chain, with the aim of ensuring food quality and supply chain transparency (Li et al., 2021; Liu et al., 2022; Yang et al., 2021). In addition to blockchain technologies used for tracing and tracking, further insights are still needed as regards to the adoption of other technologies, which enables platforms to have complementary functions for achieving specific goals (Gao et al., 2019), facilitates the design of platform architectures to benefit from generativity and openness, and resolves the challenges of platform’s development (Cao et al., 2019). Besides, more research should be devoted to examining the issues of cyber-security in the cloud supply chain setting (Cheung et al., 2021; Sawik, 2022). In this aspect, Durowoju et al. (2020) has already recognized that this information security breach, regarded as an enormous disruption risk, may become be less controllable.
Second, platform owners develop platforms to connect multiple groups of providers and users (Sun et al., 2021). To maximize the benefits and innovativeness of these platforms, owners need to offer various incentives to encourage complementors to share resources, provide information, innovate and confer autonomy, and there is also a need to control behaviours and relationships among users (Chen et al., 2022). A more nuanced understanding of the roles of complementors is required (Deilen and Wiesche, 2021). These questions of platform architecture, design and governance, plus the roles and interactions among different platform users and owners are new phenomenon that requires attention. More research is required to understand how digital platforms can be developed and implemented to enhance interactive effects of platform owners, complementors, providers, users and stakeholders, as well as how trust can be built amongst internal and external stakeholders. This is especially relevant, as the scope of intelligent supply chain built on a supply chain control tower platform expands (Vlachos, 2021). Moreover, there emerges a new business model named cloud supply chain. It features applications of cloud-based platforms under the “supply chain-as-a-service” paradigm along with the adoption of advanced technologies such as 5G, edge computing, AI, IoT and big data, which gives technology provides a chance to act as complementors. These dynamics could potentially affect the decision making on different strategic, tactical and operational levels of a supply chain (Ivanov et al., 2022).
The third point that should be made is that though digital platforms facilitate information flow and use of digital technologies provides enhanced visibility as mentioned in the above, whether platforms can be effectively utilised to extract the maximum value from them is another story. Therefore, socio-material lens, such as social-technical theory (Bostrom and Heinen, 1977) and technology affordance theory (Mora et al., 2021; Strong et al., 2014), can be adopted to delve into the value creation and value appropriation mechanisms of embedding platforms in the supply chains and logistics. Besides, as supply chains would evolve into platform-enabled ecosystems, further research is encouraged to explore the platform-enabled supply chains and logistics using the ecosystem perspective. Drawing on ecosystem perspective would provide new insights into the supply chain operations and performance. For example, Rong et al. (2015) identified three patterns of the IoT-based business ecosystem that reflect industry lifecycles. Nevertheless, different types of firms operating in their unique business settings may demonstrate different development patterns. For instance, for knowledge intensive companies, as the products become mature enough in their niche market, firms would aim for an open innovation platform ecosystem, in order to expand the business scope (Chen et al., 2022). As such, it can be reasonably assumed that the evolutionary path of platforms and ecosystems can display different trajectories, which deserve further research efforts.
Addressing the gaps identified above, this special issue aims to explore the strategies, decisions, operations, and governance (Ahlqvist et al., 2020) that companies have adopted either through leveraging capabilities of digital platforms implemented within the firm boundary or making their firm boundary more permeable. For the former, an example can be intelligent platforms in JD.com to handle their difficulties experienced during the Covid-19 (Shen and Sun, 2021); for the latter, firms can also become part of third-party platforms and engage in the supply chains around e-commerce platform, platform for delivery and shipping, IoT platform, etc., with the aim of increasing supply chain performance in terms of efficiency, flexibility, visibility and resilience to cope with different types of supply chain disruptions and emergencies such as the Covid-19 pandemic. In either case, clearer picture needs to be developed regarding the strategies, decisions, operations, and governance of platforms both theoretically and practically. Briefly, the goals of this special issue are to theorise the strategies, decisions, operations, and governance of different types of digital platforms with various enabling digital technologies, thus enriching academic communities and providing guidelines for supply chain practitioners.
Besides, the other focus in this Special Issue is on how platform-enabled supply chain practices and logistics services could address decision-making problems to increase firm performance and supply chain performance, especially in the times of a large-scale disruption. Therefore, this special issue on the one hand encourages researchers to provide new insights into how organisations develop, implement and adopt different types of digital platforms integrated with enabling disruptive technologies to facilitate their operations and logistics in the supply chain context. On the other hand, platforms have their unique characteristics compared to traditional supply chains. For example, platform owners can fulfil multiple roles at the same time, such as platform sponsor, potential competitor to complementors, financial service provider, making the platform a more dynamic and complex environment than pipelines (van Astyne et al., 2016). This has been demonstrated in Zhu and Liu (2018) that there is a high likelihood for Amazon to enter third-party sellers’ product spaces than those product spaces that necessitate considerable seller efforts to grow. While Amazon’s entry negatively affects third-party sellers in the subsequent pursuit of growth on the platform, it augments the product demand and cut shipping costs for consumers. Similarly, start-ups assume the roles of customers and suppliers of established firms, which opens up new research opportunities in the supply chain ecosystem (Wagner, 2021). Thus, as platforms integrate multiple user groups and service actors, it would be interesting to look at the strategies and behaviours of the platform stakeholders and owners, especially considering their interdependent connection. As such, platforms provide a fertile research landscape for researchers in relation to innovative practices and new knowledge to improve supply chain performance and cope with any emergencies in a more flexible and agile way.
How to better characterise the different types of digital platforms used in supply chains and logistics? What are the theoretical dimensions that can provide a deeper understand of behaviours of users and platforms?
How do firms choose different types of platforms, such as internal platforms, supply chain platform, e-commerce platforms and platform ecosystem, based on resources and capabilities to facilitate their operations, logistics, and supply chains?
What factors that enable and hinder different actors to use or join the platforms in platform supply chains? How new resources/capabilities are developed/shared/used among platform owners and other stakeholders to benefit all?
How behaviours and strategies of different actors affect the processes of sharing resources and information? what platform design features and incentive mechanisms encourage platform complementor and users to engage in innovation?
What conditions that facilitate synergies or innovation, etc. within the platform supply chain?
How can we theorize the dynamics or evolution of digital platform supply chain?
- What are the effects of bringing the perspective of platform ecosystems to manage supply chain and logistics? What are the merits and challenges?
To explore the above questions, we encourage various research methods: conceptual, quantitative and qualitative methodologies, mixed method techniques, and the use of primary data collection, secondary database. Especially, more attention is needed to rigorous development and the use of inductive methods is likely to answer some of the questions from the perspective of managerial relevance of supply chain research (Stank et al., 2019; Hoffmann et al., 2019)
Hing Kai Chan, University of Nottingham Ningbo China, [email protected]
Yang Cheng, Aalborg University, Denmark, [email protected]
Dr Yongjiang Shi, University of Cambridge, the UK, [email protected]
Dr Jie Sheng, Queen Mary University of London, the UK, [email protected]
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