The research project has a four-year duration and will be conducted by one PhD student and two postdoctoral researchers. It is largely financed by the Dutch Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) in the framework of the research programme Sustainable Logistics. Besides that, there are four companies which are participating in the project. FrieslandCampina would like to gain a greater insight into how this dairy company can act on the variety and unpredictability in milk supply. Waterbedrijf Groningen (the provincial water company) is taking part in the project because it wants to reduce the time households are forced to do without water during disruptions. Variass Electronics and Bosch Thermotechniek are manufacturers who aim to reduce the impact of disruptions in their supply chains, thanks to this research.
The research aims to bring about new coordination and decision-making structures which can be incorporated in designing supply chains. For this purpose, the research includes behavioural experiments in both laboratory and practice situations which answer the question how certain conditions, such as the distance between those involved, influence the decisions that businesses make. The outcomes will be taken on board in the development of a training tool which TNO will use for the purpose of training people how to react to disruptions.
Substudy: Too much alignment creates distraction
Thom de Vries is conducting doctoral research at the University of Groningen on coordination processes in complex organisations. Part of his research focuses on the cooperation between the main rail operating company in the Netherlands, NS, and the company that manages Dutch railways, ProRail, in case of railway emergencies, including a defective switch or signal trouble. It is ProRail's job to correct such disruptions as quickly as possible, while NS must ensure that consequences for passengers are appropriately mitigated by making timetable changes and deploying buses, where applicable. 'A command & control centre in Utrecht has been set up for that purpose, which accommodates both ProRail and NS staff. The idea is that decision-making processes develop more smoothly when the people involved who work for these organisations are in close physical proximity', Mr de Vries said.
Mr De Vries interviewed twenty ProRail and NS employees and observed command & control centre staff during a week. He used video to conscientiously map the interaction patterns he saw. 'Analysis of disruption data has shown that the set-up of the command & control centre caused an average drop of 30% in the duration of disruptions. The observations show, though, that new problems arise when people work in closer proximity. This creates so much interaction that people are distracted from their core task, which is to solve disruptions. NS and ProRail acted on these observations by appointing a number of instructors who discuss the main measures that must be taken before the experts from both sides enter into consultations', Mr De Vries explained. When he has obtained his doctorate, he will start working as a part-time postdoctoral researcher and make a contribution to the research into strengthening logistic chain resilience. ‘In doing so, I am sure I will use the outcomes of this doctoral research again.’