We created the Internet-Edge Supply Chain Management Lab’s (I-e SCM Lab) to address the need to better understand the evolution of supply chain management brought about by opportunities created by the advent of the Internet. In particular, the Lab’s mission is to create industry-inspired research that advances understanding of innovations, challenges, and new possibilities involving Supply Chain Management at the boundary shared by the Internet and the physical world.

It is at this boundary where consumers can interact directly with retailers to send and receive data through the Internet as part of everyday purchases and other transactions in e-Commerce. The implications for supply chain management strategies brought about by these forms of transactions are significant. Through the Internet, consumers can substantially expand their access to greater product variety and quality. Moreover, consumers can more easily search and find better pricing. Consumers have also greater power to specify where and when products and services need to be available.

Retailers have found themselves facing significant challenges as to how they can best use their assets such as stores and inventories. A few retailers have chosen to lower their costs by reducing the number of stores and their inventory to focus on fulfilling Internet-based demand through direct deliveries from distribution centers to consumers. Other retailers have redoubled their reliance on their stores and the inventory in those stores. They have chosen to leverage these assets to fulfill Internet sales faster and more conveniently. This strategy has also enabled some to be more responsive to consumers who decide to return products ordered online.

Finally, a third group of retailers have aimed to optimally combine these supply chain strategies to develop a backbone for omnichannel retailing. Ultimately, the retailers’ goal is to maintain high customer service levels while improving supply chain efficiencies as part of the delivery of customer orders and the reverse fulfillment of product returns.

Logistics service providers have had to reevaluate their last mile delivery and reverse fulfillment strategies and consider the use of point-to-point networks alongside hub-and-spoke networks downstream in the supply chain. The extent to which the combined use of these strategies will be effective for retailers will depend on the products involved, the type of facilities where retailers hold their inventories, as well as the value that consumers place on fast order deliveries and convenient, expedited reverse fulfillment.

At the boundary with the physical realm, the Internet has contributed to making significant improvements in how supply and demand can be matched down through the supply chain. Supply may involve not only products in inventory, but also other assets throughout the supply chain such as distribution centers, containers, trailers, and motor vehicles. Because the demand for these assets is a function of continuously varying quantities needed at exact physical locations, the Internet — with its inter-operational standards and easy access through mobile platforms — has proven to be very effective facilitating search and helping locate the assets that match the specifics of these demand attributes. Start-ups, such as Uber, Cargomatic, and Flexe, have developed entirely new business models around Internet capabilities to offer matchmaking services involving assets such as motor vehicles, containers, and distribution centers. These firms are built on business models rooted in what experts have termed the “Sharing Economy.” Rather than selling the ownership of these assets, these organizations have focused exclusively on renting fragments (rides, space, etc.) of the assets for brief periods of time, when assets are being underutilized by their owners.

Finally, it is at the boundary shared by the Internet and the physical world where the growth of Internet of Things (IoT) technology has opened the way for the integration of not only consumers but also objects as key participants in the flow of information throughout the supply chain. Objects in the IoT include consumer products, firms’ assets (e.g., inventory, distribution centers, and transportation equipment), and public infrastructure resources (e.g., ports, roads, public transit). The integration of these objects through the IoT will allow them to be not only be located and monitored, but also provide detailed information about their current and likely future conditions. Moreover, it will enable them to communicate rich and timely information about their operations and usage with other smart objects. Creating a vast network of interconnected objects has the potential to profoundly impact the efficiency and sustainability of operations throughout the supply chain. These smart networks can extend the Internet to obtain information from objects residing remotely and in highly mobile physical layers.

Purpose, Activities, and Funding

Through the I-e SCM Lab, we seek to develop collaborative programs between companies, faculty, and students to research these and other supply chain management challenges of relevance to industry and academia. We also aim to disseminate the insights we derive through a variety of means, including research workshops, sponsor conferences, lunch seminars, site visits, white papers, and journal publications.
Our first objective is to advance, in collaboration with our industry partners, the different knowledge areas that will form the cornerstones of the I-e SCM Lab. These cornerstones will span the following three areas:

  1. Internet Commerce, including last mile delivery and omnichannel retailing strategies,
  2. The Mobile Internet and the Sharing Economy, and
  3. Internet of Things Technology

Our second objective is to formalize and develop, in collaboration with our industry partners, actionable research deliverables that will address pressing challenges and opportunities for supply chain management across these cornerstone areas.

We intend to disseminate our work through a variety of means, including research workshops, annual sponsor conferences, lunch seminars, site visits, white papers, and journal publications. In this process, we seek to work with faculty and centers across the W. P. Carey School of Business and other schools within as well as outside Arizona State University. We have already established research partnerships with faculty from the Information Management Department and the Morrison School of Agribusiness at the W. P. Carey School of Business and with faculty from other business schools in the U.S. and other countries.

Support for the activities at the Lab will come from industry sponsors. Sponsors will have the opportunity to interact with faculty and students as well as with other industry leading companies. In association with faculty, sponsors may also help co-design a sponsor-focused research project and have complimentary participation in all Lab events, both physical and web-based.

We would like to thank you for your interest in the I-e SCM Lab. Should you have any questions, please let us know. We look forward to hearing back from you.


Elliot Rabinovich

Elliot Rabinovich
John G. and Barbara A. Bebbling Professor
Department of Supply Chain Management
W. P. Carey School of Business
Arizona State University

Dale Rogers

Dale S. Rogers
Department of Supply Chain Management
W. P. Carey School of Business
Arizona State University