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Supply chain management: theory, practice and future challenges

John Storey (The Open University Business School, Milton Keynes, UK)
Caroline Emberson (The Open University Business School, Milton Keynes, UK)
Janet Godsell (Cranfield School of Management, Cranfield, UK)
Alan Harrison (Cranfield School of Management, Cranfield, UK)

International Journal of Operations & Production Management

ISSN: 0144-3577

Article publication date: 1 July 2006




The purpose of this paper is to critically assess current developments in the theory and practice of supply management and through such an assessment to identify barriers, possibilities and key trends.


The paper is based on a three‐year detailed study of six supply chains which encompassed 72 companies in Europe. The focal firms in each instance were sophisticated, blue‐chip corporations operating on an international scale. Managers across at least four echelons of the supply chain were interviewed and the supply chains were traced and observed.


The paper reveals that supply management is, at best, still emergent in terms of both theory and practice. Few practitioners were able – or even seriously aspired – to extend their reach across the supply chain in the manner prescribed in much modern theory. The paper identifies the range of key barriers and enablers to supply management and it concludes with an assessment of the main trends.

Research limitations/implications

The research presents a number of challenges to existing thinking about supply strategy and supply chain management. It reveals the substantial gaps between theory and practice. A number of trends are identified which it is argued may work in favour of better prospects for SCM in the future and for the future of supply management as a discipline.

Practical implications

A central challenge concerns who could or should manage the supply chain. Barriers to effective supply management are identified and some practical steps to surmount them are suggested.


The paper is original in the way in which it draws on an extensive systematic study to critically assess current theory and current developments. The paper points the way for theorists and practitioners to meet future challenges.



Storey, J., Emberson, C., Godsell, J. and Harrison, A. (2006), "Supply chain management: theory, practice and future challenges", International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 26 No. 7, pp. 754-774.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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