Emmanuel Adamides, Nikos Karacapilidis, Hara Pylarinou, Dimitrios Koumanakos
Industrial Management and Information Systems Lab, MEAD, University of Patras, 26504 Rio Patras, Greece
Keywords: Web-based supply chain management.
Abstract: In this paper we present Co-LEAN, an integrated suite of software tools suitable for the design and
management of lean supply chains. In addition to providing full operational support in the planning and
execution of the lean supply chain, Co-LEAN supports internet-based collaboration in the innovation and
product design, manufacturing strategy, and supply-chain improvement tasks. The paper discusses the
information system support requirements of a lean supply chain, describes the main components and the
integration mechanisms of Co-LEAN and concludes with a brief description of its pilot use in a major
supermarket chain.
The notion of lean supply chain has been a natural
extension of the concept of lean manufacturing.
Since mid-1990s, the philosophy and the toolset of
the lean approach were extended to cover the full
spectrum from the end customer to the raw material
suppliers (Hines and Rich, 1997; Rother and Shook,
1998; Hines et al., 2004). The holistic nature of lean
ideas calls for an equally holistic approach to the
supply, which deviates from limited in time, place
and scope activities, such as (optimised) supplier
selection, supply chain sourcing and supplier
development (Jones et al., 1997). Lean supply chain
management is contingent to the formation of
proactive relationships with all-tier suppliers, and
includes activities that extend beyond sourcing and
logistics. Consequently, in broad terms, lean supply
chain management can be defined as the
collaborative improvement of the entire product
lifecycle (from early design through planning,
production, maintenance and disposal) across both
functional and organisational boundaries. It involves
planning, executing and designing across multiple
partners in the supply chain to deliver products of
the right design, in the right quantity, at the right
place, at the right time.
In practical terms, a lean supply chain uses lean
manufacturing principles, such as 5S, visual factory,
takt time, pull, flow, etc. (Womack and Jones, 2003)
and Rate Based Planning and Execution (RBPE), a
way to smooth production and deliveries along the
supply chain (or network) through capacity planning
on the basis of the end-products bills of materials
(Reeve, 2002). Employing these lean techniques
along the chain, the objective is to reduce
redundancy in materials, information and knowledge
by providing them dynamically where they are
wanted, when they are wanted. To achieve this, a
number of challenges arise which include the
difficulty to see and manage cause-effect
relationships that occur across company boundaries
and are responsible for waste, the requirement to
break walls between normally insulated parties, and
the need to practice collaborative decision making
by developing a win/win philosophy of thinking
supported by agreements and trust between partners
(Sako, 1992, Cox, 2004; Hines et al., 2004; Evans
and Wolf, 2005). And, as the lines between
innovation/product development and manufacturing
and the supply chain are blurring, the lean supply
chain moves away from arm’s length contractual
relationships towards obligational contractual
relations (Sako, 1992; Kerrin, 2002) that both
support and are supported by collaboration in
product and process development, common vision
and shared goals, supply chain design, planning and
execution, as well as supply chain improvement
In practice, however, lean supply chain
implementations are rare, and collaboration in the
supply chain is still at an embryonic stage, mainly
concentrated on efforts for information exchange
among participants at the purely operational level, in
Adamides E., Karacapilidis N., Pylarinou H. and Koumanakos D. (2006).
In Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems - SAIC, pages 35-42
DOI: 10.5220/0002459300350042
the form of collaborative planning, forecasting and
replenishment (CPFR), vendor managed
replenishment (VMR) and synchronised supply
(Barratt, 2004; Holweg et al., 2005). This comes as a
consequence to the fact that organisations can
integrate their processes at the operational level with
relatively low difficulty, since this integration is
accomplished through codified information
exchanges. Other processes, such as innovation,
improvement and strategy, which are crucial to the
implementation of the lean supply chain, require the
capturing of tacit knowledge and the management of
complex interactions among the agents that hold it.
Collaboration in such issues requires either face-to-
face meetings, or the employment of advanced
information and communication technologies to
“virtualise” social interaction and support tacit
knowledge exchanges. In fast-changing industries
with world-wide supply chains, where challenges
and opportunities can arise at any instance, the
holding of meetings is quite difficult and may be
unproductive. Nevertheless, Internet can act as the
base enabling technology not only for information
exchange but also for more advanced collaboration
Towards this end, in this paper, we present an
integrated suite of software tools that can effectively
support the design and the management of a lean
supply chain. The suite consists of specially
developed tools to support collaboration among
supply chain partners in the innovation and product
development process, to assist in the development of
transparent and participative manufacturing strategy,
to enable the lean supply chain design and planning,
to facilitate its robust (adaptable) RBPE, as well as
supporting problem-solving and improvement
forums. Following, in Section 2, we review the ICT
requirements for an internet-enabled lean supply
chain. In Section 3 we present our suite of tools
explaining briefly each one’s functionalities. Finally,
before drawing our conclusions, Section 4 outlines
the operational environment of the suite’s pilot
Lean management concentrates on four areas which
are linked to different activities, at different levels.
The identification of value and the determination of
the appropriate structure for delivering it
(manufacturing strategy) are strategic
decisions/activities, whereas the specification and
the improvement of the value stream are activities
between the strategic level and the purely
operational one, to which the techniques such as
“flow” and “pull” belong. At the strategic level, the
identification and management of the value stream
starts with the definition of value from the customer
point of view. In the supply chain value is defined
not only by the end customers, but also by the
internal ones. Value has to do with products,
services and associated information, and is created
by innovative offerings that best meet the needs of
customers. This implies that, in addition to other
suppliers which fill organisational knowledge gaps,
customers should have an active role in the
innovation and product development process whose
final outcome is a collaborative effort.
Organisational knowledge gaps are the result of
the discrepancy between the knowledge an
organisation has and the knowledge it needs for the
solution of specific problems, including innovation
and product development. In filling these gaps, the
role of information technology is not only to
organise data into useful information, but also to
support the transformation of information into
organisational knowledge. Even more, since
innovation is a social process involving diverse
actors, there is a demanding necessity for
information and communications technologies to
support the knowledge flows among the relevant
actors and artefacts, in a way that enhances the
creation of new knowledge. As knowledge and
information flows are the key determinants of
successful innovation and new product development
processes (Tidd et al., 1997), their technological
support can augment their efficiency, effectiveness
and, consequently, their role as sources of
competitive advantage.
Once value has been defined in the form of
product (or service, or both), the means of producing
and delivering this value to the customer have to be
decided. This is the subject of operations/
manufacturing strategy which links the external
environment to the specific internal capabilities of
the firm(s) and its/their corporate strategy.
Manufacturing strategy is at a higher level from the
decision to implement a lean supply chain. Supply-
chain decisions belong to one of the four interrelated
decision areas of manufacturing/operations strategy
(capacity, supply chain/network, technology, and
development and organisation) (Slack and Lewis,
2002). The manufacturing strategy development is
an iterative process that involves participants from
different functions (marketing, product
development) and, sometimes, different
organisations. ICT can assist and leverage this
collaborative effort by not only helping strategists to
reach an agreed action plan effectively, but also to
augment learning the manufacturing strategy process
per se (Karacapilidis et al., 2006).
The definition of value and the alignment of the
operations with it act as inputs for the specification
of the value stream which extends along the whole
supply chain. Mapping, or better modelling and
simulating, the value stream facilitates the definition
of the supply chain and the identification of
initiatives for its improvement (reducing or
eliminating waste) (Rother and Shook, 1998;
Duggan, 2002). For these multiple
participants/stakeholders settings, collaborative
modelling and simulation technology (Miller et al.,
2001; Taylor, 2001) can enhance both the design and
redesign tasks by acting as the transitional object
(Morecroft, 2004) for improvement ideas, mind
frames and argumentations. Collaboration
technology can also be employed for general
problem solving and improvement along the supply
chain, thus fully supporting actions towards the
“continuous search for perfection” imperative of
Although the “flow” and “pull” imperatives are
associated with the design phase of supply chain (the
definition of structural and operational
characteristics of the system), they also entail purely
operational challenges which are concentrated at the
information layer and not with the knowledge one,
on which the value stream definition and perfection
components rest on. For supply chain planning and
execution, internet technology has been proposed as
a better alternative to attempts of legacy system
(ERP) integration along the supply chain (Kehoe and
Boughton, 2001). Since lean is contingent to stable
demand and operating conditions, at this level, it is
necessary to implement intelligent technologies to
assist in the efficient reconfiguration of the supply
chain when demand or internal operating conditions
change significantly. This can be done by exploiting,
automatically or semi-automatically, the
collaborative relations that exist among the partners
of the supply chain.
The lean supply chain characteristics can be
summarized in the requirements for synergy, as well
as knowledge and information integration across
activities in the entire product(s) life-cycle.
Information and communication technologies can
provide the basis for achieving these objectives.
The Co-LEAN suite consists of five interconnected
tools that operate on the internet for enabling the
implementation of the lean supply chain:
Co-INOV supports the collaborative
innovation and product development
process (value specification),
Co-MASS assists in the collaborative
development of transparent manufacturing
strategies at the individual node, as well as
at the entire network level (process of value
Co-SISC is used for collaborative
simulation-based supply chain/network
design (process/chain design and
Co-SOLVE supports problem solving and
improvement forums (process/chain
improvement) , and
Co-LEAN-PE is the core of the suite and
provides facilities for rate-based scheduling
for individual products (value streams), as
well as for dynamic mixed-model
scheduling of product families by using the
relations that exist between product
component features and/or operations (flow
and pull operation).
Co-LEAN has been developed over the last three
years, initially as separate components that were
later integrated through Co-LEAN-PE. Co-INOV
and Co-SOLVE are based on Knowledge Breeder, a
web based software system that implements the G-
MoBSA (Group Model Building by Selection and
Argumentation) problem solving methodology
(Adamides and Karacapilidis, 2005a, Adamides and
Karacapilidis, 2005b). Knowledge Breeder is
collaboration supporting tool that uses a systemic
problem-knowledge representation scheme and an
evolutionary problem-resolution methodology that
supports the “breeding” (development) of the
knowledge necessary for the resolution of a specific
organizational issue. Co-SOLVE is a stand-alone
environment which is used as a platform for
discussion and argumentation forums centred around
specific lean supply chain improvement issues. On
the other hand, Co-INOV implements a more refined
and domain-specific version of Co-SOLVE. It can
support the innovation and product development
process in its entirety, enabling the gradual
“breeding” of innovation concepts towards their
realisation as products. In Co-INOV, the innovation
process is viewed as a sequence (not necessarily
being executed in linear fashion) of issue/problem
resolutions/solutions (Leonard and Sensiper, 2003),
in which cause-effect-like models are used to
represent organisational cognitive schemata of issues
and their possible resolution(s). The social and
knowledge dynamics of innovation are supported by
the co-evolution of models with respect to the shared
knowledge. A formal argumentation language is
used to facilitate participant interaction.
Figure 1: The functional structure of Co-INOV (based on
Knowledge Breeder)
The kernel of Co-INOV is its knowledge base that
stores models under consideration, as well as models
of already closed discussions. Any form of
electronic information (text, hypertext, drawings,
photographs, etc.), as well as direct links to
individual tools (e.g. to tools supporting the
engineering design phase of product development)
can be attached to the model(s) and transferred to
other actors (Fig. 1). Models are stored and selected
hierarchically using a meta-model of the issues
addressed (context definition). Users can upload the
current issues under consideration in which they
wish to be involved, see the current state of the
dialogue and contribute accordingly. They can then
move into other issues through the navigating meta-
model. By taking into account the structure of the
model, the arguments placed and the argumentation
rules, the inference engine of the computer-assisted
argumentation module, determines the defensibility
of each model of problem-solution. The interface of
Co-INOV (as well as that of Co-SOLVE) is in
hyper-textual form with menus associated to the
features provided, and diverse functionalities related
to visualisation (folding/unfolding of model
components, view/hide of inputs, creators, dates,
Co-SISC is also a collaboration-enhancing
software environment that implements a language
and dialoguing structure specific to supply chain
design by means of simulation modeling
(Karacapilidis et al., 2004). It deploys a generic
systems-oriented language (activities, resources,
decisions and their parameters), thus enabling
different commercial simulation environments to be
easily used with. Again, argumentation on model
items and their attributes is supported by the system,
while storage and retrieval of
discussions/argumentations as well as simulation
models is possible. The construction, validation and
verification of the simulation model are
accomplished by a simulation specialist (technical
facilitator), whereas the other decision makers can
see its structure and results and experiment
accordingly with different parameters (Figures 2 and
Figure 2: The operational architecture of Co-SISC.
The use of the Co-SISC environment in the lean
supply chain design/re-design process augments
shared understanding, transparency of individual
decisions and trust building along the supply chain
through an improved, in terms of quality and buy-in,
modelling and simulation process (Karacapilidis et
al., 2004). In connection with Co-SOLVE, it
provides the means for assessing activities, and
eliminating those which do not provide value to the
end customers (i.e. achieving leanness).
Figure 3: The main interface of Co-SISC.
Co-MASS is a computerised knowledge
management system for assisting in the formulation
and conflict
Innovation and product development tools
Process simulation,
parametric design
storage and
systems and
Definition of
Model storage
and retrieval
Knowledge Breeder
of manufacturing and operations strategy
(Karacapilidis et al., 2006). It supports the social and
knowledge processes of collaborative manufacturing
strategy development by integrating a domain-
specific issue-modelling formalism based on the
resource based theory of the firm (Wernerfelt, 1984),
an associated structured dialogue scheme, an
argumentation enabling mechanism, and an efficient
algorithm for the evaluation of alternatives. As
sourcing is one of the principal decision areas of
manufacturing strategy, the direct provision of
knowledge from diverse sources across the supply
chain enhances the quality of the strategies produced
initially at the focal firm level, and then at the whole
of the supply network.
Finally, Co-LEAN-PE is the suite’s core module
that is responsible for the planning and execution
(rate-based) of the lean supply chain. It uses
forecasted and actual demand data, as well as
information from a continuously updated supply
database concerning products, suppliers and supplier
relations to produce a production and/or delivery
schedule (rates) for the focal company’s demand.
Demand information can be transmitted to all
suppliers in the network if needed. Schedules
(production and/or delivery rates) are calculated and
broadcasted to all nodes (Fig. 4, top window). The
feasibility of realisation of these schedules is then
examined by the software using the information
stored in the supply database. Additionally, suppliers
may contest schedules on the basis of their current
state. Should a schedule for a product is not feasible
by invoking the Relations Manager module, the
focal company may exploit the relations that exist
among products and suppliers at two levels: capacity
and capability. Capacity refers to the ability of a
different node that has the product in its current
schedule (or in its stocks) to supplement the initially
selected supplier with additional capacity, whereas
capability refers to the ability of producing the
product requiring additional capacity (the product is
not in the current production mix and there is no
stock). The additional cost burdens that the
exploitation of positive relations and the resolution
of negative ones imply is then calculated.
The Relations Manager uses conventional as well
as Artificial Intelligence techniques (representation
and coordination of plans) to represent and manage
the relations that exist between products and supplier
processes. It considers the products’ value streams
as plans to be executed with possible alternative
options for specific activities (e.g. two different
suppliers can provide the same part with two
different prices and delivery lead times), and by
using the relations that exist between supplier
operations and product characteristics tries to
coordinate the value streams so that optimal use of
resources along the whole of the supply chain is
achieved (von Martial, 1992). Nevertheless,
rescheduling and reconfiguration decisions
frequently require additional qualitative information
and discussion and argumentation using the features
of the other modules of Co-LEAN.
Figure 4: Co-LEAN-PE: the main screen (top window)
and lean supply chain construction (bottom window)
For the implementation of the proposed suite, we
have exploited a series of technologies supported by
the Microsoft’s .NET platform, such as ADO.NET,
XML Web Services, and Visual J#.NET
( The suite’s
architecture is shown in Fig. 5. As illustrated, access
to the tools of the Co-LEAN suite is provided
through a dedicated Web server. To use the range of
services provided, users only need a Web browser
(i.e., there is no need to download any specific
application at client side). Depending on the tool
used each time, users may exploit some built-in
templates and customize their working environment
according to their profile and collaboration
requirements. The interoperability of the suite’s tool
is achieved through the exchange of the appropriate
XML messages. There is also a dedicated SQL
server regulating the communication of the suite’s
tools with its proprietary database, model base and
knowledge base, as well as the communication with
remote databases, whenever there is a need to
retrieve data concerning particular “pieces” of the
supply chain. Connections with remote databases are
achieved through the available and well-tried
OLEDbControls of .NET platform.
The Co-LEAN suite is currently used, at a pilot
stage, in a major supermarket chain in Greece. The
objective has been to “lean” its fresh fruits and
The architectu
re of the Co
ly chain current state
Figure 6: Coordination of Co-LEAN tools through the Relations Manager
vegetables supply chain, so that its image of
“freshness” in its products is enhanced. By using the
system described above, the company aims at
achieving small batch frequent deliveries in its shops
through three regional distribution centres. This
diverts from its previous operations where large
quantities of fruits and vegetables were delivered
and stored in one refrigerated warehouses before
being distributed to the selling points.
Using Co-LEAN, the supermarket chain can now
adjust deliveries to current demand, thus avoiding
costly and risky inventories at both the warehouse
and the shops. In addition, it can adjust the fruit and
vegetable picking rates of the suppliers. By feeding
Co-LEAN-PE with a weighted mix of forecasted and
actual demand, the required rates are calculated and
broadcasted to all suppliers, including the suppliers
of packaging materials (Fig. 4). Deliveries are
optimised using the Relations Manager to exploit
any slack delivery capacity of suppliers, thus
reducing the overall cost (Fig. 6). The Relations
Manager has also helped in overcoming the
inabilities of specific suppliers to deliver caused by
bad weather. Alternative suppliers have been
engaged in the most efficient way. The Co-SISC and
Co-INOV tools have been used in the initial design
of the supply chain, thus providing full transparency
to all parties involved. Co-SOLVE, Co-MASS and
Co-INOV have been used for developing in a
collaborative manner new packages which are
convenient for home deliveries of orders placed
though the internet. At next stage, the same
supermarket chain plans to use the Co-LEAN suite
in a more demanding area, that of its own-label
products produced by third-party manufacturers
under its control.
In this paper we presented Co-LEAN, an integrated
suite of software tools suitable for the design and
operation of lean supply chains. In addition to
providing full operational support in the planning
and execution of the lean supply chain, including
production and logistics optimisation, though its Co-
LEAN-PE tool, the suite supports internet-based
collaboration in the innovation and product design
(Co-INOV), manufacturing strategy (Co-MASS),
and supply-chain design and improvement tasks
(Co-SOLVE, Co-SISC). The pilot application of Co-
LEAN has provided an early indication of its
usefulness in a specific application area (retailing).
We are expecting that additional installations will
trigger modifications and adjustments that will, in
turn, lead to a more flexible and widely applicable
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