September 2013 | Commentary | Smart Moves

Study Up on Supply Chain Graduate Degrees With Added Value

Tags: Education & Careers

Dr. John Fowler is Chair, Supply Chain Management Dept., W. P. Carey School of Business, Arizona State University, 480-965-3727

As supply chain networks become increasingly complex, with tighter deadlines and greater financial risks from disruptions, many supply chain professionals seek graduate-level education and credentials to assist them in their current positions or to advance their careers.

Many universities offer master of science degrees in supply chain management (SCM), but a new trend is emerging: degrees that integrate SCM with other disciplines to mirror the complexity of today's business environment. These degrees help professionals gain the knowledge to leverage information across functional areas of the company to achieve competitive advantage.

SCM and Business Analytics

In the rapidly changing supply chain sector, strong knowledge of information systems is essential. Professionals who understand business analytics in a supply chain management environment can help their companies eliminate inefficient use of time, money, materials, energy, and other resources.

Currently offered at only a few universities—and often at an accelerated pace—the Master of Science in Business Analytics (MS-BA) degree prepares students to be at the forefront of data-driven analysis, strategic decision-making, and business process optimization. Typical positions for graduates include operations, supply chain, marketing, and competitive analysts; statisticians and research analysts; and modeling specialists.

Combining business analysis skills with management skills creates measurable improvement in supply chain performance. Companies have access to more data than ever before, but if they don't have the systems—and personnel— in place to capture and analyze it, that data is useless.

MS-BA programs do not usually require previous work experience, and are therefore ideal for recent college graduates with degrees in quantitative fields such as science, technology, engineering, math, and business.

SCM Specialization

The most common type of transdisciplinary program is an MBA that offers an SCM specialization. This degree provides a strong business education along with SCM coursework. It integrates all aspects of products and their service lifecycles, from design to delivery to disposal.

Students gain the knowledge to become strategic thinkers, analysts, and effective communicators who can impact a company's bottom line. Typical positions for these graduates include supply chain, operations, and e-business managers, and logistics analysts.

Most of these MBA programs require prospective students to gain four years of work experience before applying. To provide the breadth and depth of expertise, these programs usually run two years, with many business schools offering evening and online learning opportunities for working professionals.

Two Solid Options

Both the MS-BA and the MBA with an SCM specialization are suitable for professionals with four or fewer years of experience who want to approach their career in a holistic way—by integrating supply chain management with knowledge from interrelated disciplines. Both degrees can help graduates gain valuable skills that will serve them well in multiple positions throughout their supply chain careers.