Never change a winning team

Eandis Chair in Resilient Supply Chains continues for another five years

On 30 September Eandis and Vlerick officially renewed their Chair partnership. “This collaboration between academia and industry has provided much more insight than we expected,” says Jean-Pierre Hollevoet, Director of Asset Management and Supply Chain at Eandis. “Over the past five years we’ve been working closely with Vlerick and the good chemistry between our teams inspired us to continue our journey.”

Vlerick was as eager as Eandis to extend the relationship, so Dean Marion Debruyne is thrilled with the renewal: “The energy sector is one of our strategic focus areas and the Eandis Chair was one of our first ventures into this field. It’s wonderful to see it being continued.”

From left to right: Professor Behzad Samii, Dean Marion Debruyne and Jean-Pierre Hollevoet

Looking back

Initially the Chair focused on the challenges Eandis is facing with smart metering. Replacing its conventional electricity and gas meters with remotely monitored smart meters is a long-term project and a huge undertaking, which requires a more flexible and adaptable supply chain.

Chair Professor Behzad Samii is proud of what the teams have achieved, and rightly so. The findings of the 2010-15 research have been summarised in ten articles (academic and professional journal publications, teaching cases, working papers and teaching notes). “For academics, if it’s not published, it doesn’t exist,” he says smilingly. “But it’s not about publishing per se. These publications had impact and the research results were widely shared. We presented at conferences and together we developed business cases that are now also used at other business schools and universities.”

Inspired to change

For Jean-Pierre Hollevoet, the added value of these case studies can’t be overestimated: “Not only have they given us exposure to universities and business schools, but more importantly, they’ve inspired our people to reframe problems and take a different approach to finding solutions.”

And that’s not all: “Practical supply chain problems were studied and analysed using different models, providing us with insight into our processes and why things don’t always work out as expected. The models and research results have given us a framework for redesigning our processes to transform our logistics into a flexible and responsive supply chain.”

Looking ahead

For the coming years, the teams have identified four research streams to help Eandis meet the remaining challenges ahead. “First, we’ll be using the data we’ve collected in the pilot phase to enhance our smart meter programme business model in order to ensure a cost-effective and technologically sustainable roll-out,” explains Jean-Pierre Hollevoet. “With technology changing at an ever-faster pace, our physical assets, such as transformers, cables and meters, are more likely to become obsolete faster. A second research stream will therefore focus on the integration of our asset and supply chain management decisions. In a third series of projects, we’ll be looking at how the right platform design can minimise the total cost of ownership of our smart meter assets. And finally, the vast amount of data generated by smart meters should be used intelligently to control the flow of both renewable and non-renewable energy supply as well as the highly fluctuating and uncertain energy demand, which is the objective of our fourth research stream.”

Keep an eye on the long term

It’s an ambitious schedule, but they all agree it’s not set in stone. “Research is time-consuming and intense. It’s like embarking on an exploratory expedition without knowing where you’ll end up. This requires a strong partnership, which we’re fortunate to have,” says the Dean. “Five years is a long time. A lot can happen, especially in a dynamic environment like the energy industry.”

Professor Samii nods in agreement: “Our research agenda is a compass, but we’re flexible enough to respond to Eandis’ changing needs or to any opportunities that come our way. As a matter of fact, we’re already thinking about what we’re going to do in five years’ time. You need to have a long-term perspective, or you’re going to fail along the way.”