Big Blue is creating three more university laboratories and setting up an international computer grid to better study the inner workings of logistics.
The laboratories, which will be focused on studying how supply chains work and improving the course curriculum on logistics, will be set up at the Smeal College of Business at Pennsylvania State University, the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University and the Michael Smurfit Graduate School of Business at University College, Dublin, Ireland.
In February, IBM announced it created its first university-based logistics center at the Eli Broad College of Business at Michigan State University.
The laboratories will also be linked through a computing grid for conducting experiments. The research will largely revolve around creating simulations to examine what occurs in various logistical systems when variables change or interact.
A researcher, for instance, could examine the effects on the inventory and payment systems of a multinational drug store chain when different pharmaceutical vendors change their shipping and inventory policies. In a sense, it's "The Sims" on a supercomputer.
"Supply chains are the perfect thing to simulate," said Stu Reed, vice president of integrated supply chains at IBM.
Supply chains--the complex logistical systems used for managing orders, automating administrative procedures or running global manufacturing operations--are something IBM has close experience with. The company cut approximately $5.3 billion in 2002 from its own operating expenses by tightening relationships with suppliers and customers as well as by getting internal divisions to cooperate more on product development.
Dell's rise to prominence in the PC market is attributed by many analysts to an efficient supply chain.
In addition to performing research, the university programs will serve as a recruiting base for IBM. Big Blue will also work with the universities to examine how the curriculum can be improved. Some of the work performed with Michigan State will appear in class courses this fall, Reed said.
However, he added, the courses aren't focused solely on IBM technology. While students will work on IBM hardware and middleware, they will also experiment with software from I2 Technologies and other logistics software providers.
The lab at Penn State is slated to open this fall and the labs in Dublin and at Arizona State are expected to open in 2004.