Mapping Communication along the Supply Chain in a Reputation-Sensitive Environment: Preliminary Insights

Mapping Communication along the Supply Chain in a Reputation-Sensitive Environment: Preliminary Insights

Mattia Giovanardi (Department of Economics and Management Sciences, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Milan, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/ijisscm.2014100101
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This exploratory qualitative study is aimed at depicting communication support to Supply Chain (SC) management, emphasizing how relationships and processes are affected by communication flows. It provides a preliminary comprehensive communication mapping, highlighting key stakeholders involved in SC management, communication roles enhancing logistics performances, and channels supporting information and physical flows among partners. It is based on a literature review, multidisciplinary academic meetings, interviews with SC directors of two global companies operating in a reputation-sensitive environment, and desk analysis of companies' documental flows. Findings reveal that communication accomplishes four basic functions: 1) it helps embedding and spreading cultural values along internal SC units; 2) it supports conflict resolution and compensation among different managerial logics; 3) it encourages development and maintenance of relationships with SC partners; 4) it enhances the fine-tuning among SC phases and activities, supporting alignment and integration of procedures and routines. Finally, the study points out that communication is typically face-to-face when it has to support the strategic SC phases, whereas it is typically computer-mediated when supporting SC operational phases.
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2. Supply Chain Relationship Management Literature

SC is defined in literature as the flows of products and information crossing through a company that are managed to achieve linkages and coordination among business processes (Christopher, 2011). The SC activities are focused on optimizing upstream and downstream stakeholder relationships with the aim of increasing profit margins (Bocconcelli & Tunisini, 2007), sustaining competitive advantage and improving organizational performances (Christopher, 2011; Chopra & Meindl, 2010).

Previous SC management studies developing a relationship-based theoretical perspective followed the interaction approach (Hakansson, 1982) and then the network approach (Hakansson & Snehota, 1995) to the analysis of business relationships in industrial contexts, emphasizing the concept of exchange-relationships among customer, supplier and all the other actors involved in the SC. These relationships can be defined as “strings of interactions”, which represent the content of communicative exchanges (Olkkonen et al., 2000) and find their basis in the Social Exchange Theory (Thibaut & Kelley, 1959), which emphasizes communication as a fundamental tool to create, develop and maintain trust and commitment among the parties acting as interconnected units of a relationship business network (Anderson & Narus, 2004).

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