To maximise the value that can be derived through cooperation between the academic world and the corporate environment, the Supply Chain Finance Community has recently named Luca Gelsomino as its first-ever academic director. It’s a landmark appointment, one that highlights the importance of collaboration on research to help benefit corporate players and to keep research focused and relevant.

“Over the last year the SCF Community has grown a lot in terms of people coming to the events and the connections we have, but also in terms if our academic reach. We have more universities involved in what we do, so with Michiel Steeman (professor of supply chain finance at Windesheim University of Applied Sciences and chair of the Supply Chain Finance Community) we decided it was time to move towards a more sophisticated structure and organisation,” says Gelsomino. As academic director, he sees his role as “taking care of how the SCF Community interacts with the academic world, and bringing the academic world more into the corporate world.”

Gelsomino’s own academic background has reflected that interaction between the two worlds. He gained his PhD in 2016 at Politecnico di Milano in Italy, with his thesis looking at the connection between how the supply chain is structured and SCF solutions. “I looked at how you can analyse the supply chain and see what are the main characteristics from a financial point of view so you can decide what SCF solutions are the most appropriate,” he says. He later moved to Windesheim University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands where his research focuses on the integration between logistics and supply chain finance.

Academic reach

With Gelsomino in place as academic director, the SCF Community aims to continue expanding its academic reach. “We have increased the number of universities that are part of the board of the Community,” he says, “and we have also increased the number of universities we collaborate with – such as Warwick [in England] which is involved on a research project led by the SCF Community and universities in China – Renmin University in Beijing and Fudan University in Shanghai – that collaborate with us in research.”

Two years ago, the SCF Community introduced the SCF Thesis Award for the best student work on SCF. “This puts us in contact with a lot of universities where professors and students are working on SCF,” Gelsomino says.

The SCF Community has also been establishing strong relations with IPSERA, the International Purchasing and Supply Education and Research Association. Part of Gelsomino’s task will be to continue to take that relationship to an even higher level: a group of 15 academics, jointly led by the SCF Community and IPSERA, is focused on bringing more knowledge about SCF from the corporate world to the academic world. “We meet periodically and exchange our ideas and information about the work that we are doing – and we think about what is the best way to bring the results of the SCF Forum and our contact with companies within the academic network of IPSERA,” he says.

That vital link between academic research and the corporate world – which includes the finance providers and the technology firms – is what the SCF Community is all about. “There is a lot to gain from a stronger link because there are researchers all around the world who are doing a lot of work on SCF which very often does not reach the corporate level,” says Gelsomino. “This is why we have in mind the introduction of a new stream within the SCFBriefing which we are going to call ‘The Voice of Academia’ in which we periodically have an interview with a leading academic so we can show corporates what they are doing from a very practical point of view on SCF and how the corporates can benefit from the work that these researchers are doing.”

Real world data

The academic world will benefit, too, by helping them get access to real world data and operations. “Most universities are focused to some degree on empirical research which requires connecting with corporates. To do that you need more and more connections with the corporate world, providing them with significant, practical results that have relevance to them,” he says.

Gelsomino believes that there isn’t a huge gap between the two worlds, but rather that it is a gap that can be bridged by better communication. “Most of the research that I see on SCF is actually quite relevant for managers but it needs to be communicated in the right way,” he says. “Right now, the business world does not usually look in the direction of academia when they have a problem.”

Gelsomino says that the aim may be to build a roadmap: for the technological development of SCF, for example, or to build broader understandings of SCF that go beyond financing invoices in a relatively simple buyer-seller relationships. But creating such roadmaps, he explains, “is not only about the practical side, it’s about having the conceptual aspect, too. It’s not only about directly going into commercial implementation, it’s about developing the correct conceptual model that will bring you the highest possible benefit from developing a specific framework.”

An example of the kind of work that Gelsomino is thinking of is a consortium that currently encompasses Windesheim, Politecnico di Milano, Fraunhofer IML, Warwick University and University of St Gallen in Switzerland. Each university is working with a specific logistics service provider such as Nedcargo in the Netherlands or SwissPost. “We are working together using research to create practical adoption of supply chain finance. So we show our research [such as] business model analyses, use case investigation for applying a specific technology, such as blockchain, to supply chain finance and we use that research to help those LSPs develop their supply chain finance offering,” says Gelsomino.

A bright and complex future

His big vision is that he sees “a very bright and complex future for SCF.” We are, he says, now past the stage where SCF has to be explained every time you start talking to someone about it. “We are entering a new phase that is extremely exciting because it’s a phase of integration, evolution and development of supply chain finance. That means integration of different topics into SCF, such as logistics, technology, the circular economy business model, and so on. This integration is leading towards an evolution of the topic, as it moves away from the initial focus on the specific solution and towards the supply chain. And development [will lead to] a new SCF concept, that will truly exploit the strength of integrated goods, information and financial flows.

“But this integration and evolution is complex to manage and understand: what is the best direction to take? The key to answering this question is to take this altogether – academics and the business world – so that we can pool our resources and understand what is the best direction to go.”