Experiential / Reality-based Learning / October 24, 2006

Teams Play Supply Chain Game in First Global Competition

The Supply Chain Management Lab at the Smith School was buzzing by 8 a.m. on Oct. 24 as four teams of Smith students logged onto computers to compete against teams from around the world in the first global competition of the Supply Chain Game. Developed by researchers at the Robert H. Smith School of Business and Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, the game is the first real-time simulation that pits players against each other in an online interactive environment. Players vie to increase profits and market share by creating the most efficient supply chain in a world where unexpected problems, their business decisions and the decisions of their competitors impact the game.

The Global Supply Chain Game is a real-time continuous play game the clock doesn't stop, said Thomas Corsi, Michelle E. Smith Professor of Logistics, co-director of Smiths Supply Chain Management Center and a developer of the game. Its just like the real world decisions have to be made and as soon as one decision is made, the consequences of that decision are presented to the students and actions have to be taken on other decisions. So its a constant flow, and that's really what's important to us to give some kind of simulation of what the real world is like for a global supply chain manager.

Oct. 24 was the global debut of the game. Teams from five schools participated: Smith, Penn State, CERAM in France, Nankai University of Technology in China, and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. The game was a lead-up to a larger competition the Smith School plans to host this winter, in collaboration with sponsor Sun Microsystems, in which teams around the world will compete for prize money donated by Sun.

The game has been more than five years in the making, a collaboration between Supply Chain Management Center co-directors Corsi and Sandor Boyson and Delft University. Most other business games are turn-based, but the Supply Chain Game accounts for decisions in the game as they are made. Its first incarnation was a single PC-based game, loaded onto desktop systems with a CD. Next the developers transitioned the game to a local area network, where players in a room of connected computers could face off. But the goal was to scale up the game and take it global so teams anywhere in the world could play on the Internet.

We ran into the barrier that there is no educational serious game like this, that we could find, that had made that transition to live, Web-based play, Boyson, a research professor at Smith said. So we asked Sun [Microsystems] to help us they were very kind.

Sun donated two powerful T-2000 servers to host the game to which students from around the globe can log on through a Web portal that contains the instruction, content and background information to play the game. The Oct. 24 global competition was the first chance to test the servers performance in a real-time game situation.

Its been kind of new for everybody, said Boyson, midway through the competition. But so far, so good. We haven't had a single technical complaint from the other schools out in the global environment.

The game went off without technical difficulty. Alexander Verbraeck, a professor at Delft and Smith affiliate researcher and one of the chief architects of the game, traveled to College Park to help run the game. His colleague, Stijn-Pieter van Houten worked from Delft, at times using more than six computers to provide technical support, analysis and updates throughout the game.

Compared to where we were, lets say in 24 months, the fact that we had multiple players from multiple locations, playing simultaneously, is a major achievement for us. The fact that can redirect the client back to the server in real time is a milestone that we accomplished, said Peter Percival, a Sun enterprise architect who helped transition the game to the servers. Where we were two years ago and where we are today night and day. These guys have done a great job.

Game day's biggest challenge was keeping everyone informed and the lines of communication open Van Munching Hall was the communications hub for the competition, with telephone conferencing and a simultaneous Skype Internet phone call joining the schools scattered across the globe. Verbraeck acted as MC for the game, talking simultaneously into a headset and telephone. IBM Lotus Sametime, an instant messaging/Web conferencing application, allowed each location to share PowerPoint slides to view game information, updates and even photos of their competitors.

Students embraced the game as serious competition, strategizing and weighing business decisions as they played the role of suppliers in Asia that, according to the game scenario, cannot meet the increased demands of distributors, causing a shift in demand from Asian distributors to suppliers in the United States. They have to manage operational-level decision-making to keep distributors in a healthy state, dealing with quotes, orders, confirmations and bills. Shipments and payments are handled by computational algorithms built into the game.

Teams first completed a practice session to test out business strategies. The students had a chance to tweak their plans before the 90-minute competition round began, using what they learned in the practice round and theories from their logistics and supply chain classes.

Right now they can really test those theories by competing with others who have developed other strategies and they can see how it feels to compete in the global market Verbraeck said.

Students were very excited about the game and expressed interest in playing again. Paul Shulman, a senior finance and logistics major, said playing the game was an absolutely great experience. His teammates and competitors shared his enthusiasm, saying they'd like to play in classes regularly.

In the end, the team from Nankai dominated the market share for all four computer products that could be sold in the game.

Our team read the handbook many times and practiced frequently, said Hu Min, a second-year graduate student of Logistics at Nankai University's School of Economics and Social Development. This was our basis for developing the right strategy.

To celebrate, team members said they planned to eat a late dinner in China when game play wrapped up after midnight for them. At the same time on the other side of the world, Smith students left the Supply Chain Management Lab to grab some lunch a reminder of truly global nature of the first Supply Chain Game competition.

That's what got me interested it in initially is I heard that we were going to be interacting and competing with teams spread all across the world, said Lloyd Hocking, a senior logistics and international business major competing on a Smith team. It made it a lot more interesting, I think, to participate in, rather than just your classmates.

Check back in early 2007 for more information about the next Global Supply Chain Game or visit:http://www.gscg.org:8080/opencms/opencms/gscg.

▓ Carrie Taschner, PR Associate, Office of Marketing Communications

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

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