This paper investigates the transformation of information sharing and multi-tier supply chain management (MSCM) from the perspective of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the context of Industry 4.0. SMEs are typically sharing less information digitally, are less active in conducting MSCM, but must be integrated in digital supplier networks to achieve supply chain transparency or traceability. For this purpose, this paper empirically analyzes SMEs from the manufacturing industry in Austria and Germany are investigated regarding information sharing and MSCM. The responses are analyzed to test three hypotheses, using 81 replies from manufacturing SMEs in Austria and Germany. The three hypotheses investigate the upstream and downstream MSCM practices of SMEs as well as which kind of information is shared with and by SMEs. The results help to understand and reveal potential barriers for information sharing besides technical possibilities to SMEs in order to be actively involved in MSCM.
Introduction and background
Digital information sharing across supply networks represents a relevant topic since it enables data-based potentials such as in the concept of Industry 4.0 or for using Artificial Intelligence [1,2]. However, many companies do not recognize the importance of data availability and data quality yet. This is particularly true for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which are often impeded by missing trust, standardization, data exchange interfaces, or technological readiness [3-6] and do not recognize the relevance of digital technologies for their business . Likewise, digital information sharing in multi-tier supply chain management (MSCM) is still in its early stages of development.
This research investigates information sharing and subsequent data analysis in MSCM, focusing on SMEs. It aims at determining basic characteristics, e.g., size and vertical network position (up- or downstream), of early adopters of data-based MSCM. Raw material suppliers and upstream suppliers have a higher probability of being pressured by large buyer companies, which demand information sharing . Hence, we argue that data based MSCM is more likely to be implemented in the upstream supply chain (H1). Moreover, five categories of information were evaluated if they are shared with SMEs or by SMEs (H1a and H1b): a) inventory level, b) state of delivery, c) expected delay, d) forecast data, and e) production plan
Discussion and Conclusion
Interpretation of Results
From the interviews, we derived the motives of SMEs for carrying out MSCM and to share data. Mainly, SMEs aim to serve customer requests and to be able to fulfil their own production plan. This is in line with Arend and Wisner , who found that conducting supply chain management (SCM) is negatively related to SME performance since they do not implement SCM thoroughly enough or do it because they are forced by more powerful partners while not having benefits for themselves. Hence, before SMEs are able to conduct profitable MSCM, data exchange must be established with mutual benefits for supply chain partners . In addition, we found that not all kinds of information may be relevant for partners in the supply network. For SMEs, binary notes would often suffice, e.g., whether the delivery is on time or not.
In summary, it can be argued that SME must invest primarily in the area of data structures and availability in order to create the basis for data-based analyses. Particularly regarding network partners that are not directly connected to the company, there is a great need for data so that the entire structures can be analyzed and optimized. It is noticeable that there are differences between the companies in many areas of analysis, which result from the size of the company. Differences are particularly noticeable regarding data availability and the application of analyses in the supply chains. Larger companies are better equipped in terms of data availability and perform more analytics - presumably because they work more intensively with data and therefore also rate the potential higher than smaller ones. Likewise, larger companies have more power in the network and can therefore de facto secure better data availability from their network partners.