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Darla Moore School of Business

Industry Summit teaches Moore School students how to solve companies’ inefficiencies

July 16, 2019

Darla Moore School of Business undergraduate students worked with 16 companies to assist in finding cost-savings measures as well as inefficiencies the companies can improve for the bi-annual Industry Summit.

The students spent the spring 2019 semester on the capstone consulting projects, working closely with industry partners to improve certain processes within their companies.

They gathered in April at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center to showcase their work, including highlighting the problem they were asked to solve, their approach and methods as well as their outcomes. This was the 18th industry summit the Moore School has hosted for students and companies since spring 2008.

adidas, one of the spring 2019 partner companies, engaged a student team to help improve inventory flow through their Spartanburg distribution center. Through collection and analysis of real-time and historical data, the students identified inhibitors to product flow and generated operational solutions, which Adidas immediately began implementing.

“The collaboration with USC was an eye-opening experience,” said Alison King, an industrial engineer at the Spartanburg, South Carolina, adidas campus. “A bit of technology was impacting our productivity. It shed light on the need to switch between different functions [in the warehouse].”

Skyler Ruff, an operations and supply chain and marketing dual major who graduated in May, appreciated the real-world experience with adidas ahead of beginning her first job as an incoming area manager with Amazon.

“[My favorite part of the experience] was applying my education in non-traditional ways, the effect it had on [company] supervisors and how the initiatives and improvements made an actual impact,” she said. “It will give me a lot more confidence to go into the industry.”

Another of the companies, UPS, had no formal analytical customer lifetime value (CLV) model before the students began their project, so their goal was to develop a new CLV model that identifies variables with the largest impact on CLV. CLV predicts the net profit attributed to the future relationship with a particular customer.

“The company benefits from having new ideas brought from outside and new innovation,” said Keith Andrey, vice president of operations for UPS. “The best part [about working with the students] is there is a large amount of data, they have techniques, can provide usable insights and develop an action plan.”

Developing the customer lifetime value model, the student team looked at shipments in conjunction with UPS’ business development strategies and trends, said Emma McNally, an operations and supply chain and international business dual major and USC Honors College student who graduated in May.

“Through analysis of large-scale data using PowerBI and R [data analytics software], we were able to identify statistically significant variables that were important to acquire and retain customers and maximize their lifetime value,” she said. “I’m excited to take what I learned [during the capstone project and summit], which was a lot of work with data to impact strategy, and carry it through to my next position.”

A third company, McLeod Regional Medical Center in Florence, South Carolina, sought help from their student team to improve patient flow across the hospital coordinated by their transfer center.

The medical center has already begun the process to implement the students’ new schedule model, said Jessica Patrick, registered nurse for health case management for McLeod Regional Medical Center.

“We learned as much from the students as they learned from us,” Patrick said about the experience. “They have a different way of analyzing data than we do.”

Within the McLeod hospital, they had a capacity problem, so the student team looked at getting patients in the bed faster, said Katie McAllister, an operations and supply chain and marketing dual major who graduated in May.

“We were focused on the staffing optimization model. We optimized the capacity of transfer center staff to better match patient demand,” she said. “We didn’t know much about health care, but we were able to learn the processes quickly and have an impact within a semester timeframe. We identified several kaizens [improvement opportunities] to enhance coordination, reduce errors and better match capacity to demand at the transfer center.”

The Industry Summits are a win-win for students and partnering businesses, said Jack Jensen, co-director of the Operations and Supply Chain Center and a clinical professor of operations and supply chain management. 

“Companies benefit through our capstone projects initiative and Industry Summits in multiple ways,” he said. “They receive direct project benefits from faculty expertise and students’ diligent work, and they get to review student talent for future employment offers.

“Companies also benefit significantly through understanding how other projects at other companies tackled problems similar to those they face. Finally, companies also use this opportunity to do lateral networking and share best practices.”

In addition to gaining useful real-world experience, students who participate in the Industry Summits also typically earn their industry-validated Sonoco-USC Lean Six Sigma Green Belt certificate. The program trains professionals to understand and implement problem solving, data collection, data interpretation, variation, process capability and cost-benefit analysis.

“To date, more than 1,100 students from the Industry Summits have graduated with this valuable qualification, and it is a rare accomplishment for any academic program – business or engineering,” said Sanjay Ahire, an ASQ-certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt, co-director of the Operations and Supply Chain Center and professor of operations and supply chain management.

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