Dr. Susana Val on Zaragoza Logistics Center’s projects, course evolution and alumni success

Dr. Susana Val on Zaragoza Logistics Center’s projects, course evolution and alumni success

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Gregor Gowans

Gregor Gowans

Journalist Trans.INFO


Dr. Susana Val on Zaragoza Logistics Center’s projects, course evolution and alumni success

Zaragoza Logistics Center (ZLC), located in Aragon, Spain’s supply chain powerhouse, is one of 6 prestigious academic centres that make up the MIT Global SCALE Network. Since it opened in 2003, the center has helped young graduates from all over the world become the supply chain leaders of tomorrow. The center is also well known for its research, and is currently involved in the European Union’s BOOSTLOG project.

One of those who has played a key role in the history of ZLC is its current Director, Dr. Susana Val, whose relationship with the center goes back all the way to the summer of 2004.

Ahead of her appearance at next Month’s Alcott Global Movers and Makers virtual conference, we got in touch with Susana to talk current supply chain trends, as well touch on a number of issues related to ZLC itself, including its course evolution, alumni success, research, and importance to the city of Zaragoza.

ZLC is part of the prestigious MIT Global SCALE Network and is now recognised as one of the best places to study supply chain and logistics. What motivated the creation of the center, and what difference has it made to the city of Zaragoza?

In early 2000, there was a push to create the largest logistics park in Europe, settled in Zaragoza. The need to create jobs at all levels of the organization in a practically unknown sector required trained professionals.

However, at that time it was opted for an education of international excellence rather than local level education, forming an alliance with MIT. ZLC is now an international reference center, with students from all over the world in its facilities, and which has positioned the city as a recognized logistics training node worldwide.

ZLC was constructed in 2003, and your relationship with the center started not long after, in July 2004. In the last 16-17 years, to what extent have you seen enthusiasm for the logistics discipline increase in this time? If it has grown, what do you believe has fuelled this enthusiasm?

Actually, the logistics profession has experienced a remarkably development in the recent decades.

I think the enthusiasm is growing as new skills are added to the logistics profiles. Also, because now, logistics professionals occupy outstanding positions in companies in comparison to years ago -where this position was emerging in the market- and this increases the vocation for this discipline. The digital transformation of course accentuates the entire revolution around the logistics sector and the wish to be part of it.

ZLC is of course located in the region of Aragón, which is described as an internationally recognised logistics powerhouse. What have been the primary factors behind this development, and are you confident Aragón will remain just as important to supply chains for many years to come? 

The availability of land, the qualified workforce in the region, the existing communication nodes, the infrastructure and the educational programs offered are emerging as the main factors of logistics development in Aragon. In addition, the support of regional governments and companies that have settled in our territory have promoted such development as well.

I am convinced that the logistics hub created in Aragon will continue in this way in the future, as this sector is configured as one of the pillars of the strategy defined within the region, and the existing alliances between organizations dedicated to logistics within Aragon are consolidated, promoting collaboration and development for the economic boost of Aragon.

As supply chains evolve and logistics strategies inevitably change, so must the makeup of the courses you offer to students. What challenges have you had to overcome in order to continually keep the educational offering at ZLC up-to-date amid this period of rapid transformation? 

Indeed, the courses taught in 2003 are far from those offered today in our classrooms. Although the core courses (Inventory, Forecasting or Finance among others) have not been modified and are the knowledge base for logistics professionals who graduate from our center, the rest of materials have evolved in parallel with the industry demand and the market.

In this way, some courses have been incorporated in line with digital transformation, sustainability or urban transport networks. Our professors are in continuous training, since they are immersed in research projects promoted by the European Commission or directly working with companies. Therefore, they are familiar with these challenges. Hence the ability of ZLC to adapt to all this transformation.

Your center appears to have a noticeable track record when it comes to alumni success. What do you think is key in helping logistics graduates making the transition from the academic world into the industrial one? 

At ZLC we bring the industrial world closer to students, either through talks by experts, tours to companies or case studies. During the completion of their education in the master, students have the possibility of working with companies in a master thesis on a real problem of the same, which further the vision of the business world.

In addition, other types of tools are offered, such as talks by former students. We envision our master programs with a strong focus on strategic development within the industry, which confers an ideal and attractive professional development for the companies that come to recruit our students.

The BOOSTLOG project, an EU project looking into the successful implementations of results from EU funded R&I projects, is something ZLC has a key role in. What benefits do you see logistics companies and organisations in Europe being able to derive from this project?

Logistics companies will be provided with comprehensive and industry actionable reports in the following areas: i) urban logistics, ii) logistics nodes, iii) multimodal freight, corridors & transport networks iv) freight and logistics data sharing, v) logistics coordination & collaboration, vi) modularization and transshipment, among other topics.

Each report will include the mapping of R&I projects relevant for that Logistics Cloud, a comprehensive analysis of the main Outcomes, highlighting those ones that have been further developed and implemented in practice (i.e. successful Implementation Cases).

These organizations will also have access to an Innovation Marketplace that will host relevant R&I Project results, Outcome, and Implementation Cases. Additionally, matchmaking capabilities and other required functionalities and processes will be developed to create a full Innovation Marketplace. Last, BOOSTLOG will define the logistics R&I gaps and will prioritize them.

These gaps will be shared, enriched and validated by BOOSTLOG Stakeholders and in particular with end user companies. Afterwards, the priority R&I gaps will be linked to the relevant programs within Horizon Europe, the new Research and Innovation funding program from the European Commission (2021-2027). Through this exercise, recommendations towards the European Commission on key aspects to be funded will be derived; therefore, logistics companies and organizations in Europe will have a true say on what is funded in terms of logistics R&I in the coming years.

The pandemic, as well as recent disruptions such as Brexit and the Suez canal incident, have seen increased focus placed on the digitization and resilience of supply chains. As we look forward to the future, what will be top of the agenda for logistics and supply chain actors in the coming years? 

Implementing technological developments to streamline and provide the highest level of service to end consumers, without increasing costs and lead times. Multinationals have this path somewhat more advanced than small and medium-sized companies, which will have to be updated so as not to lose their grip.

Sustainability will be another factor to be considered in the agendas of logistics companies, to the extent that increasingly restrictive policies were generated. Of course, these restrictive policies may deeply affect the sector. Finally, education should also figure in these agendas, since certain competencies need to be incorporated for the challenges that the sector will face in the coming years.

One topic that has been discussed widely in the last 12 months is that of data sharing. A number of supply chain academics and professionals believe that co-opetition and data sharing can lead to cheaper, more efficient and also greener supply chains. However, the difficulty appears to be in convincing some companies to take part, as they may feel that they are losing their competitive advantage by doing so. As a neutral observer, do you feel logistics companies do need to embrace data sharing? And can you envisage companies doing so even if it were to be to their disadvantage? 

I believe we are still in a process of cultural transition towards a generalize thought regarding the advantages for companies that the data sharing implies. Various aspects of intellectual property and data confidentiality have yet to be figured out and some companies are still reluctant to share.

In my opinion, the companies that do join this action will obtain greater advantages and benefits. Benefits that may be economic or environmental, since depending on the policies that are implemented, the future may prioritize sustainable supply chains over other costs, in which case, those that want to differentiate themselves may push forward data sharing.

Sustainability is another area where logistics companies are keen to make progress. Different actors in the supply chain, whether it be in the field of road transport or rail freight, tend to have different perceptions of what will make a big difference. In your opinion, where do you believe the most significant reductions in emissions can be gained?

Within supply chains, transportation is the cause of the highest emissions into the atmosphere. And according to some data, the rail freight has lower emission rates than road transport. However, it is unfeasible to transport all kinds of freight by rail and it is not a door-to-door transport mode. Therefore, perhaps the progress should come from the electrification of fleets, or the use of alternative fuels. Today the use of hydrogen batteries is also being promoted as a sustainable alternative for transport.

Finally, you are of course taking part in May’s Makers and Movers event, hosted by Alcott Global. Could you perhaps give us a sneak peak of what you shall be talking about?

Sure, I’ll be talking about skills that industry currently needs to incorporate, and how we, the educators, can fill the existing gap among industry and education. I’ll also cover our perception of what the future trends in the incoming years will be, due to the research work we are currently performing through the European Projects, in which we are immersed.

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