27 January 2020

Catching up with BISCI: ambitious agenda to create digital and sustainable supply chain innovation

Set up by Maastricht University and the Province of Limburg in early 2019, the Brightlands Institute for Supply Chain Innovation (BISCI) drives state-of-the art digital and sustainable supply chain innovation, combining expertise from knowledge institutions, businesses and government. Last week, we caught up with BISCI’s business development director Ton Geurts and BISCI’s scientific director Bart Vos to get an update on the institute’s first year and find out about their plans for the future.

Off to a strong start

It has almost been a year since BISCI’s story began and things are looking up: the Institute already has a master’s programme running with 35 students as well as research and PhD projects. One example is BISCI’s project on smart packaging. In collaboration with a consortium of companies, the study aims to use advanced sensor technology to make supply chains more efficient and sustainable.

When asked how they feel about their adventure with BISCI so far, both Ton and Bart are highly passionate. ‘We left our earlier career positions to build this Institute and drive its success, and we feel that we have fantastic colleagues and a tremendous amount of support here. Our dean Peter Møllgaard is fantastically enthusiastic and believes that Maastricht University should be outstanding in sustainability. Maastricht University’s Vice President Nick Bos is also a strong supporter of BISCI and meets with us regularly to contribute to bringing the Institute forward. The enthusiasm that everyone is giving to this project is an enormous stimulus.’ explains Ton.

Sustainability at the heart of the Institute

BISCI’s expertise lies in supply chain innovation. Within this field, the Institute focuses on two main research themes: digitalisation and sustainability. Ton and Bart are both passionate about sustainability and see this as a major priority for the Institute. Ton explains, ‘Creating a more sustainable world is one of society’s most pressing challenges, and we still have a long way to go to properly address this. To create change, we need people to carry sustainability in their hearts. Sustainability needs to become people’s number one priority.’

Ton continues, ‘We believe that BISCI can contribute to a more sustainable world by increasing the transparency of supply chains. This is where digitalisation and sustainability meet. What does this mean concretely? Well, for example, digitalisation can give you the tools to know the exact amount of CO2 emitted when transporting goods from point A to point B. This, in turn, allows you to identify and later address inefficiency.’

When asked what they think about the Maastricht Sustainability Institute (MSI) officially joining the School of Business and Economics (SBE) at the start of this academic year, Bart responds ‘It is really a gift that MSI has joined SBE. Our colleagues at MSI have a great deal of experience and expertise in sustainability; at the same time, they have less experience working with the business world. We see great opportunities for collaboration here. In fact, we have already started working together on several projects related to sustainability and we are excited to see how these will develop.’

Ton Geurts is BISCI’s Business Development Director. Formerly, he held the roles of Chief Procurement Officer (CPO) and SVP Supply Chain Excellence at Bekaert, CPO at AkzoNobel, various business/executive roles in DSM (including the roll-out of the internet functionalities) and was on the Board of the CSO Solidaridad for seven years. Geurts supports Greenport Venlo logistics and supply chain management from the Brightlands Campus in the Limburg region through smart and sustainable innovations. He focuses on all four Brightland Campuses in Venlo, Geleen, Heerlen and Maastricht.

What’s next for BISCI?

BISCI is not an isolated project; instead, it is part of the 'ecosystem' of the Brightlands Greenport Campus Venlo, in which the business community, academics, students and representatives from various governments work together through open innovation and co-creation. Elaborating more on this concept, Ton explains, ‘At BISCI, we are experts in supply chain management, but at the same time, we bridge the business world with other fields of expertise at SBE. We can also connect partners with SBE’s executive branch UMIO, which offers different trainings such as courses on innovation and sustainability. This cross-fertilisation is very much welcomed: the goal is to avoid silos and instead emphasize synergies, collaboration and helping each other out.’ Bart adds, ‘In a way, this is a new way of working. We are doing things that are not classical for a university.’

In line with this vision to encourage collaboration, BISCI will hold its first yearly Supply Chain Innovation Conference in February at the Brightlands Greenport Campus, together with partners Fontys and TNO. Bart: ‘During this event, we look forward to welcoming a rich mix of people: representatives from multinationals, companies from the region, government, the province and the city, students, academics, and local supply chain and logistics stakeholders.’

The event will have a strong focus on digitalisation and sustainability and will offer a varied programme with two breakout sessions and three distinguished keynote speakers. Participants will also have the opportunity to attend workshops led by BISCI’s diverse academic staff. These include experts in marketing and supply chain management, but also experts in sustainability, smart services, artificial intelligence, etc.

Bart explains, ‘The goal of the event is to create collaboration. We would also like to give stakeholders the opportunity to share their best practices as well as the obstacles they have faced.’

A key moment during the event will be a symbolic signature moment with the three organising partners – Maastricht University, Fontys and TNO – followed by a short discussion with the three parties sharing their passion and drive. ‘This moment is a way for us to show the world that we are a team and that we are committed to working together.’

To find out more about the Supply Chain Innovation Conference, visit the event webpage.

Bart Vos is BISCI’s Scientific Director. He is also a professor in Supply Chain Innovation at Maastricht University and program coordinator of the Venlo-based Global Supply Chain Management & Change Master. Before joining BISCI, he held the NEVI Chair of Purchasing and Supply Chain Management at Tilburg University for over 17 years. His work aims to integrate research, education and business practice on contemporary supply chain management issues.

By: Kendra Valck