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The VictoryXR Show: John Saldanha Joins Steve Grubbs To Discuss Supply Chain Education In VR At West Virginia University – Learn About The New Mountaineering Ice Cream Supply Chain Logisitics Game Built By VictoryXR

Watch at: https://youtu.be/CNmfPpM8PlU

Steve Grubbs: Welcome to the VictoryXR Show. I’m your host, Steve Grubbs, and today we are introducing a really exciting new product for colleges of business, schools of business across the United States. And so our guest today is John Saldanha. And John is the professor or professor of supply chain management at West Virginia’s John Chambers College of Business. 

And I know it’s got a longer name than that. John can elaborate, but the exciting thing is for almost two years now, VictoryXR and West Virginia University have been working on a supply chain management logistics product where students can engage with a simulation. 

And so we are rolling that out. This opportunity to talk with John and the VictoryXR show will give us a few minutes just to break down what that means, what it is, and then talk in a larger sense about where we see immersive learning in the school of business or college of business. So, John, thank you for joining us today. 

John Saldanha: Thank you for having me, Steve. I’m happy to talk about our work. 

Steve Grubbs: Yeah, talk a little bit about your role at West Virginia, then let’s get right into the simulation. 

John Saldanha: Sure. So, I joined West Virginia University in 2014 to help start the supply chain program. And we’ve grown since then. We’ve got this exciting new lab initiative that we are excited about, which is a big part of our growth plan. 

And what I really am interested through the lab—the lab serves as a vehicle for three things. One is knowledge creation, knowledge dissemination, and then using that knowledge to help the residents of West Virginia region, nationally and internationally. 

Steve Grubbs: So, let’s go back a little bit. What is your background? Why would somebody bring you into the university to get the supply chain management program off the ground? 

John Saldanha: So, I started my career, I like to say on the front lines of supply chain management. I was in the Merchant Marine for 10 years. So, I’ve actually spent 10 years, so to speak, in the trenches of supply chain management, working on the ships that bring a lot of the items that you and I are currently wearing that all of us use in our homes and you know, seeing how supply chains operate from those frontline trenches and getting excited about going to school again to learn about how we can make that process more efficient. I think that is what set me apart from many of my colleagues in graduate school. 

So, in Penn State, I really got excited about, you know, understanding that global process, which really is what my research is about and where I spend most of my time teaching, and having that end-to-end view of the supply chain, which I’ve always brought to whatever I’ve done in academia and in consulting and working with practitioners in the industry, I think that is something that I’ve seen over the years gain an appreciation for. 

And that’s what I’ve tried to incorporate in the game as well and what I’ve tried to inject in my teaching and my research, which is that end-to-end perspective and trying to understand all aspects of the supply chain because it’s so complicated. And through the years of experience understanding, what are those critical few decisions that can really shape the destiny of a company in terms of its profitability and its sustainability? 

Steve Grubbs: Yeah, so it’s interesting. I don’t think that the word supply chain had come out of most Americans mouths until the pandemic. And then for the first time in most people’s lives, they walked into big box stores like Target or Walmart and the shelves were half empty, maybe mostly empty. And it was a little bit shocking for Americans to see how a lot of people in other countries, the situations they frequently are in. 

And so, everybody became dramatically more interested in this whole supply chain thing. And so I think it’s relevant not just for business schools, business colleges, but for everybody now because we do like well-stocked shelves. I know that. 

So let’s get into the simulator, the game. Talk to me, put yourself in the shoes of a student. You put on your virtual reality headset. And now what do you see? What are you going to engage with? And what is the name of this experience? 

John Saldanha: I’ll start with the last question. So, the name of this experience is Mountaineer Ice Cream, The Mountaineer Ice Cream Supply Chain Management Virtual Reality game. It’s a mouthful, but I like to call it MIC. Fondly MIC. It’s a labor of love. 

So, Mountaineer Ice Cream is obviously, it’s a nod to our state and the Mountaineer and the University mascot, which I proudly wear. So, the mountaineer and the mountaineer mascot. So Mountaineer Ice Cream, there’s a case study where I go into—and of course that’s also a nod of thanks to our generous benefactors, the Boili Family. So, you see some of their names sprinkled throughout the case. 

But to your question about the students’ experience, I’ve tried to incorporate, as I said, an end-to-end component. And also the other aspect of supply chain management that I’ve tried to incorporate is the fact that supply chain management is not just a one or a two or a three-person enterprise or endeavor. It takes an entire enterprise, takes an entire supply chain to get any product from the earth, because everything comes from some natural resource, whether it is forests or it comes from the earth, mind, or if it’s pumped out of the earth, whatever it is, it comes from the earth and then transformed along the way to the end consumer. 

So, I’ve wanted to create some of that aspect in the management scheme. So as you enter the space, you’ll see this virtual stylized version of the world. It’s got three land masses separated by water. And the goal is that you’re going to have students who have to make decisions about where they want to source their raw materials from. And those options can be either domestically or internationally. And as in many of our global supply chains, internationally means you have to go across some large water bodies, oceans, and that has been replicated in the case. So you see that. 

Then you see the different, like you would see on a supply chain map, a stylized map, a company might maintain of its supply chain. You’ll see different icons and different graphics of suppliers, plants, warehouses, markets, and you can then click on any of those and then you start making decisions. 

Where do I source my raw materials from? It’s an ice cream company, Mountaineer Ice Cream. So you have to source your dairy and milk and as is often the case, you want to locate your manufacturing facility closest to where your primary raw materials are. That’s one of the rules of thumb or one of the basic theories of location in manufacture. 

That’s why for example, you see a lot of breweries located in the beautiful Rockies, right? Right next to all that beautiful mountain spring water. So, in this virtual world, you have, and just similar to places like Wisconsin and California, you have our Mountaineer Ice Cream factory located to the stylized dairy basin, which is in this fertile valley, where you have all of the dairy sourced locally. 

And then you have the raw materials of sugar and flavoring and packaging that have to be sourced either domestically from the mainland, where you have the five markets. I call it Cooperland, again, it’s in order to West Virginia. And locally, next to the University, we have Cooper’s Rock, which is the name Cooper comes from the barrel makers that used to make the barrels to store—I believe, moonshine would be one of the items you store in those barrels. 

So, Cooperland is the main market, a main region where you have the five markets. And you would have to source packaging from a domestic supply, you can source some of the additives either from a domestic or international supplier, and you can source the sugars and flavorings from two different international suppliers. So that’s what you would see. 

And then when you click on any of these different icons, you start making decisions. How much do you want to source from a supplier? What sort of product service agreement you want to enter into the PSA? What are you sourcing? What are the quality criteria you want to have? What are the customer service criteria? How much fill rate? What is the lead time you want to have on manufacturing? Those sorts of things are decisions that students are going to make. 

Then you have to make decisions based upon what’s at a mode of transportation you’re going to use. Then once you choose the mode of transportation, what carriers are you going to use? Are you going to use expensive carriers that offer high services? Or you want to use low cost carriers that offer lower services? 

How are you going to route those? Again, the choice of carrier will determine how those are routed, which again is a replication of how transportation logistics managers have to deal with in the real world. Then how do you schedule your transportation? How do you schedule a production based upon your raw materials coming in? You can click on the plant and schedule your production. 

You have four different skews, two different flavors for two different channels. Again, trying to replicate that real world. So, a distribution manager has to work with a production manager to make sure that the demand that they are realizing those five markets can be met. 

A distribution manager has to determine which markets they want to serve or different products. Those are the decisions that a company estimate. Do I serve all the markets or do I serve a certain market? Do I end up focused only on a certain market? And how do I grow my operation? Do I need to add more distribution centers? Do I add more production capacity? Do I add more raw material capacity? Do I now need to revisit my supply contracts? 

And again, there are restrictions in the real world. You can only revisit supply contracts after one year. So, all of those decisions that have to be made even before the game starts are items that students are going to see. The students are also going to see this big dashboard, which is something that I wanted to see in many games that we didn’t see. 

We talk about dashboarding, we talk about KPIs, so students now have this opportunity to customize different KPIs that they can now configure on this dashboard and there are dashboard configurations for if you’re managing production, if you’re managing raw material replenishment, if you’re managing a supplier, so supplier relationships, if you’re managing distribution management, etc etc. 

So typically, you would also see five other members of your team because you’re not running the supply chain alone and you don’t want to be running the supply chain. So of course, this first iteration is going to be just a single player iteration just to get some sense in our classes of how students are reacting to different elements, but looking forward, we want to have this as a multiplayer event where players are in there together making decisions and actually observing what’s going on after their decisions are made. 

Steve Grubbs: So, John, obviously you do this case study, this simulation prior to moving it into virtual reality in your own school, your own class, and I think that you are the author of this particular case study. Is this more of an undergraduate case study or a graduate program or can it be used in either? 

John Saldanha: I would say that we can…My eventual goal…So right now, this is being targeted to more senior undergraduate students, so seniors, so upper-classmen and MBA students, that’s what I would see. And you could use this for continuous education for middle-level executive. That’s why the MBA would be a good because it’s more hands-on, you know, rolling up sleeves and stuff.

But what we are hoping to do is we’re hoping to have different features that we can turn on and turn off and allow even high schoolers to use this, to introduce…Right at the beginning, I was talking about and you mentioned rightly so about how supply chain management became part of everybody’s lexicon after COVID. I mean, just last year, I think the president in the state of the union mentioned supply chain over 3,000 times. So, it’s become a late night comedy joke as well. So it’s a punchline. 

But that’s a good thing for us because now we have a lot of students and companies are excited because we had this talent gap. So to in order to fill that talent gap, we have to be able to reach high schoolers and my hope is and the goal of this product is to be able to put it in the hands of high school teachers and introduce students who are interested in business careers to be able to see how supply chains work and use it as sort of a supply chain tycoon type of a game and run your own supply chain.

And for them to get excited about careers in supply chains, see how rigorous a career in supply chain is, I think we are one of the few STEM designated supply chain programs in the country. And we want to show students that you love engineering, but you’re not really ticked on how theoretical engineering might seem, here is a practical application of how you can apply those same concepts in a very hands-on setting and then go and work in businesses and see the effect of your decisions actually play out on a day-to-day basis. 

So, we hope from high schoolers all the way up to professionals, because if you think about it, and I know you want to move on to something else deeper, but if you think about it, the game offers us tremendous flexibility. For example, I can turn off a port and mimic what would be happening if there would be a strike in a West Coast port. Or I could turn off a region and say, okay, you can’t supply from this and mimic a geopolitical reality that supply chain managers have to face today. So now you have to on a dime, turn around and say, okay, now where do I get these supplies from? So we can recreate all these scenarios in that game in the future. 

Steve Grubbs: And John, I know that…First of all, our guest today is John Saldana, professor of supply chain management, West Virginia University’s John Chambers College of Business. So, John, I know there’s some reading materials, the case study that accompany this. Where does that fit in? Do students read that first and then engage in the game simulation? 

John Saldanha: Yes, so the goal of…So if I was an instructor, I would read the case and have students read the case first. And there’s a significant amount of analysis that students can do even beforehand with the data we provide in the case study. And instructors can, depending upon their course objectives and their learning objectives, ask students to focus on different aspects of production, distribution, transportation, warehousing to get students deeper dive into a certain area and use it pedagogically for that. Or if they just want to use it as a capstone project to encompass the entire learning of senior supply chain students, undergraduate experience, they can do that as well because as I said, it’s end to end. 

So even before you put on a VR headset or before you start making decisions of the game, you want to read the case study that has all of the data necessary for you to start analyzing some of those data to inform the decisions you’ll make. 

Steve Grubbs: So now let’s put ourselves into the shoes of a professor. So, I’ll say that I am a professor at the University of Iowa Tippi College of Business. And I’m building this into my curriculum, my course planning. Is this a one-week activity, a one-day activity, a one-month activity? What do you recommend as far as students engaging in this and how it fits into the coursework? 

John Saldanha: So, in the case study itself, I’ve made several recommendations. Actually, you have the case study and then you have a teaching note. So, the teaching note that accompanies the case study, I’ve made recommendations for various timelines. If you want to just do a show and tell…

So as an MBA instructor, if you are goal is to do a survey of business methods and business disciplines, then you want to show what supply chain management is, you could just set it up and you could set it up so that you allowed it to run for one year, got students to just experience it, play around with it and see what supply chain decisions they needed to make, how those decisions would probably break the simulation and cause them to lose a lot of money.

And then give them an appreciation and have a discussion and that might just be a one-hour event. You could just speed up the simulation and you could show, okay, this is what happens, these are the KPIs, and MBA students would have an understanding of inventory terms, their revenue understanding on their profits, their revenues, etc. So, you could make some prior requirements that students, different groups even you could have make different decisions and then do a comparison and get an appreciation of how these supply chain decisions affect different parts of the supply chain up and downstream of the manufacturer and including the manufacturer. 

Another aspect is you could run it as part of one module which would be a one-week or a two-week depending on how many times you meet, and you could just run it for two years and that would give you eight quarters and you could have students work on it for quarters at a time, either over two days or over two weeks. And then have students make those decisions after giving them the case study, maybe over a weekend to study and do and get an appreciation so that that motivates different learning objectives and saying, see, now this is why it’s necessary, for example, to understand transportation management. This is why it’s necessary to understand inventory management. This is why it’s necessary to understand the Little’s Law and bringing out those different aspects of theoretical supply chain knowledge that they’re going to touch upon in their classes. 

Another way I’ve recommended is maybe do a four-year simulation where you have students now over a 12-week semester, you know, do a deep dive and actually play the game competitively with each other. And there is a there is a scoring sheet. I’ve used a balanced scorecard approach. And there’s a scoring sheet. And you could use that for grade, and you could use that for different ways of evaluating the teams and their performance. 

So now students will have to use that experience to actually maximize their profit and maximize their firm’s performance, relative to the other teams in the class. And that I recommend is having debrief sessions every week, which would be maybe every one to two quarters. And asking students about what their performance has been, why their performance has been a particular way, comparing scoreboards across different teams and trying to understand different strategies. Because you could use multiple different strategies and still manage a fairly effective and successful business. 

And you want to hear those different perspectives so that students get an appreciation of there’s not just one single way of running the business. And that’s a great environment to have that sort of discussion in the MBA class. 

Steve Grubbs: But let’s say I’m teaching an Intro to Business class. In the chapter on supply chain management, is there an opportunity for me just to run this in that chapter, that week or two weeks on that particular chapter? 

John Saldanha: Yes, so that’s the way I would, you know, either one of those two modalities where you would either have students put in certain different decisions in, where you would give those decisions to the students, and then they could see different outcomes and compare those outcomes in a discussion setting in the classroom. 

Or you could actually have sort of a bootcamp where they would actually make those decisions intuitively themselves based upon the inputs which would be very, you know, which would be very path the course rather for an MBA class where you would give them a lot of information and now they have to make intuitive decisions based upon the inputs of the case and then within a week or two week frame, they could make those decisions and see the outcomes and then have discussion on what their understanding of supply chain was from that experience. 

Steve Grubbs: Excellent. And so just for our listeners or watchers, viewers, this will be available on VXR Labs. You can download VXR Labs for free from the Meta Quest store and then there will be a separate fee to acquire the license to this particular exercise, this particular simulation. So VXR Labs, again, available on the Meta Quest store and then you’ll find it there. 

So, we’re going to run out of time here very shortly. This half hour went extremely fast, but let me ask you a couple questions because you’ve really had a progressive, forward-thinking view of how immersive learning, virtual reality, metaverse, how it can all play into education. And so I’d sort of like to wrap up today with, give us your philosophy on integrating immersive learning into a class and then also maybe your hope for the future. 

John Saldanha: So, the reason why I was drawn to virtual reality was three-fold. One is being in Morgantown, and I’ve taught at two other universities as well in Ohio and Pennsylvania. And sitting in our ideal like college towns, beautiful as they are, provides very little opportunities for students to go out and actually experience supply chain problems and see how supply chains work, except as you and I, consumers, who go to a store and don’t find something there. I mean, that’s our typical interaction with the supply chain or we pass trucks and trains during our travels. 

So, the first thing that I see virtual reality bringing to students is actually putting them and bringing to life the concepts that we talk about in class. So, a lot of the content that we develop in our lab is 360 video of various supply chain environments of manufacturing facilities, distribution centres, ports, airports, barge ports, trucking operations, etc. 

So, we want to put students in the centre of the action, and that is something that we want to put them in places which are dangerous, inaccessible. For example, 200 feet up in a crane operator’s cabin, watching how the crane operators, you know, moving this 40-ton spreader and trying to get this 40 -ton container off the ship in high winds and get an appreciation for when they are a customer, you know, not yelling at the person at the end of the phone but realizing there’s multiple steps and multiple things that can go wrong at every step and making them better citizens and greater appreciators of complexities are involved. 

So that is a key thing that we wouldn’t be able to experience in 2D. In 2D, it’s wonderful, but when you action there, it’s alive, you can actually see it. The other problem in 2D is when we show videos, students see that as a time to pull out their phones and say, you know what, what my friend is saying is more interesting than the professor is talking about. So, in 360, they’re captive to what we say and they actually looking at everything around them. 

The second thing that I think is really compelling is we can make things actually interactive. So, for example, we can, I can do a quiz, I can stop and I can pop up a call out and ask them a question. Now they have to answer the question and they have to answer the question, right? There is no question about it because they’re all there, like on the engage platform, they’re all there with me and now they have to talk to me and I can do that whether I’m traveling or whether there’s a student home sick or we’re all in the classroom together. 

The third thing is we are working with companies to build training, world-class training, and that training involves normally those company and our students to actually work on a case where it’s written for the students, it’s written for the employees that they have to glean the details of that case and try to put themselves in the shoes of the protagonist written about in the case. 

What virtual reality allows us to do is actually bring that alive for the students, collect the data and solve the problem on the production line and then go and implement counter measures and see what the effects of those counter measures are in real time and collect the data and understand what they’re doing is actually making a difference. 

So, with a structured problem-solving approach, we can actually get students, which would not be possible in the real world. We wouldn’t be able to stop a line and get students to go and interact with all the different components of that line, collecting data. It just is not, you know, it’s costly a little bit of do that and obviously, too dangerous in many cases, but we can do that in virtual reality and have our students—and build a philosophy and build a mindset that yes, you learn in college, but this learning should be a lifelong experience. Throughout your life, you’re going to be learners. 

Learning does not stop once you leave, and inculcating that into lower-class and middle-class juniors and seniors as well, is an important component, I believe, of building future supply chain professionals who can be effective in their jobs and don’t stop learning and have that experience going out and studying the problem where it’s actually occurring and then using those approaches to do it, which would not be possible without virtual reality. 

Steve Grubbs: Yeah, the work you’ve done on this is not only innovative and ground-breaking, But I think it’s transformative in the way that not only students, but executives or supply chain managers and companies will learn how best to approach supply chain in the future. And so my hat is off to you. It’s been a long process, but I know that this is something that’s going to be transformative. And so I’m extremely grateful that we had the chance to work with you on this project and roll it out. So with that, let me say thank you. 

John Saldanha: Thank you, Steve. And I appreciate your trust and your journey that we’ve done together and taken together. And I think I appreciate all the kind things that you said. And it’s really, you know, like I told you, when was it? Three years ago in Santa Clara, I think when you have two people with a vision that is similar, that we can work together and execute, I think that’s where all these transformative things can happen. And I’m grateful for your partnership along the way. 

Steve Grubbs: Well, we’re going to make big things happen. So again, to our viewers and listeners, I’ll just say download VXR Labs or go to our website at www.victoryxr.com, and then on the little search tool, just type in supply chain and this product page will pop up and you’ll have more information. 

But we appreciate you listening. We have a great guest next week. We always have great guests. So, keep tuning in and subscribe if you haven’t subscribed already. So, I’m Steve Grubbs, your VictoryXR host, and thank you for joining us today.