Agility and resource dependency in ramp-up process of humanitarian organizations

AuthorQing Lu, Jie Wu, Mark Goh, Robert De Souza
DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/IJLM-05-2018-0119
Pages845-862
Publication Date12 Aug 2019
Agility and resource dependency
in ramp-up process of
humanitarian organizations
Qing Lu
Department of Logistics Management,
Izmir University of Economics, Izmir, Turkey
Jie Wu
Faculty of Business Administration, University of Macau, Taipa, Macau
Mark Goh
Business School, The Logistics Institute Asia Pacific,
National University of Singapore, Singapore, and
Robert De Souza
The Logistics Institute Asia Pacific, National University of Singapore, Singapore
Abstract
Purpose The ramp-up in humanitarian logistics operations is a stage when the demand surges, often at the
start of an emergency. In response, agility is a key strategy used by the humanitarian organizations (HOs).
However, the HOs are constrained by their existing resources and have to respond in the ramp-up process
under their resource dependency. The purpose of this paper is to develop a framework on agility-building
strategies used by HOs for the ramp-up.
Design/methodology/approach This study applies both the dynamic capabilities perspective and
resource dependence theory to humanitarian relief operations, and develops four testable propositions to
explore the agility-building strategies of the HOs for the ramp-up process. A multiple-case study is conducted
on six international HOs operating in Indonesia to verify them, in addition to an extensive literature search.
Findings The case study shows that the human resource management, pre-positioning, standardization
and supplier management of the HOs are all related to their resources and environment in the ramp-up
process. The authors highlight the practical differences between the few super large, resource rich and
centralized HOs with the second-tier HOs.
Research limitations/implications Given the small sample size and single country as the site of study,
some findings may not be applicable to the other HOs or in other regions.
Practical implications The propositions could be applicable to other HOs operating under similar
environments, and potentially to the commercial enterprises operating in a highly volatile environment with
severe resource scarcity.
Originality/value This study provides new insights into ramp-up operations and into how HOs build their
agility and reduce their resource dependencies. Theoretically, the paper applies two established theories in the
strategic management literature to a new field.
Keywords Strategic management, Humanitarian logistics, Emergency preparedness, Agility strategy,
Dynamic capabilities, Resource dependency, Ramp-up process
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
For the past few decades the increasing impact and complexity of natural and manmade
disasters have pressured humanitarian organizations (HOs) to improve the effectiveness
and efficiency of their relief operations (IFRC, 2016). The pressure has reached the greatest
in the ramp-up stage when there is a surge in demand for relief supplies and other resources The International Journal of
Logistics Management
Vol. 30 No. 3, 2019
pp. 845-862
© Emerald PublishingLimited
0957-4093
DOI 10.1108/IJLM-05-2018-0119
Received 8 May 2018
Revised 20 February 2019
Accepted 19 May 2019
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
www.emeraldinsight.com/0957-4093.htm
The authors express their gratitude and appreciation to all organizations and individuals supporting
this study. The early version of this study has been presented on the 22nd International Symposium on
Logistics (ISL2017).
845
Agility and
resource
dependency
such as manpower (Tomasini and Van Wassenhove, 2009). Such pressure has called for the
use of appropriate strategies in the HOs to prepare ahead before the start of an emergency
(Scholten et al., 2010). In response, many HOs have started to apply commercial supply chain
management strategies and practices in their logistics operations for more effective
preparation. One of these strategies is agility, the organizational ability to respond to
external changes rapidly. It has been identified as a key to effective humanitarian logistics
operations (Oloruntoba and Kovács, 2015).
Notwithstanding that the literature has a consensus on the importance of agility strategy
in humanitarian relief operations (Scholten et al., 2010), there have been very few empirically
validated studies of agility in humanitarian logistics (Oloruntoba and Kovács, 2015). And
most of the scholarly works in the field are based on only a few super large global HOs such
as the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Federation of Red Cross and
Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) (e.g. LHermitte et al., 2016). It has been proposed that the
IFRCs Emergency Response Unit (ERU) is an example of the best practices for improving
the responsiveness of HOs ( Jahre and Fabbe-Costes, 2015), but its methods may not be
workable for a smaller second-tier HO with a decentralized structure and less funding.
There has been much interest in applying quantitative models to the fieldof humanitarian
logistics in recent years (Van Wassenhove and Pedraza-Martinez, 2012; Gupta et al., 2016).
Many sophisticated models havebeen developed on stock pre-positioning and facility location
in the preparation stage (e.g. Rezaei-Malek et al., 2016; Manopiniwes and Irohara, 2017).
However, those models may not be applicable for many of the second-tier HOs, as they
typically are resource-light with limited funding (Oloruntoba and Kovács, 2015). Therefore,
gaining an appreciation of how the different types of HOs build their agility internally and
leverage external resources to respond effectively in the ramp-up process would definitely
help to inform the body of knowledge and the community of practices.
Unlike the few centralized, super-large HOs linked to governments or multinational
organizations(e.g. the UN), second-tier HOsare typically decentralizedby region and country,
with more development programs being conducted at the country level. Being resource-light
without manydedicated resources for emergencyoperations, their budgets forpre-positioning
and ramp-up operations are limited. To compensate for the shortage of tangible resources,
these HOs have to rely moreon their intangible capabilities,leveraging resources from within
and outside of the organization in ramp-up operations. The dynamic capabilities perspective
(DCP) is a powerful theoretical tool in strategic management (Teece and Pisano, 1994;
Teece et al., 1997), which such HOs can apply to develop appropriate agility-building
strategies in their ramp-up operations (Oloruntobaand Kovács, 2015). In addition tothe DCP,
resource dependence theory (RDT) can assess the fit between the HO agility-building
strategies and existing resources, capabilities and constraints (Pfeffer and Salancik, 1978).
Both the DCP and RDT wereapplied to the ramp-up process investigation in this study,and
that led to four testable propositions. They were then validated in a field study in Indonesia
involving total six HOs, one super-large and five second-tier ones.
Practically, this study extends the scope of the current HO agility literature. Several recent
humanitarian logistics studies have sought to integrate the preparedness stage with emergency
response for the most realistic solution (e.g. Manopiniwes and Irohara, 2017; Wang et al., 2018).
Most such studies have remained on the operational level and their findings are more suitable for
government agencies or for a few super-large HOs with loose resource constraints. This study, in
contrast, has focused more on the strategic responses of second-tier HOs under various resource
constraints. Its findings may therefore have greater applicability to the field of humanitarian
operations. They provide some new insights into ramp-up operations and into how HOs build
their agility and reduce their resource dependencies. The findings of this study can be applied to
the other second-tier HOs operating under similar environments, and potentially to commercial
enterprises operating in a highly volatile environment with severe resource scarcity.
846
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