The Water Supply Game: Teaching Supply Chain Dynamics to Emirati Students

This past Monday the Student Life Committee of the College of Business (surprise, I am Co-Chair) organised a campus swap for our female students. Professors Claire Sherman, Taiba Hussain, Catherine Budd, Marc Poulin (fellow former U Laval and CIRRELT alumnus)  and myself organised for some of our Abu Dhabi students to visit our Dubai campus.(Now, for my readers in Canada I can explain the Abu Dhabi vs. Dubai feeling as Victoria to Vancouver and Quebec City to Montreal).

It was a lot of fun - and although things did not go exactly as planned, the young ladies met and got to know one another and saw how things are done in the same University, same country, just different campuses. The highlight of the day for me was playing the "water game" with the students. What is the "water game" you ask? Well, let me explain through words and photos (and a link to an academic article only hard core nerds will click on).

So first - water game? Well, the game originated as the Beer Game in MIT in the 1960s to teach supply chain dynamics and the bullwhip effect, the Research Consortium I worked for at Laval adapted the game for the Canadian forest products industry - you can play the game here online (it is super fun, available in French and English and yes, if you email I am sure Phillip Marier will help you out with presentations and the like).

I have played the Wood Supply Game countless times, as a transfer tool with managers, with students, with colleagues, in competition, and just for fun.  and Phillip and I wrote an article about the game in 2004 (yes, I was a nerd even before I got a PhD) - that article is available here.

As obviously the Beer Game is out as a concept, and for that matter the forest products industry is pretty foreign and exotic here - so Marc (an operations professor extraordinaire) decided to adapt the game to the local environment and call it the water game. Using and adapting some great open source material online here is the story of our experiment in learning!

While the students were on the tour, Catherine, Marc and I set up the playing table. I was in charge of photography :)
Marc and Catherine setting up the game
There are four positions per "supply chain" - Factory, Distributor, Wholesaler and Retail. Each "company" has information exchange on the "top sheets of paper"  and goods exchange on the "bottom sheets of paper". Of course, one of the first things we learn when we live supply chain dynamics (e.g. waiting for an out of stock item) is that information and goods travel in different directions and at different speeds!

When the ladies got back from lunch, Marc explained the game. Of course, until we start playing it is hard to conceptualize what to do - so we started week by week, step by step. What ensued was frustration, many laughs, confusion, light bulb moments, and yes, even fun!

Listening to the rules of the game
We named each "supply chain" and ended up playing 6 rounds or weeks. Really the game requires more time, but my goodness I had fun (and I took over the factory position in one sc when two ladies needed to leave).

Arabian nights results

Desert dreams result

Honestly, I cannot remember the team which won - and it is based on inventory (1 dhs) and back order (2 dhs) costs - but really, the game needs to be played for about 30 or 40 rounds for all the information and decisions to work themselves through the system.

Marc compiling results in an excel sheet he had prepared

This was just a first experiment teaching and playing the game here and it would be wonderful to play it in the future with about 4 - 6 hours. Really though, it might have been "harder than the test I took last week" as one student said, to learn the initial dynamics, but the learning curve is steep when we are doing and learning at the same time.

End of the game, certificates and participation gifts!


Low levels of technology in start-ups in the UAE

This post provides data and a condensed exert from the GEM UAE 2011 Report and is copyrighted material of the authors of the report. It can be downloaded here: UAE 2011 GEM Report If you would like to quote the report or this blog post please use the following details: 

Van Horne, C., Huang, V., and Al Awad, M. 2012. “UAE GEM Report 2011”, Zayed University, UAE

As a researcher in innovation processes I have seen the spark of an initial idea, seen it work its way through research and development, testing through simulation, prototypes, beta testing and then finally on to the final product being used by the end consumer.

In a knowledge economy, technology and the birth of new firms from technology driven innovative ideas and services, need to be nurtured and encouraged. In a small market knowledge economy, innovation and technology are key to increasing exports and the sale of intellectual property.

Using data from 2011 - the UAE GEM Report has found that almost all new business started in the UAE in 2011 have no or low technological levels, with only 2.3% being medium-tech or high-tech new ventures (Figure 1). when figures for Emirati entrepreneurs the figures are even more shocking - 100% of new businesses are no/low tech.

 Level of  technology in UAE start-ups 2011
Perhaps worse is that these figures have not changes since the GEM Report was first published in 2006. In comparison with other innovation-driven economies, the UAE has the second lowest rate of medium technology to high technology established businesses at 2.3% compared to the lowest performing country, Czech Republic at 1.3% and the best performing country, Norway at 14.3%.

As the aerospace and advanced manufacturing industries develop and expand in the UAE this should promote the start-up of high tech small firms. Perhaps targeted initiatives could be developed to promote young people to start up high-tech businesses in their "garages" - perhaps through developing applications, games and other products I am unfamiliar with as a middle-aged professor!

This semester I have a group of male students looking at how "garage based businesses" could be supported in Abu Dhabi - the students are technologically savvy and understand the high-tech needs of their generation. Perhaps they will have some great ideas to increase the technology levels in start-ups in the UAE!


Characteristics of Female Entrepreneurs in the UAE in 2011

This post provides a condensed exert from the GEM UAE 2011 Report and is copyrighted material of the authors of the report. It can be downloaded here: UAE 2011 GEM Report If you would like to quote the report or this blog post please use the following details: 

Van Horne, C., Huang, V., and Al Awad, M. 2012. “UAE GEM Report 2011”, Zayed University, UAE

Women are regarded as a great resource in the Arab world that has not been tapped to its greatest potential. In the UAE over 60% of university students are women and many have the skills and the desire for independence that owning a business can give to them. 

According to a study by the United Nations, the UAE currently leads the Middle East and North Africa region in women's empowerment. Although significant progress had been made in empowering women (women currently represent 59 per cent of the total work force in the government) and youth from local communities through micro-finance, enterprise development, financial capability training, and youth education; entrepreneurship could serve as a vehicle for women and the young people to take an active role to ensure the country is to realize its milestones of becoming a knowledge based economy with strong social cohesion. 

From the data gathered with the most recent UAE GEM Report we can highlight the following challenges and hopeful signs.

Some challenges:
  • Female entrepreneurs are less likely than their male counterparts to know someone who has started a business in the past two years, and these role models are seen as an important part of the stimulus for budding entrepreneurs to make the leap from opportunity recognition to nascent entrepreneurship. 
  • Female entrepreneurs in general have less prior work experience than men (this is a regional challenge) and therefore have much lower rates of opportunity recognition through past experiences
Some hopeful signs:
  • Early stage female entrepreneurs are much more likely than men to expect job creation in the coming time period, 44.0% compared to 18.2%
  • Of all early stage entrepreneurs, 80% consider themselves just starting out, which would seem to indicate that more women than ever before are making the leap to becoming entrepreneurs.

Table 1: Characteristics of Female Entrepreneurs in the UAE in 2011

Knows someone who started a business in the past 2 years
Expected Job Growth of Established Business
Employed by others in Full-time work
Full-time Homemaker
Stage of Activity as Nascent Entrepreneurs
Stage of Activity as Baby Entrepreneurs
Informal Investors in the Last 3 Years

I have great hope that increasing numbers of young, middle-aged and even older women in the UAE will become entrepreneurs in the next few years - as an increase in work experience and larger professional networks allow them to more easily recognize and exploit opportunities. Whether through home based businesses or larger ventures the future for women entrepreneurs seems very positive indeed!