J. Serv. Sci. & Management. 2008, 1, 51-65
Published Online June 2008 in SciRes (www.SRPublishing.org/journal/jssm)
Copyright © 2008 SciRes JSSM
Reverse Logistics Operation Management Based on
Virtual Enterprises and Complaint Service Management
Guo-Jun Ji
School of Management, Xiamen University, Xiamen Fujian, 361005, China
Based on analyzing the difficulties of reverse logistics operation management and discussed the new environment as
the economic society developing continuously and discussing the feasibility of virtual enterprise, an operation man-
agement mode for reverse logistics based on virtual enterprise is presented in this paper. By analyzing the relation-
ships between complaint service management and reverse logistics, the complaint service management (CSM) is con-
sidered in reverse logistics, we take into consideration the process computing of CSM by combing the computer tech-
nology, the communication technology and the information technology. Using by the computer telephone integration
technology, an integration multi-channels collection can be designed; the evaluation of complaint and production is
supported by intelligent decision support system; considering the different disposal countermeasures, the CSM process-
ing system is determined to implement corresponding disposal which reflects the utility of CSM. The organization
framework, the operational process, the dynamic durative of virtual enterprise, those are expounded in detail. By using
Fuzzy AHP technique, the hierarchical and the multi-criteria decision making problems for virtual enterprise are con-
sidered and the optimized selection is presented.
Keywords: Reverse logistics, Virtual enterprise, Complaint service management, Operation management, Fuzzy AHP
1. Introduction
Reverse logistics (RL) is a new logistics form which from
the customers or distributors to the manufacturers is con-
trary with the traditional logistics. Concretely speaking,
because some productions lost the obvious use value such
as the packaging, or lost the function such as the spoiled
products, or are difficult to sale in the general market
such as the overstocks, or must be returned for some rea-
sons, such as the cars with disfigurement, they have to
flow reversely from the downstream to the upstream in
supply chain. Reverse logistics management is the proc-
ess of planning, implementing, and controlling RL activi-
The rapid development of RL is along with the in-
creased research both in practice and the theory. Some
literatures have provided some feasible solving methods
mainly reflected as follows: (1) Operational management
meaning. Literatures represented the impact factors such
as determined automated pipeline, inventory and order-
based production control system [36]; cost or time [33];
product life cycle [4] etc. (2) Operational model. The
main works involved return models, network structures,
inventory management, information technologies etc. In
return aspect, such as compared with OEM takeback,
Pooled takeback and third party takeback [28]; third-party
reverse logistics providers selection and evaluation [15];
a contractor of fourth-party logistics [5] etc., As far as
network structures, such as network design principles
[20]; the product return network structure [19]; the strate-
gic-tactic-operational decisions framework [19]; the hier-
archical model of RL network design [27]; the mix inte-
ger linear program applied in reverse network [30]; em-
pirical study [21] etc., To inventory management, the key
work centralized in optimal methods, such as optimal
control model based on double warehouses [8]; newsboy
problem [12]; average cost approach [12]; Lagrange func-
tion [8] and so on. For information technology, most of
work reflected the definite role in RL, such as the supe-
rior performance through focused resource commitments
to information technology [22]; supply chain information
system [17]; material recovery and environmental impact
through a Decision Support System [24]. And, other
works are represented in forecast [11]; design of reverse
distribution networks [32]; disassembly and reassembly
[29] etc. In fact, RL has become one of important strategy
for enterprises and even countries to seizure the global
plateau. With the industrial ecology issues are extensive
popularity among the fields of society, government and
industry etc., such as 3R (reducing, reusing and recycling)
strategies, cost-saving ecological ideas and plan, green
production and so on. On the other hand, the leading ac-
tors in today’s markets have transformed from sellers to
buyers, whether or not meet customers’ individuation
demands become an important factor to show enterprises’
talents in the competitive environment. The information
asymmetry between enterprises and customers, the com-
52 Guo-Jun Ji
Copyright © 2008 SciRes JSSM
plexity in the business environment, the diversity of cus-
tomers’ demands and so on, all indicate that customer
complaint is unavoidable [1]. Based on the modern or-
ganizational behavior theory, the viewpoint of complaint
reflects that an enterprise should admit customer com-
plaint, even more advocates it. Customer complaint helps
an enterprise win the customer again and provides with
the change to improve product [10] Therefore, enterprises
in supply chain must take active manners to treat cus-
tomer complaint and manage it effectively. The complaint
information such as the returned product from consumer
is portion of RL activities; at the same time, complaint
service management (CSM) in a supply chain needs to be
analyzed. From the strategic view, CSM is the crucial
composing of RL strategy and an effective approach of
reverse information, such as, CSM can help organization
build the customer loyalty and find the new value-added;
an enterprise via successful managing complaint, it can
improve its customer satisfaction degree, retain the old
customers and allure the new customers; an enterprise via
analyzing the customer complaint, it can find out its cus-
tomer preference, so make for updating or developing
product; the return product attached complaint informa-
tion is just core activity in RL etc. Nowadays the com-
puter technology, the communication technology and the
information technology have been active and progressing
aggressively. Those would give CSM important stimulus
and prompting to perform more efficiently and effectively.
Under the supply chain circumstance, based on online
complaint management as well as auctions to sell refur-
bished or old parts are discussed by Rainer Alt (2000)
[25]. If the partial order does not deliver on time, it is im-
portant to get the system to notify System Manager such
that KiMs can initiate the action instead of customer fil-
ing a complaint [23]. The service provider’s reaction can
either reinforce a strong customer relationship, or change
a smilingly minor complaint into a major incident. The
visibility concept into the domain of mobile information
systems in a supply chain, it can offer when incorporated
into business customer solutions and solves company re-
lated to certain complaint management problems [31].
Aspects of Social Dialogue, freedom of association and
complaint management are clearly separated as distinct
issues by another enterprise representative who funda-
mentally distances himself from the task of forcing union
participation through the companies: As an enterprise
representative, one did not want to assume a mediating
role for unions at suppliers’, representation being the task
of the unions themselves [2]. In fact, personal relation-
ships play a fundamental role in business relations, in
which technical aspects of communication prevail on
emotional ones [3]. From those literatures’ results, we can
see the main RL activities driven by the coercive condi-
tions or enterprise’ sustaining objectives. From the cus-
tomer’s behavior, specially, CSM applied in RL rarely
and combing the computer technology to managing com-
plaint is unperceived.
RL operation management is restricted by the cost, the
practice, the human resource and uncertainties in market
etc. Considering the environmental consciousness and the
policy impact, the outsourcing is the better selection for
enterprises driven by economic profit. In order to make
full use of the third provider services’ advantage, a virtual
enterprise (VE) fashion will be most appropriate. The
concept of VE was proposed by Kenneth Preiss et al.
(1991) [14]. The way of only depending on a single en-
terprise to respond rapidly to changing market opportuni-
ties and intensely global competition have been inappli-
cable. The key technique determined by utilizing agile
manufacturing practices is based on VE. With the urgent
demand of implementing, it is significant to find an effec-
tive operation management mode for RL. From presented
works, we can see the main RL operation was presided
over enterprise’s oneself or cooperation fashion or third
party logistics supplier, CSM applied in RL rarely and
combing the computer. How to consider the VE model in
RL operation, it is significance. Therefore, we represent
an operation management mode based on VEs.
This paper organization is as follows: In section 2, the
relationships between complaint service management and
RL are analyzed, the complaint service management in
RL is probed into; In section 3, we analyze primarily the
difficulties of RL and the characters of VE, finding the
advantages of integrating; In section 4, we discuss the
framework of VE for RL, and provide an operation proc-
ess, and the evaluation of VEs for RL operation is based
on the firms’ multi-criteria which are qualitative or quan-
titative is presented in section 5. Finally, a numerical ex-
ample is reflected our conclusions.
2. CSM and RL
2.1. CSM is an important reason of engendered
As a whole, RL can be classified by return and reclaim in
a supply chain. Return is “push” logistics produced by all
distributors or end customers; and reclaim driven by
manufacturers is called “pull” logistics [17]. “Push” lo-
gistics mostly involves reverse flowed products and in-
formation; customer complaint is just aim at the product
information feedback except the government policy. One
of causes for RL engendering is determined by fashion of
an enterprise takes cognizance of complaint. If an enter-
prise is attention to the customer complaint information,
throw into CSM, it will clean off obstacles of the return
flow of product or information, whereas, if an enterprise
disregards the customer complaint, RL service will be
wave aside. In fact, any complaint may trigger reverse
activities in a supply chain. When analyzing the customer
complaint information professionally, some bugs in prod-
uct designing or production processes could be find out,
Reverse Logistics Operation Management Based on Virtual Enterprises 53
and Complaint Service Management
Copyright © 2008 SciRes JSSM
enterprises must recall those products initiatively, i.e., re-
sults in the “pull” RL. It is obvious that CSM is an impor-
tant reason for engendering RL, as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1. The fashion of “push” and “pull” RL
2.2. CSM is the crucial portion of RL manage-
Complaint information of customers is the feedback in-
formation, as well as products; those information and
products flow conversely are just all RL activities. The
drive force to implement CSM comes from customer, that
because if considering the customers as the point of ori-
gin of RL, the enterprises act can be regarded as the
“transfer” or terminal. Based on sufficient communication
with customers, enterprises collect the external complaint
information to track investigation and integrating analysis;
different departments share information at the same time,
such as client data, product status, processing flow etc.
From logistics management, RL activities are organ-
ized according to CSM, those activities include: Reuse-
where packaging is reused or a product is returned to pol-
ish for resale to another customer; Repair/repackage-
where a moderate magnitude of repairs and/or repackag-
ing will allow the product to be reused; Return to sup-
plier-if the product was purchased from a supplier and is
returnable, or materials from return disassembled product;
Resell-where the product is resold in a secondary market
“as is.” Some logistics companies have found a niche in
matching sellers with buyers in secondary markets and
say that there is a market for virtually anything; Recycle-
where the product is broken down and “mined” for com-
ponents that can be reused or resold; Renew-where a used
product’s utility is restored by replacing worn parts or
remanufacturing in some manner, such that the product
can reuse; Harmless disposal-where the unworthiness
item is sent to a landfill, which can be fired with high
temperature or buried. There is a far more expensive
choice than most organizations operation, e.g., transporta-
tion costs, disposal facilities and IT cost etc. When pay-
ment for goods or compensation has happened between
enterprises and customers, the content of CSM involve
financial management committed in RL. In fact, CSM
will help enterprises to implement RL operation exactly
2.3. CSM objective is based on customer satisfac-
CSM is aim to improve customer satisfactory degree, this
is not contradiction to the objective of the enterprises’
economic benefit in implementing RL. If enterprises want
to win customers, customers enjoyable is necessary, there
is need to provide the better service after purchased. That
is to say, RL strategy is of an important approach to meet
customer demand involving repair, replacing etc. To de-
velop CSM, enterprises can implement RL management
to reclaim actively the spoiled products in customers or
overstock in downstream distributors, these ways will be
propitious to improve the relationships with downstream
actors as distributors and customers, and then increase
satisfaction degree availably. With satisfaction degree
improving, a good brand will prevail widely, after then
higher market share and production profit will be re-
ceived. On the other hand, reproducing for spoiled, re-
building for disused etc., form which enterprises can ex-
cavate more potential value.
Figure 2. CSM of RL in a supply chain
Evaluation Processing
Collection EvaluationDisposal
Customer satisfac-
Economic benefit
(the point of
Reverse Activities
54 Guo-Jun Ji
Copyright © 2008 SciRes JSSM
Figure 3. The process of CSM
2.4. Process management of CSM
The different emergence patterns of RL in a supply chain
affect the application of CSM in RL, which can be split
into three aspects: in manufacturing, in distribution, in
use, see Figure 2 shows.
As shown in Figure 2, we consider CSM of RL in
manufacturing as an example. CSM of RL in manufactur-
ing activities refers to raw material surplus, quality- con-
trol returns and production leftovers etc. Considering a
supplier as an “enterprise”, a manufacturer then means
the a “customer”, there maybe some complaints form the
manufacturer follows materials that supplier supplied,
such as quality, fashion etc., so the supplier must respond
to those matters quickly in order to meet customer de-
mand. CSM of RL is one of the important items in RL
strategy, via implementing process achieves three func-
tions: collection, evaluation and disposal, see Figure 3
2.4.1. Collection
Complaint Collected: To capturing complaint information,
enterprises need to lower “the threshold” to invite the
voice of complaint. Some inspirit methods can be used,
such as the initiative consultation, using by gifts to en-
courage complaint etc; to customers, there are not any
proper routes to express complaint, so enterprises should
open the relative channels, such as Internet, poster, phone
or fax, E-mail etc. To unwillingness expression complaint
customers, enterprises must launch some trigger strategies
initiatively to search for the customer’s dissatisfaction.
The familiar forms are questionnaire, consultation, visit,
promotion etc.
Product Return: based on the customer complaint in-
formation, enterprises can collect the returned product
that dispersed in customers’ hands. Those activities in-
clude collection, transport, and storage etc.
A convenient channel is very important to improve the
response service to RL. Traditionally, the complaint
channels that enterprises provide to customers are tele-
phone, letter, fax, etc; nowadays, the web language, wire-
less information technology are new emerging field.
These techniques all have their own advantages. To
maximize the customer satisfaction, the integrated multi-
channel service model should be a good choice. Before
completely integration of the channels, let us consider a
computer integration technique, the Computer Telephone
Integration system called CTI for short. Generally speak-
ing, the phonetic system is separate from a computer net-
work system, but CTI technique can integrate the two
functions together [35]. A typical service process of CTI
is represented in Figure 4.
Figure 4. The CTI service process
Customer-call-organization switch equipment. The
switch equipment receives the key request service num-
ber via Automatic Number Identification (ANI) and Di-
aled Number Identification Service (DNIS).
If Interactive Voice Response (IVR) equipment is
available, the switch equipment will memorize the key-
press information of customers automatically.
The switch equipment can transfer the numbers and
key-press information from step and step to the
CTI agency servers.
The information format is transformed in the agency
servers, then the information is sent to the CTI applica-
tion servers.
According to the input parameters, the CTI application
servers will implement relevant logical operations, for
example, search for the best responder in the database.
Return the search result (the best responder) to the CTI
Supplier Customer
CSM of RL CSM of
CSM of RL in use
Reimbursement guarantees
Warranty returns
Service returns
CSM of RL in manufacturing
Raw material surplus
Quality-control returns
Production leftovers
CSM of RL in distribution
Product recalls
Commercial returns
Stock adjustments
Functional returns
③⑦ ⑨
Reverse Logistics Operation Management Based on Virtual Enterprises 55
and Complaint Service Management
Copyright © 2008 SciRes JSSM
agent servers.
The CTI agent servers send the information of the best
responder to the switch equipment.
The communication is turned into the best responder
by the switch equipment.
After finished the communication, the switch equip-
ment send the end-of-exchange signal to the CTI agent
The success-of-exchange signal is transmitted from the
CTI agent servers to the CTI application servers.
The CTI application servers transmit the data
information to the terminal responder, such as pop-
upping the calling prompt automatically, calling the
videotext of customers, and so on.
The all related complaint information is recorded in
the CSM database and repository.
We can design an integrated multi-channels collection
routeway based on the CTI technique. The CTI service
process is extended as shown in Figure 5.
The details of every process in the Figure 5 above are
similar as the CTI service process; so there are not re-
peated expatiations. The complaint information via the
integrated multi-channels in CSM could achieve the CSM
processing system which will be represented in detail in
the next part.
2.4.2. Evaluation
Production Inspection/Sort In this phase, the returned
products are being sorted based on their current quality,
spoilage degree, etc., after that it is the enterprise’s turns
to determine the reuse manner of the products and then
classify them. Those products can be divided into no
spoilage, partial spoilage, or complete spoilage and so on.
(i) No spoilage: If returned products keep in the good
state, then can often be reused directly by using cleaning
or maintaining easily.
(ii) Partial spoilage: If returned products have been
damaged partly, and need to be disassembled, inspected
or tested, and repaired or replaced by parts, in this way
their quality may be lowered. Usually, the products may
be delivered to customers, or be sold at a discount in the
secondary market.
(iii) Complete spoilage: If returned products are dam-
aged or deteriorated badly, though they may include valu-
able components, but that can be reused restrictedly. So
enterprises just implement the relative operation activities,
such as recycle, remanufacture or harmless process etc.
Complaint Classification Customer complaints can re-
flect different information according to the diversities of
customer preference, the types of products etc. Therefore,
enterprises need to apply different processing techniques;
it is necessary to classify the complaint information firstly.
Based on the customer response, the complaint informa-
tion is split up into three levels. Level I: Customers feel
the complaint is too inappreciable and do not want to un-
fold, such information is obtained often through ques-
Level II: Customers have some tempered complaint or
appeal, which they want to make enterprises known. The
integrated multi-channels collection route in CSM could
be their right choices.
Level III: The customers are with a strong fashion or con-
flict. When appeal to enterprises they may take violent
attitudes and insist on own viewpoints all along.
Evaluated Conclusion The integration evaluation con-
clusions are determined by the comparison of customer
Figure 5. The integrated multi-channels collection route in CSM
CTI servers
Fax servers
E-mail servers
Web servers
Wireless infor-
mation comput-
Fax automatic identifi-
cation system
OCR scanning identifi-
cation system
routing service
Terminal re-
sponder 1
Terminal re-
sponder 2
Terminal re-
sponder N
Switches Multi-channels queue
IP telephone, Web communication
Wireless information
56 Guo-Jun Ji
Copyright © 2008 SciRes JSSM
complaint and product quality; it is the key gist for CSM
of RL. The different customers have the different apper-
ceptions of product and service utility. It is necessary for
enterprises to discern the customer reaction based on the
product spoilage degree, or the spoilage degrees based on
the customer complaint levels in order to reply with the
corresponding disposal countermeasure.
In modern times, the intelligent system is extensive ap-
plied to help decision-making increasingly. The intelli-
gent “experts” based on the database and data-storage can
respond customer complaint quickly. With the advance of
complaint level, in order to respond customer complaint
exactly, the database and data-storage should integrate
more comprehensive information about customers and
products. Intelligent decision support system (IDSS) is
integration of artificial intelligence (AI) and decision sup-
port system (DSS). By using expert system (ES) tech-
nique, we can make the traditional DSS more humanized
and flexible [13] [34]. The framework of IDSS consists
of three subsystems, inlaid languages system (LS), prob-
lems processing system (PPS) and knowledge manage-
ment system (KMS), namely 3S system. Figure 6 presents
the framework of IDSS model. In practice, enterprises
may setup an expert team together with IDSS to evaluate
the relative complaint. At the same time, utilizing “the
virtual expert team” based on Web (knowledge database)
is good fashion.
There are some main advantages of IDSS: first, it is the
synthesis of AI techniques, mathematics techniques and
decision-making approaches, i.e., the integration of
knowledge consequences and mathematics calculations to
provide strong support to decision-making; second, it is
based on the thoughts of ES or KMS (Knowledge Man-
agement System) to implement uniform preparation, uni-
form management, uniform control etc.; third, it makes
full use of experts’ knowledge, experience, judgment and
decision-making cases. Consequently, the evaluation
processing in CSM of RL will be supported by IDSS ef-
2.4.3. Disposal
Disposal countermeasures
According to abovementioned, the disposal countermea-
sures of CSM in RL are presented in Table 1.
Utility of CSM
Customers’ responses to the spoiled product show the ex-
pectation of the purchased products, so the utility of CSM
in RL reflecting the customer expectation can be meas-
ured by two factors, i.e., the product spoilage degree and
the customer complaint level. The more serious complaint
means the higher customer’s expectation, here the utility
of CSM in RL will be greater. The lower expectation of
customer may be easy to satisfy, so the utility of CSM
will not be great any more. It is obvious that the utility of
CSM in enterprises have inverse ratio with the spoilage
degree, and direct ratio with the complaint level.
Suppose that
denotes the return relative index in RL,
such as spoilage degree, return ratio etc., and
the customer complaint level.
is the utility of CSM,
=. Let us see the slanting diagonal in Ta-
ble 1, if just considering spoilage degree, the value of
equal or approach 1 in the conditions of No spoilage-
Complaint on Level I, Partial spoilage-Complaint on
Level II, Complete spoilage-Complaint on Level III.
These show the well-balanced utility of CSM in RL.
Compartmentalize the table into two parts according to
this diagonal, the value is 1>
in the top right. Here
customers have high product expectation; CSM in RL is
significant and implies a great utility. In the lower left of
the diagonal, 1
means the low customer expectation.
To improve the utility of CSM and increase the customer
satisfaction, enterprises should take into more considera-
tion the product design and marketing.
The integrated
multi-channels col-
lection routeway
Artificial intelligence
Expert system
Language system
Problem processing sys-
tem (PPS)
Complaint classifi-
ure6.The framework of IDSS model
Knowledge management
system (KMS)
Reverse Logistics Operation Management Based on Virtual Enterprises 57
and Complaint Service Management
Copyright © 2008 SciRes JSSM
Table 1. The disposal countermeasures of CSM in RL
laint on Level I Com
laint on Level IICom
laint on Level III
No spoilage Explain carefully;
Good service
Replace by new products;
Resell the returned ones at a dis-
count or in a secondary market
Partial spoilage
Reclaim the products in
lower price; Sales promotion;
Resell the return ones at a
discount or in a secondary
market after being repaired
Give the returned ones
back to the customers af-
ter being repaired
Replace by new products;
Resell the returned ones at a dis-
count or in a secondary market
after being repaired
Reclaim the products free;
Sales promotion
Recycle, remanufacture, or
dispose the returned ones
Replace by inferior prod-
Recycle, remanufacture,
or dispose the returned
ones harmlessly
Replace by new products; Resell
the returned ones at a discount or
in a secondary market after being
recycling, remanufacturing, or
harmless disposal; A compensa-
tion perhaps
The CSM in RL processing system
By receiving the complaint information and inspecting
the products, the experts would give a reasonable disposal
countermeasure. When the level of customer complaint is
lower and the product spoilage is not bad, the feedback
can be disposed in the place of distributors, such as
wholesalers and retailers. Especially, the retailers must k-
eep in touch with the customers directly, which are the
chief and basic nodes for CSM in RL. For the complaint
on Level I, the good customer service is necessary, such
as the feasible propaganda in the right time. To reply the
customer complaint on Level II and Level III, a lot of dif-
ferent means should be chosen based on the product
status, for instance recycle the products at a discount, re-
placed by new products, and so on. Then the returned
products can be resold in a secondary market after being
Figure 7. The CSM processing system
R&D database Complaint database
Æ Reuse
Æ Repair
Æ Return
Æ Resell
Æ Junk
Æ Recycle
Æ Renew
Æ Service
Æ Collection
Æ Replacing
Evaluation Complaint
R&D Inspection
Product bug
58 Guo-Jun Ji
Copyright © 2008 SciRes JSSM
If the products are broken or even damaged badly, they
should be transported to the manufacturers directly. The
professional processing of manufacturers is significant
for customer satisfaction. In a word, there is correspond-
ing process for CSM processing system in RL as follows
in Figure 7 [30].
The CSM processing system in allusion to different
disposal countermeasures is supported by the embedded
information system; the real-time information exchange
helps to provide the decision-making with support and
improve the manufacture technique. Furthermore, the
functions of the CSM processing system are controlled
and supervised by related function modules, such as cost
con trol, transport support, channel management, market-
ing, production operation etc., to help enterprises con-
struct the resources economized and harmonious system
3. The VE and RL Operation Management
3.1. Existing Barriers of RL Operation Manage-
RL operation management is a bran-new field for the
modern enterprise, which their objectives of reducing risk
and pursuing profit is conflicted by a great many of un-
certainties and the large investment risks at the beginning.
Comparing with the tradition logistics, RL is more com-
plex and uncertain. The uncertainties of RL involve four
characteristics mainly as follows:
The uncertain time: different people favoritism often
result in products having different lifecycle, such that RL
happening time is difficult to speculate.The uncertain
place: The customers distribute all over the world, that
means RL happening place is possible everywhere.
The uncertain reason: The reasons of RL is involved in
multi-factors, such as changing market, product quality,
usage method etc., which resulting in uncertainty.
The uncertain disposal: The numerous reasons of RL
done bring on different measures to dispose. The corre-
sponding disposal can not be identified until inspecting.
Consequently, the flexibility and agility of RL opera-
tion management must be taken more attention, and we
need analyze the characteristics of uncertainties in time,
place, reason and disposal.
For most enterprises, specially the RL operation based
on themselves, so RL operation management needs to in-
vest the large of money and resource, influence the enter-
prises in every ways, e.g. the planning is adjusted just for
the potential reverse logistics; a new network need to de-
sign; the inventory management is impacted by the bidi-
rectional flow; it must be supported by increasing the spe-
cial equipment and training employee, etc. Furthermore,
the economic benefits from RL hiding in total profit can
not display obviously in account, which enlarges the in-
vestment risk for an enterprise. In addition, RL theory
and application that is still in a developing process and
few successful cases for references are also the barriers.
3.2. The characteristics of a VE
To overcome the abovementioned barriers, we analyze
some important characteristics in a VE as follows:
Virtual function: The theory of core competency fig-
ures that an enterprise is a set of resources and capabili-
ties; the heterogeneous resources and the special capabili-
ties are the key strengths, called the core competencies
differentiating it from other enterprises. A VE is a func-
tion aggregation; the subdivided functions are assigned to
several independent enterprises according to their particu-
lar competencies.
Virtual organization: Nowadays, the rapid development
of information technology and the computer technology
bring an opportunity for the organizing mode of modern
enterprise. The VE is also a dynamic alliance, made up of
independent enterprises, which can be self-organization.
They may locate in the world everywhere and communi-
cate with each other via Internet and Intranet, i.e. it is a
virtual organization without fixed place.
Virtual region: The advancement of science and tech-
nology also are impelling the development of transporta-
tion industries; the information systems applied in model
logistics result in physical distribution among enterprises
more effective and efficient, i.e., the distance is not the
barrier any longer; the goods can flow among partner en-
terprises at any moment.
3.3. The advantages of RL operation manageme-
nt based on a VE
In today’s competitive market, the enterprises should ad-
just their strategies, organization structures, and operation
management, i.e., change from the traditional competition
strategy to the value-renovation strategy based on coop-
eration – from the pyramidal organization structure to the
flat organization structure forming a dynamic network,
from the close-operation management that considers
competition in cost and quality, to the open-operation
management that considers competition in time and speed.
VE, a dynamic alliance consisting of several quick (or
agile) independent enterprises quickly, is triggered by
sudden market opportunities in order to overcome the un-
certainties of the RL, reducing cost and increasing profit
by utilizing the core resources of partner enterprises. The
advantages of RL operation management based on a VE
are focused on four aspects:
Rapid response: RL is often paroxysmal. When the af-
fairs beyond the planning take place, RL management
play the role of remedy (e.g. the cars recalled for disfig-
Reverse Logistics Operation Management Based on Virtual Enterprises 59
and Complaint Service Management
Copyright © 2008 SciRes JSSM
urement); sometimes the happening is foreseeable but it is
hard to know the exact time and clear place (e.g. the elec-
tronic products of end-of-life). The outstanding advan-
tage of VE is to respond the market changing rapidly, that
will endow operation with agility. Based on VE obviating
mass preparation, the operation management of RL can
integrate the particular resources of partner enterprises
together at once to cope with the changing environment,
by improving the competition.
Flexibility: The flexibility motivation comes from two
aspects: the uncertainties of RL require multiform dis-
posal; for most enterprises, RL from begin to end is just a
short-term process, so the flexibility and efficiency are
regarded as the key factors. RL will benefit from the
flexibility attribute of a VE. The organization structure
formed by some independent enterprises provides more
options of disposal. Besides we notice that a VE is from
configuration to disbandment along with the appearance
and disappearance of market opportunity. The driven-
market feature will suit for the flexible operation of RL.
Reducing cost: Generally speaking, RL is often driven
by legislation constraint and environmental responsibility.
Nevertheless the enterprise with the aim at profit pays
more attention to the direct or indirect economic benefits.
The operation management mode based on a VE is an ef-
fective approach to reduce the RL cost, in respect that en-
terprises make use of the external strength to cut down
cost by reason of homologous resource advantage.
Sharing risk: RL is also a large challenge for enter-
prises with respect to the long-term operation of tradi-
tional logistics. It induces several risks, e.g. the assets
proprietary risk. In contrast with the high risk of single e
nterprise, the subdivided operation can share risk among
partner enterprises. It has been noticed to elude the exter
nal manage risk resulting from many enterprises combi-
4. RL Operation Management Based on AVE
4.1. The framework of organization
The difficulties of RL management are enlarged by lots
of partners and their flexibility. Thus a “leader enterprise
or organization” is necessary to administer the VE,
namely the leader enterprise. The sponsor manufacturer
always plays the role of core enterprise, e.g., the large-
scale enterprise or the fourth-party service provider is
also an appropriate option [6]. Comparing with the tradi-
tional organization structure, the VE organized by two
layers (core enterprises and non-core enterprises) is flat,
allowing interaction of partners. The flat structure is easy
to respond the changing market, as well as to eliminate
the information distortion effectively.
There are three main reverse logistic functions: collec-
tion, inspection/sort, and reprocessing. Collection refers
to bringing the products from the customer to a point of
recovery, including return, transportation, and storage etc.
At this point the products are inspected, i.e. their quality
is assessed and a decision is made on the options of dis-
posal, then the products are sorted. The disposal of re-
processing includes the following options: direct reuse,
repair, recycling, remanufacturing and harmless disposal.
The type of recovery can be separated between product
recovery, component recovery, material recovery and en-
ergy recovery etc. The abovementioned functions are nec-
essary for RL. Based on the VE operation, subdividing
the functions to several independent enterprises by inte-
grating their core competencies is just the advantage we
hope seek, e.g., lowering cost, evading risk, etc. There-
fore, the organization frame of RL operation management
based on a VE can presented, as shown in Figure 8.
4.2. The process of operation management
Table 2 depicts the process of RL operation management
based on a VE, which follows four phases:
Identifying opportunity: In order to utilizing the rapid
response attribution of a VE with respect to the uncertain-
ties of RL, enterprises have to track the trends of market
development timely. A mass of collected data using for
forecasting should be from enterprises, customers, indus-
tries, markets, legislation and so on. The useful informa-
tion will be evaluated relative to reliability, worthiness,
Organization configuration: Based on abovementioned,
a VE means the integration of the core competencies for
participating in enterprises. Therefore identifying the core
competency, evaluating the alternative enterprises and
estimating the entire performance are crucial, that directly
influence the operation efficiency of RL. The core com-
petencies concerning RL reflect return channels, logistics
capabilities, R & D technology, manufacture arts and
crafts, assets proprietary etc., and are determined by the
relevant decision support system (DSS). Information sys-
tem and the logistics network are necessary absolutely to
support the VE.
Organization operation: The organization form of a VE
is at the expense of coordination among partners. It im-
plies that the excellent organization management is the
precondition of the VE operation. The operation man-
agement is extended to the application of coordination
mechanism, dynamic contract by stages, risk identifica-
tion and control etc. As the dynamic developing, examine
the running status continuously, and improve the process
according to the feedback.
Organization disbandment: The disbandment of a VE
takes place after the disappearance of market opportunity.
There is the assets liquidation among partner enterprises.
60 Guo-Jun Ji
Copyright © 2008 SciRes JSSM
Figure 8. The organization framework of a VE for R
Table 2. The operation management mode of RL
Opportunity identifying
9 information collection
9 data mining
9 analysis and estimate
Organization co nfiguration
9 the core competency identifying
9 evaluating and selecting partners
9 the information system and RL network
9 estimating the holistic performance
Organization operation
9 coordination mechanism
9 dynamic contract
9 risk identification and control
9 monitor system and improvement
Organization disbandment
9 the assets liquidation
9 knowledge management
The knowledge management runs through the whole op-
eration management of the VE.
4.3The dynamic durative of a VE
It is easy to see, depending on a VE, that there is every
chance of RL in developing market. However, consider-
ing RL exist in enterprises at all times, the operation man-
agement based on the VE do not end after disbandment.
Contrarily, it is the beginning of the new VE. Facing the
uninterrupted opportunities the independent enterprises
broke from one VE, can then take part in another dy-
namic alliance immediately. In fact, the VE is that or-
ganization of the older members left and the newer mem-
bers’ enter. So the VE for RL is the dynamic durative
process organization from the phase of opportunity iden-
tifying to the phase of organization disbandment as
shown in Figure 9:
4.4. The compare with the traditional mode
In contrast with the traditional logistics management, the
operation management of RL based on a VE is improved
in agility, flexibility, lowering cost and sharing risk as
abovementioned. The details of the compared conclusions
are listed in Table 3.
5. Evaluation Method and Process
5.1. Evaluation method and process
configuration Enterprise
Non-core enter-
Non-core enter-
Non-core enter-
Non-core enter-
Core enter-
Collection Inspect/
Repair Recycling Remanu-
Opportunity identifying
Organization operation
Organization disbandment
Organization configuration
Virtual enterprise
ew Virtual enterprise
irtual enterprise
New Virtual enterprise
irtual enterprise
Figure 9. The dynamic durative of a VE for RL
eration m ana
Reverse Logistics Operation Management Based on Virtual Enterprises 61
and Complaint Service Management
Copyright © 2008 SciRes JSSM
The evaluation of a VE for RL operation is based on the
firms’ multi-criteria which are qualitative or quantitative.
AHP is often used in such problems [36]. But, the unbal-
anced estimations, unconsidered the uncertainty and risk,
the subjective judgment error etc., those show the tech-
nique exists some disadvantages. Based on those reasons,
we integrate the concept of fuzzy set theory with the AHP
to overcome some above disadvantages in our proposed
model [7]. Fuzzy AHP approach is applied in some prac-
tical problems widely. In order to facilitate comparison,
all elements of the judgment matrix and weight vectors
are represented by the triangular fuzzy values. The VE
for RL selection process are as follows:
(1)Determine alternative firms and construct the evalu-
ating hierarchical structure. RL first choose the alterna-
tive VEs from those which can bear reverse activities,
based on the basic requirements, such as Quality Certifi-
cated. Then, the hierarchical structure is constructed by
the criteria of SCOR model and the chain which is linked
by the product flow, see Figure 10, the alternative VEs
are considered as similar types on the similar phase. The
SCOR (Supply-Chain Operations Reference-model) is a
process reference model that has been developed and en-
dorsed by the Supply-Chain Council as the cross-industry
standard diagnostic tool for supply-chain management.
SCOR enables users to address, improve, and communi-
cate supply-chain management practices within and be-
tween all interested parties. SCOR is a management tool.
It is a process reference model for supply-chain manage-
ment, spanning from the supplier's supplier to the cus-
tomer's customer. The SCOR-model has been developed
to describe the business activities associated with all
phases of satisfying a customer's demand. By describing
supply chains using process building blocks, the Model
can be used to describe supply chains that are very simple
or very complex using a common set of definitions. As a
result, disparate industries can be linked to describe the
depth and breadth of virtually any supply chain.
Considering that the full chain or part of supply chain
can be selected by VEs, and many firms are involved in
the scope and may operate different industries. So, there
is more diversity among those, and SCOR model adapt to
the cross-functional framework, the metrics of Levelof
SCOR model as the criteria and sub-criteria of alternative
will be referenced ,see Table 4.
These 13 sub-criteria can be categorized into the quali-
tative criteria and the quantitative criteria. Unmeasured
indirectly through firms’ historical data are called as the
qualitative criteria. And measured directly are called as
the quantitative criteria. All values are listed in Table 5.
The quantitative criteria can be found from the historical
data, and the qualitative criteria can be evaluated by ex-
perts and experiential managers, based the firm’s correla-
tive data and their experience, which can decrease the
subjective errors.
(2)Evaluate the alternative VEs. Based on the defined
scope, the experts begin to evaluate those alternative
firms, based on the criteria of SCOR model. The quantita-
tive criteria can be gained by the VEs historical data and
the alte rnative degree measured by five scales from the
worst to t he best, here we use 1-9 triangular fuzzy num-
ber (from (1, 1, 3) to (7, 9, 9)) that is similar to Wu Lei
and Guojun Ji (2006) [16]. The qualitative criteria are ob-
tained by the experts evaluating values. To reducing the
experts’ subjec tive effect, the following approach is
adopted for the qualitative criteria. Suppose that there are
S experts to score on level i, ijts
% is a basic value
which Expert s scores VE
on level i about Sub-
criteria t (1, 2,,iN
L, N is the total number of levels
in the RL; 1, 2,,i
L, i
is the total number of
firms on the level i in RL; tQ, Q is the subscript set
of the qualitative criteria, then Q is the subscript set of
the quantitative criteria). The expert’s lingual descriptions
from the worst to the best are relevant to the fuzzy num-
ber from (1, 1, 3) to (7, 9, 9) using by five scales.
Let ,
(, )
ijtsijtsijts ijts
%,min( )
ijt ijts
, max( )
ijt ijts
, then the inte
grated fuzzy number is ,
(, )
% based
on the i
S experts’ evaluating result on level i.
(3)Evaluate the VEs relationship. The RL is con-
structed by selecting firms from VEs and the relationship
among the firms is evaluated. The basic values in step (2)
may be considered the average value of the VEs criteria,
and that the effect of the upstream and downstream to the
firms may be positive or negative. But the relationship
among the firms is not determinant factor to some per-
formance criteria. It happens that the double effect of per-
formance. In addition, the negative effects produced by
the relationship to the performance criteria can not reach
zero. Herein, these two situations need not discussed. The
relationship Coefficients are from 0 to 2 ranked by 9,
which are relevant to some sub-criteria from descending
by 100% to ascending by 100%. Assume that S experts
score the relationship among the firms, and let ikjs
r de-
notes that the relationship coefficient which expert
j on level i and let ijls
rdenotes that relationship coeffi-
cient which Expert
scores the relationship be tween
on level i and firm l on level 1i+. Therefore,
scores the relationship between firm k on level 1i
62 Guo-Jun Ji
Copyright © 2008 SciRes JSSM
Table 3. Differences between two modes in the process of RL
Process Traditional management VE
Identifying opportu-
Simple collection, forecasting and decision-
Special information collection, data mining
and evaluation; forecasting with precision;
quick response
Most activities in-house, a little even none
by outsourcing; large resources and money
invested; adjusting continually
Most activities by utilizing the third party;
lower investment for single enterprise; con-
structing virtual enterprise fast
Widely influence to the current process;
high risk; simple disposal
Cooperating with the partner enterprises; the
risk sharing between enterprises; more spe-
cial, flexible and agile
Hard to take full advantage of the resources
and upgrade the competence
The dynamic durative of virtual enterprise to
make use of the resources fully; well-
collaboration with other enterprises; accumu-
lating knowledge; mining knowledge
Figure 10. The hiberarchy of VEs selection in RL (Where Fij represents firm j on stage i in the supply network,
Fi1k represents firm k on stage i-1 in the supply network, Fi+1 represents firm l on stage i+1 in the
supply network)
Table 4. The criteria and sub-criteria from the metrics of Levelof SCOR model
Criteria and Code Sub-criteria and Code Criteria and CodeSub-criteria and Code
Delivery Reliabil-
Delivery Perform-
ance(C1); Fill Rates(C2);
Perfect Order Fulfill-
Cost of Goods Sold(C7);Total
Logistics Management (C8);
Value-added Employee Produc-
tivity(C9); Warranty/Return
Responsiveness and
Order Fulfillment Lead
Time (C4); Supply Chain
Response Time(C5); Pro-
duction Flexibility(C6)
Asset Management
Cash-to-cash Cycle Time(C11);
Inventory Day of Supply(C12);
Asset Turns(C13)
Table 5. The category of sub-criteria
Category Sub-criteria
Quantitative C2; C4; C5; C7; C8; C10; C11; C12
Qualitative C1; C3; C6; C9; C13
Exterior Correlated C1; C2; C3; C4; C5; C7; C8; C10; C11
Interior Correlated C6; C9; C12; C13
Virtual enterprises selection in reverse logistics
Fi1k Fij Fi+1l
Extending upstream
C3 C2 C1
Extending downstream
C5 C4
C9 C8 C7
C12 C11
Reverse Logistics Operation Management Based on Virtual Enterprises 63
and Complaint Service Management
Copyright © 2008 SciRes JSSM
by integrated S experts’ evaluations, the values are
, respectively.
(4)Integrate the basic value of the criteria of the firms
with relationship coefficients. Relationship coefficients
just effect on the exterior correlated criteria and not on
the interior correlated criteria. Let
denotes that the
subscript set of the exterior correlated criteria and let
denotes that the subscript set of the interior correlated cri-
teria. Relationship coefficients are measured the relation-
ship between the firm and its nearness firms, thus the up-
stream firm and the downstream firm both effect on it. To
integrating two relationship coefficients, the Integrated
Relationship Coefficients areikjlikj ijl
rrr=. On the
boundary of the defined supply chain, let 1
1i= and let 1
r= while iN
. The Integrated Sub-
criteria based on effect of the upstream and downstream
firms satisfy
(,, )
ijt ikjlijt ikjlijt ikjl
ikjlt ijt
LrMr UrtZ
Then Integrated Criteria are defined as follows:
ikjl ikjt
ikjl ikjt
ikjl ikjt
, respectively.
(5)Evaluate the fuzzy weight vector. The industrial ex-
perts evaluate the four criteria of the firms and the weight
of any levels, then the weighted vectors are obtained
(,, ,)
Wwwww=%% %% and 12
(, ,,)
Www w
%% %
L, respec-
(6)Synthesize the criteria and the weighted values, after
that select the optimal VEs. The total fuzzy score of
supply chains is expressed as follows:
xiikjlq iq
=⊗ ⊗
. The supply chain has
the greatest finial score is the best one using by compared
the finial score which is deduced by the following steps:
(,, )
consider that ()
lx xx
and ()
rx xx
=−− ( where
<< is the
degree of confidence), and define that ,
xl xr
then the finial score is calculated by
(1 )
xl xr
=+− (where
) is the risk
5.2. Numerical example
Considering a three-stage network of the electronic indus-
try is incorporated by two VEs (denoted by F11 and F12),
two manufactories (denoted by F21 and F22) and one re-
tailer. The VEs implement the reverse activities, and the
manufactories perform assembly line work to achieve the
finial products. The retailer sells these products. Accord-
ing to their historical data, our aim intends to evaluate
every VEs. Let 0.5
and 0.5
=, By using above-
mentioned processes, and the solution is presented in Ta-
ble 6.
Table 6. The final scores of Ves
chain No considering
the relationship Considering the
F11-F21-F3152.67244 57.22441
F11-F22-F3141.74084 56.32318
F12-F21-F3149.99745 50.00566
F12-F22-F3150.42136 48.44038
It is easy to see the best VEs that formed chain are
F11-F21-F31. At the same time, we can find that the
chain relationship effect on the order of finial scores, i.e.,
VEs should pay attention to the chain relations in course
of constructing the RL. In addition, VEs can comprehend
the important degree of every criterion in the different
industries by using the criteria weight evaluation, thus
performance can be improved efficiently. In the same
time, such technique can be used as a decision support
system in VEs. VEs can provide more consulting service
and realize the integrative optimization of RL.
6. Conclusions
In this paper, CSM was considered in RL. Based on the
computer telephone integration technology, an integration
multi-channels collection has be designed; the evaluation
of complaint and product is supported by intelligent deci-
sion support system; in accord with the different disposal
countermeasures, the CSM processing system was estab-
lished to implement corresponding disposal which re-
flects the utility of CSM. The operation management
mode of RL based on a VE was analyzed. The organiza-
tion structure, RL functions and the framework were dis-
cussed too. The process of operation management based
on a VE includes opportunity identifying, organization
configuration, organization operation and organization
64 Guo-Jun Ji
Copyright © 2008 SciRes JSSM
disbandment, in that the superiority of a VE in contrast
with traditional management is unveiled. The evaluation
of VEs for RL operation was based on the firms’ multi-
criteria which are qualitative or quantitative. By using
Fuzzy AHP technique, the hierarchical and the multi-
criteria decision making problems for VEs were consid-
ered and the optimized selection is presented. Our con-
clusions help to impel the development of RL in practice.
7. Acknowledgement
This work is supported by new century outstanding talent
plan in Fujian China. Thanks for Angappa "Guna" Gun-
asekaran, who are Professor and Chairperson, Depart-
ment of Decision and Information Sciences Charlton Col-
lege of Business, University of Massachusetts – Dart-
mouth, reviewed this paper.
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Guojun Ji is the Professor of Supply Chain Management at the Management School, Xiamen University, China. He
received a BSc in Mathematics in 1982 from Anhui Normal University, China; an MSc in System Engineering in 1993;
and a Ph. D in 1998 both from Southeast University, China. In 1999 he finished his postdoctoral work in Information
Systems from the University of Washington, Seattle, USA. His main area of research is the system engineering and
complexity systematic theory and information technology for logistics, transport and supply chain management. He has
published more than 170 articles on these topics in journals such as: IMA Math. Control and Information, Journal of
International Logistics and Trade, Mathematicae Applicae, IEEE Automatic Control, International Journal of Operation
Research, International Journal of Service Operations and Management etc. Email: jiking@xmu.edu.cn.
66 Guo-Jun Ji
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