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The objective of this research was to investigate the role of 3PL logistics function. To care out the research which should be a authentic and convincing, a careful planned research design and research preparation is undertaken. Blaxter et al., (2003) proposed that development of any research designing method has to begin with the designation of the fundamental research or problem definition the investigator is trying to address, interpreting that in research purpose and research finding, then moving towards related questions and the facts along with the data needed to provide the solution to answer those questions. After this the researcher needs to recognize what precise facts gathering method(s) would be most appropriate in addressing the current study based issues, and then analysing the data collected, finally the researcher has to complete the study conducted within the given time duration constraints and the resources that were available. (Clough and Nutbrown, 2003). Methodology is a term used as an approach or manner in which a problem was solved with appropriate solution(s) by doing this they is a possibility that the researcher has a scope of gaining new knowledge. In order for the researcher to reach his/her destination and coming up with the solution Saunders et al(2004) proposed a serialized set of steps or layers that the researcher has to follow known as Research Process Onion. These layers are divided into five different stages such as data collection methods, research philosophy or research hypothesis, research approach, research strategy and time duration. The reason for choosing the five layers was because they play a crucial role in managing research within the business.
3.2 Research Hypothesis
This research hypothesis focuses on the five layer approach of Saunders et al. (2004). In phrase one which is research philosophy speaks about knowledge awareness and development. The chosen method in research hypothesis comprises assumption considered and the level of thinking the research had in underpinning all those while carrying the research. According to Easterby-smith et al. (2003) it is essential for the researcher to choose the approach he/she has to undertake as this assists researcher in developing a design while towards the research. Hussey and Hussey (2004) stated that they could be different approaches that can be used by the researcher but he/she was approach the design while may have fewer constraints. There are three important aspects considered commonly known as paradigms which are positivism, interpretivism, and realism.
In the interpretivism approach explains about the personal experiences either by doing it or having noticed in the social circle or place they live in, and actively seek through empirical observation draw conclusions from that practical knowledge, in positivism approach the focus is shifted towards the basic fundamental facts and observations researches focus is to gain the intended knowledge Quantitative data are collected by means of methods like experiments and surveys in this approach. This is a structured method of approach that can analyse the data using mathematical and statistical system. But phenomenological approach the use of interviews and noting observations along with theories takes place. Qualitative data are collected in form conversations in texts or written word documented and research takes place in conversations and texts. It has been proposed by Easterby-smith et al (2003) that all these approaches are widely used techniques to gather data in conducting a research. Furthermore he suggested that while conducting research in positivist the researcher can use the similar approach to that of phenomenological and use collective quantitative data. The researcher can however make use of parallel or triangular techniques to collected important information similar to multiple methods to verify data with each different technique as a strategy (Saunders et al., 2004; Hussey and Hussey, 2004; Easterby-smith et al., 2003).
The present research stresses the importance of being able to understand how the researcher is trying to gather deep perception and stating them in simple participant's words. In interpretivism approach the researcher focus on individual theories studied while carrying on the research, this is more a hypothetical approach. Interpretivism philosophical approach is implemented in this research to give a better understanding of as how things real work and what goes behind every activity (Saunders et al, 2004). While questions were framed after collecting data from various sources based on the researched subject to give a subjective understanding that could make sense of individual actions, they motives in a way that could prove more meaningful related to the current research. The research approach may have to vary from philosophy of interpretivism to philosophy of realism from a human perspective as it's applies social factors affecting individuals involved in the research.
3.3 Research Approach
The second layer implemented in this research process onion is the research approach; the research approach is based on the philosophical hypothesis. Qualitative analysis could be to used as philosophical hypothesis in research approach were in they are many ways of analysing qualitative data, the two approaches used in this research are deductive approach methodology and inductive approach methodology.
In this research deductive approach methodology is used as one of the two qualitative approaches using existing theories that help in shaping up the research process to analyse the research data Saunders et al, (2004). But in inductive approach methodology the researcher attempts to develop a theory from collecting data from many relevant cases using appropriate examples. Easterby-smith et al. (2003) stated that deductive approach methodology is generally related to positivism hypothesis and in an inductive approach methodology is often related to interpretivism or phenomenology hypothesis.
Bryman and Bell (2004) stated that in inductive approach a research is often supported by data collected from conducting direct interviews with relevant individual's and observation made linking to qualitative strategy that leads to theory, based on the collected data which is analysed theory is developed with a project. The outcome result of a research is a theory. Researchers in inductive approach are allowed to make changes as a research progress by doing so the researchers have a self awareness that he/her still an integral part of the research. Saunders et al. (2004)
In this dissertation the writer has used the inductive methodological approach to do the research intentionally so that this research could be more exploratory in quality Saunders et al (2004) stated that inductive methodology is used for a case research such as this. In inductive approach theoretical concept are been compared under real circumstances with present case research of M&S. In addition the research discuss the techniques used by M&S to discuss the recent industrial changes and how current changes effects its practice thus giving a clear picture of the problems and do a comparative analysis and tackle the research questions.
3.4 Research Strategy
The Third layer implemented in this research process is the research strategy. The author has to plan and select a research strategy which could practically be executable on current research hypothesis. Saunders et al.,(2004) states that a research hypothesis can have more than one strategic approach like case study, surveys, experimental observations, theory based approach and descriptive anthropology. A research strategy is a plan used by researcher and the plan is chooses in goes about answering the questions Saunders et al.,(2004). The current research strategy is based on case study investigation which involves empirical enquiry on present day`s trend compared to real life context with evidence collected using one than one source Robson (2004). The current research begins with critical literature review the current research starts with a critical literature review looking into the recent 3PL industry changes over the years. The researcher carried out a research on a real world retail company Marks and Spencer that uses 3PL as a strategy to enhance its performance in competitive business environment to gain advantages over its competitors the information was collected from personnel in Marks and Spencer in this case study, it gives the reader a clear understanding of 3PL industry in real life situations and as how the company`s is affected by the change in both the logistics industry and the retail industry.
"The only useful way of finding data is exploratory research what is happening; to seek new insights; to ask questions and to assess phenomena in a new light".
Robson (2004, p 62)
In conducting an exploratory research the purpose is to let the researcher come up with ideas, theories that could be tested and could become a base to carry on further research. Robson (2004) suggests that in an exploratory research the focus is broader to start with and then gradually gets narrowed as the research progresses, furthermore he suggests that they could be different approaches used in conducting exploratory research like literature case study, talking to the individuals working in those fields and conducting group interviews.
In the area`s where they are few theories exploratory research such as case study are often in use as these areas lack the knowledge for research.. Saunders et al., (2004) suggests that it could be more beneficial for the researcher to use case study in exploratory research. A case study is often the most appropriate approach a researcher could use not only to explore data but be able to challenge a theory that exists by proving a source that can be investigated, case study use different sources to gather information and present it as evidence. The form of data used in this research project proves that a case study approach the most resourceful strategy. In this case company`s data along with interviews conducted with key individuals working in M&S and GIST, a key 3PL service providers with the help of semi-structured interviews held by the researcher certify the truthfulness and validity of this research. In using the case study strategy shows the researcher`s capability to answer the questions by gathering information through different sources like interviews and answer questions like "Why" "How" and "What" as this helped in making the right sense of the research.
3.5 Data Collection methods
There are two methods that are used to collect data for research primary data collection and secondary data collection.
3.5.1 Primary Data collection method
Graziano and Raulin (1995) stated in case study research the common approach implemented are one-to-one face interaction which in many ways are more suited as the focus in one topic at a time. In many situation, case study are said to be more ideal and suitable for research .According to Blaxter et. al., (2002) the case study is, in many ways, ideally suited to the needs and resources of limited research focusing on one particular topic in a organisation or just departments within. This could be the place in which the researcher currently works or used to work or organization. The main purpose of this case study approach is to investigate current issues of must importance that contains interesting subjects, environment and context and other matters. In primary research the researcher has to collect the data which has to be realistic and relevant to the research, which can allow the researcher to measure the information in wider prospect from organization aspects. The researcher in this research has to collect primary data by conducting interviews and usage of online information from company`s website in some cases.
220.127.116.11 Informal Consultation or Interviews
Interviews or Informal Consultation is a discussion between a researcher and the correspondent or the answerer establishing a relation which could prove to be interesting to two parties the interviewer and respondent (Bell and Bryman, 2004). According to Barker (1993) interviewing and collecting information face to face can prove advantages as they have fuller responses to the questions and void any form of uncertainty or dubiousness and misinterpretations.
In a structured interview the research use standardise set of questions in questionnaires had are arranged in advance Easterby-Smith et al. (2004)., while conducting these type of interviews the interviewer has to read out the questions to his/her responder and then records all of the response on a schedule before any presentation. But in semi-structured interviews the approach is different since it has to cover a set of topics and could vary while conducting different interviews. The data obtained are recorded either by taking notes or by recording the conversation with the help of tape-recorder or other such devices (Saunders et al., 2004). Unstructured interviews has no pre-set of questions but are mostly informal, the researcher has to have a clear idea about the subject and what aspects of the subject the researcher wants to explore (Bryman and Bell, 2004). In this research the researcher has used semi-structured interview approach as this gives the exemption to address a particular topic questions need for exploration.
The process of interview can be classed on the interaction between the interviewer and the responder or responders participating in the process, these interviews can be one-to-one basis or many-to-one. One-to-One is face-to-face based and under some circumstances interviews can also be telephony. In addition, in case of many-to-one or one-to-many the focus of interview is group based or team based in which the participants are divided into groups and meet separately and collections information by organising group discussions to explore different aspects of the research holistic way (Bryman and Bell, 2004).
For the purpose of carrying a detailed research, semi-structured interviews were conducted with members of different departments like the logistics department and the IT department these interviews were telephonic based, a sample size of four members were interviewed at the Head office of Marks and Spencer. The combination of information collected from the managers and data that were available from the organization sources in carrying about its logistics functions helped in drawing up an outline for this research. The grounds on which the researcher has chosen semi-structured approach in interviews as a method of data collection are:
The research questions were designed not to be straight forward as this research was based on primarily exploratory in type, to collect evoke response and yield utmost important data based on facts as how the organization are influenced and how it deals with these factors.
The researcher prior to interviews had to carry out a subaltern research so that the author of this research had sufficient understanding of the surrounding current issues on the main subject in the study to ensure that the interview talk about the relevant subject.
French et al (2002) stated that freedom of expressing themselves should be given as per they wishes to the individuals participating in the interview. Non- standardized semi-structured approach were used while conducting exploratory research to collect qualitative information with emphasis stressing not only on "what" and "how" and mainly "why" (Bell and Bryman, 2004).
18.104.22.168 Underlying Principles behind the questions
Because of fewer participants in numbers the researcher was apparently looking for in-depth information from the respondents, mainly because of the interview subject was relatively more persistent in exploring every aspects of both logistic and the organization. There were question based on the idea of the research and used to relax the tense atmosphere with standard measurement of understanding of the respondents in research area, thus allowing the researcher to address the issues connected to logistics, outsourcing, use of third party logistics in the research from a respondents view point.
There were questions based on the current market scenario and the new logistic trends. This was to measure the knowledge of the respondents with respect to the logistic industry. Awareness about the latest trends and development in logistics industry plays an important role therefore the researcher raced the questions on industrial changes in logistic and impact on cooperate strategy and globalization. By means of these questions the researcher wanted to again an insight about the respondent's response to the role played by logistic function in co-operate strategy to gain a competitive advantage from organization aspect. Quality related questions were also laid by the researcher they were plans to raise further questions based on the response of the interviewees they could be a different approach to ensure quality assurance. Also by means of these questions the researcher doesn't want to give any alternatives apart from what was expected from information aspect before shifting the focus towards the impact of information technology and its importance in the research field in proving any competitive advantage.
Information technology based questions were used as inputs to generate information on the impact of technology and IT systems on the organization. There were very specific questions raised on this topic and were to the point. The interviewee's responses to some of these questions were to ensure that they understand the role of information technology and its importance on organization and business. The problems were faced by organization in implementing the new technology. Besides the researcher wants to be aware if the organization were still using any of its out-dated application to support its business as this could be more efficient and less difficult implementing them in real time situations. The researcher was to identify how supply chain functions are managed with the help of IT system in the organization.
By the means of these questions the researcher wants to identify the customer groups that have formed a base for its reputation in the market, hence the main reason for all this because of the information gather by the company that could play an important role in drafting the future plans that could enhance the base and retain its currents customers. Lastly the researchers intention is to uncover as what could be the current issue`s and the challenges and how the organization plan to deal with it. This can help in writing an recommendation to the organization.
3.5.2 Secondary Data collection Method
Easterby-Smith et al., (2003) states secondary data collection method are often employed to gather information which is based on the research carried by previous researcher that could be grouped logically and analysed and used completely or partially relevant to the research in form of literature review. The most common methods of collecting secondary data sources are from previous research in form of journals, articles and text books and electronic media like on-line websites and on-line newspapers.
The present research discusses about logistic company in the review of literature its techniques and 3PL in particular further in conducting a competitive analysis with different approaches that are currently available looking at those firms besides discussing the 3PL strategies implemented by the organization. The data collected from the secondary research plays an important role in articulating the questions that were applied in the course of conducting primary research. Marked by complexity and richness of details discussed in review of literature measured case study approach ensured of having the most positive qualities of both methods used by the researcher firstly from the responds and information collected from the secondary research and secondly high qualitative data collected from the interviews that were conducted were tasks that took time and patience ensured the completion of the case study. Due to time restrained in this research the research finding understate the importance of quality information in secondary data, in which the information collected is not just address the current issue and procreate similar information but importantly address the main objectives of the research and build a effective initiating phase for this research. Journals, articles, internet reports and online newspaper compose the secondary researches that were collected as various inputting resources.
3.6 Qualitative Analysis of the Data
The qualitative analysis of the data is more suitable to the researcher as they is a consistency with the approach having many complexly arranged appropriate key elements of understanding considered inÂ detail to subject to an analysis inÂ orderÂ to discover essential features or meaning on an social event or process with research philosophy. Strauss and Corbin (2004) states which conducting case study of organizations or a business or an activity relatedÂ to a business in which a group of people who working together, qualitative data collection is well suited. Most of the time it can be acceptable that for logic of reasoning; proceeding from particular facts to a general conclusion cases with intention for exploration or discovery leading to the hypothesis qualitative research are meant to be used (Ghauri et al., 2001). In other words qualitative data gives an account in words representation a new idea whereas quantitative is an investigation of the componentÂ in numeric. InÂ accordant with Silverman (2005), the purpose with relation to cross section and category index contribute to the fulfilment of analysing the qualitative nature of data. Because of index used by the researcher he/she may find it helpful from the collection of articles in directing correctly the particular aspect of a situation in whole--intellectual or substantial meaning of situation that can be interpreted (Mason 2003). On the contrary while considering both Mason (2003) and Silverman (2005) emphasise in every case when in existing of possibility in linking of literature with analysing of data may help the researcher in understanding the meaning and answer the query more efficiently.
3.6.1 Data Reliability
The quality of reliable data is based on the quality of research that determines the degree of collecting data source that are marked in an orderly, logical, and aesthetically consistent with relation to its existence, corresponding with resemblance in determining the facts attained by other researchers or is they any easy understanding made from unprocessed data. (Saunders et al, 2003). Interviewing key correspondence such as manager's the primary data is more relevant hence the reliability will be high.
3.6.2 Validity of Data
The quality of being valid and rigorous can be regarded likely in this research, as the researcher as designed and planned the structure in carrying out the research by framing appropriate interview questions with those individuals how are involved and are associated with the company for over a period of time. Furthermore the sources of secondary data are based on theoretical principles collected from various sources; hence the validity should not be of any concern in the research.
3.6.3 Research ethics
In planning data collection that is linked together by means of related philosophical study of ethics. There are numerous philosophical studies which the researcher needs to be knowledgeable about, firstly the researcher needs respect the privacy of the interviewer, In particularly the researcher shouldn't go to beyond what is agreed in their concealment (Easterby-smith et al, 2004).
For any organization entrusted with private information its better in interest of the researcher to remain anonymous if he/she wants to gain access in the organization for collecting any information. Saunders et al., (2004, p141) declared that once a verbal commitment on discretion in keeping secret information and remain anonymous is assured it's the responsible of the researcher in maintaining the secrecy. It's in the researcher`s creditability in gaining the confidence of the interviewee as he/she some have certain reservations in sharing the information and the way the given information may be used. The researcher needs to give complete assurance to the interviewee that information provided by them will not be sought. This may help in building a positive environment and open for discussion Healey and Rawlinson (2001).
There are growing concerns with the use of observations as a practical method of approach in the study that may permit especially as according to rule or agreement which is the most important element without which the people participating in this activity may find themselves more restrictive without that it's hard to come to any conclusion (Saunders et al. 2004). Healy and Rawlinson (1994) suggest they lay a difficulty in maintaining the assurances during the reporting phase of the research. However at the same time it's important to maintain to ensure it.
This chapter discusses the various practical methods applied in conducting this research with the managers with the implementation of semi-structured interviews which is received directly from a source on techniques and approaches employed by M&S in the business operations like logistics operations help in serving they clients and the information that are a solid mass in developing a case study, in the later chapter examines the secondary research that was carried on earlier illustrated from previous study and finding An illustration that is drawn by on the previous work identified in the literature review and the findings arising from the research of the case study, a detailed analysis of the findings arising from the research was concluded which has been outlined in the next section.