GREENVILLE, N.C. — Two supply chain experts in East Carolina University’s College of Business believe the pandemic could be the best thing to happen to the future of supply chain management.

In a recently published blog, “Disruptions and the Future of the Global Supply Chain,” Drs. Jon Kirchoff and John Kros asked the question, what if the pandemic is actually a catalyst for innovative and forward-looking processes and strategies that can revolutionize how supply chains are managed and run on a global scale?

“The pandemic may emerge as one of the most significant opportunities for companies in the last 100 years,” said Kirchoff. “The shock is forcing companies to reevaluate their global operations, develop and execute new and innovative strategies that will improve global supply chain management in the immediate future, and pave the way for more resilient supply chains that push the current boundaries of efficiency and effectiveness.”

Both Kirchoff and Kros provided examples of how North Carolina manufacturers have adjusted their operational and strategic initiatives.

“Regional grocery chains in eastern North Carolina have adjusted store hours, product mix and replenishment schedules to help balance their efficiency and effectiveness,” said Kirchoff.

By their analysis, changes to supply chain strategies are helping to mitigate COVID-related disruptions and making more companies competitive.

Kirchoff and Kros point to Under Armour as an example. The company is using lessons learned from the pandemic to accelerate inventory, pricing, delivery and production initiatives to improve its efficiency and effectiveness.

Companies today are also employing strategies and disruptive technologies such as blockchain and 5G to reduce waste and improve transportation efficiencies.

More companies are using a “global scanner strategy,” which maps global supply chains with detailed end-to-end information that helps determine the best location of operations based on areas or regions of suppliers and customers. Since the pandemic, experts are picking up on this idea that far-flung and complex supply chains have become more and more challenging (e.g., regionalization).

Companies like Freightliner, a subsidiary of Daimler Truck, are revisiting relational strategies to improve supply chain synchronization by reducing barriers to supply relationships and processes.

Kirchoff and Kros state that supply chains are now complex, global, fragile and increasingly difficult to manage. However, they point out that there are innovative technologies available to help meet the growing demands of the supply chain.

“Innovative technologies such as blockchain, internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence, supply chain mapping and machine learning may all significantly impact how global supply chains are managed today and in the future,” said Kirchoff.

However, it all depends on whether companies conceive and implement processes that will make them more resilient to future risks and disruption.

Kirchoff is an associate professor in the Department of Marketing and Supply Chain at ECU. His research interests focus on emerging issues in global supply chain management and include environmentally responsible supply chain practices and global supply chain management strategy. He brings more than 14 years of industry experience to ECU.

Kros is the Vincent K. McMahon Distinguished Professor of Marketing and Supply Chain Management. His research areas include simulation and process analysis, quality control, applied statistical analysis, and the applications to supply chain problems. Before joining academia, Kros was employed in the electronics manufacturing industry by Hughes Network Systems in Germantown, Maryland.

Both Kirchoff and Kros are research associates for the Bureau of Business Research in the College of Business.