GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — Two supply chain experts from East Carolina University’s College of Business believe the COVID-19 pandemic could be the best thing to happen to the future of supply chain management, making companies more competitive, and better mitigating future disruptions.

Dr. Jon Kirchoff and Dr. John Kros asked, “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?”

9OYS spoke with Kirchoff, associate professor in the Department of Marketing and Supply Chain, and research associate for the Bureau of Business Research at ECU’s College of Business, who said the pandemic may be one of the most significant opportunities for companies in the last 100 years as it’s forcing companies to reevaluate operations and strategies.

But it all depends on whether companies create and actually implement processes that will allow them to be more resilient and competitive to future risk and disruption.

The doctors’ research shows 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”, says Kirchoff.

Kirchoff says many companies are now looking at how to shorten their supply chain. Whether that be through restoring, regionalization, or alternate operation.

“Here in the Greenville area, companies are trying to look at how do we work with our global suppliers better? How do we have better relationships with them? And furthermore, how do we figure out ways to reduce our logistics costs and some of the bottlenecks that you’re seeing, by trying alternative ways of not only ordering our parts, bringing them in logistically? And also how do we store them within our own distribution network?” 

Dr. Jon Kirchoff, ECU College of Business

Kirchoff said consumers could start seeing a difference in prices and products, in some cases, immediately. It all depends on how quickly companies’ strategies can work.

They also give Under Armour as an example. They say the company is using lessons learned from the pandemic to accelerate inventory, pricing, delivery, and productions initiatives to improve its efficiency and effectiveness.

Companies today are also employing strategies and disruptive technologies like blockchain and 5G to reduce waste and improve transportation efficiencies. Their research also points out, that 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.

“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.”

Dr. Jon Kirchoff, ECU College of Business

Both Kirchoff and Kros said supply chains are now very complex, global, fragile, and increasingly difficult to manage, and they don’t see that changing anytime soon. In fact, it may get more complex. They also add, that COVID will not be the last disruption to the supply chain, so it’s important to get our supply chains to a point where they can overcome significant disruptions in the future.