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COVID-19 Pandemic Drives Supply Chains toward More Agile Future

October 20, 2020 / PR Newswire

Before COVID-19, consumers, policy makers and even corporate executives were mostly oblivious to the global complexity of supply chains. This year's empty grocery shelves and missing medical supplies changed that. Eight months after the pandemic's onset, transportation systems still aren't back to "normal," and researchers from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville's Haslam College of Business expect they never will be. "Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – or VUCA – has been spurring supply chain innovation for decades," Mary Long, director of the Supply Chain Forum at Haslam's Global Supply Chain Institute (GSCI), says. "Disruption on a pandemic scale has amplified the sense of urgency to build more integrated supply chains, since visibility is the new competitive advantage." Mary Holcomb, the Gerald T. Niedert Professor at Haslam and one of transportation's leading experts, agrees that the pandemic has accelerated innovation in the industry. She sees a bright road ahead because of it. "Transportation is in the driver's seat when it comes to delivering leading-edge practices to manage complex supply chains, fulfill consumer desires and stoke the economy's engine," Holcomb says. "These changes were always going to come. In the last year, though, transportation managers have been jumping in to integrate systems and get products where they need to be in really interesting new ways." Holcomb and Long teamed with Alan Amling, a GSCI fellow who drove innovation for decades at UPS, to author "Future Trends Shaping Transportation," a GSCI white paper that explores recent innovations in the transportation industry. The paper incorporates 30 interviews with executives across all transportation sectors and identifies five key trends changing transportation: technology, hyper-local supply chains, last-yard delivery, automation and agility.