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Defining the "New Normal￷ in International Logistics Networks: Lessons Learned and Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic. In: WiSt - Wirtschftswissenschaftliches Studium, 11/2021, pp. 16-25



The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the biggest crises to hit international logistics networks in decades and has far-reaching consequences for the future design, planning, and management of logistics networks. Based on a focus group workshop among 25 logistics managers followed by a survey involving 37 professionals, this study seeks to outline future development paths of international logistics networks. More precisely, logistics learnings from managing the second wave are described, a gap analysis of logistics crisis management approaches is performed, future development scenarios are assessed, and fields of action are summarized.
Defining the “New Normal” in International
Logistics Networks: Lessons Learned and
Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the biggest crises to hit international
logistics networks in decades and has far-reaching consequences for the
future design, planning, and management of logistics networks. Based on a
focus group workshop among 25 logistics managers followed by a survey
involving 37 professionals, this study seeks to outline future development
paths of international logistics networks. More precisely, logistics learnings
from managing the second wave are described, a gap analysis of logistics
crisis management approaches is performed, future development scenarios
are assessed, and fields of action are summarized.
Dr.-Ing. Benjamin Nitsche
ist Postdoktorand und Leiter des Kompe-
tenzzentrums Internationale Logistiknetze
am Fachgebiet Logistik der TU Berlin.
Bevorzugte Forschungsgebiete: Internatio-
nale Logistiknetze, Volatilität, Automatisie-
rung in Logistiknetzen,LogistikinEntwick-
lungsländern Afrikas.
ist Leiter des Fachgebiets Logistik der TU
Berlin. Bevorzugte Forschungsgebiete:
Internationale Logistiknetze, Digitalisie-
rung in der Logistik, Künstliche Intelligenz,
ganzheitliche Logistik.
Summary: Die COVID-19-Pandemie ist eine der größ-
ten Krisen, die die internationalen Logistiknetze seit
Jahrzehnten getroffen und weitreichende Folgen für
die künftige Gestaltung, Planung und Verwaltung von
Logistiknetzen hat. Auf der Grundlage eines Fokus-
gruppen-Workshops mit 25 Logistikmanagern und
einer anschließenden Umfrage unter 37 Fachleuten
versucht diese Studie, künftige Entwicklungspfade für
internationale Logistiknetze zu skizzieren. Genauer
gesagt werden logistische Erkenntnisse aus der Bewäl-
tigung der zweiten Welle beschrieben, eine Schwach-
stellenanalyse logistischer Krisenmanagementansätze
durchgeführt, zukünftige Entwicklungsszenarien be-
wertet und Handlungsbereiche abgeleitet.
Keywords: international logistics networks, corona-
virus, resilience, automation, transparency
1. Starting point of investigation and current
Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest cri-
national logistics. Owing to the enormous importance of
the pandemic for the design and management of interna-
tional logistics networks, almost every company is affected
in some way by its consequences and is trying to cope with
the aggravated conditions (cf. Straube/Nitsche, 2020).
Whereas in spring 2020 it was still unclear whether logistics
networks would be affected by the pandemic in the long
term, today this is almost beyond question. Networks are
being redesigned on a regular basis, companies adjusting
their long-term logistics strategies because of the pandem-
ic, new technological solutions are being tested to manage
the crisis more efficiently, and people are adapting to the
new working conditions. What is still unclear today, howev-
er, is how international logistics networks will change in
the long term as a result of the crisis.
WiSt Heft 11 · 202116
Thesis Average Standard deviation Mode (value that appears most often)
The need for automation of logistics processes becomes inevitable (partial
independence from personnel).
The corona crisis pushes digitalization efforts but core problems remain the
same and will be even harder to solve (e.g. access to accurate, real-
time and
demand data through the network).
Without transparency on network structures (incl. 3rd and 4th tier) and
current state of suppliers and customers, crisis management will not be
possible in the future.
Corporate role of logistics will be strengthened throughout the crisis.
Intelligent ETA predictions in times of crisis will become major success
factors to enable timely responses.
Crisis management regarding personnel will be set up.
Future supply networks will be designed for more resilience instead of core
efficiency focus.
There will be a rethink away from pure cost thinking towards a holistic
approach to sustainability.
Many technological solutions are already in the market but process-
fit will remain challenging.
Without corporate decision on prioritization of logistics goals (e.g. time or
cost), process adjustments are not possible.
Digital workspaces and tools can be productive but will not replace face-
face interactions.
1 = I would no longer agree | 3 = remains unchanged in importance | 5 = even increases in importance
Figure 1: Reassessment of theses developed in February 2021 by the expert workshop group through a pre-workshop questionnaire
To contribute to this discussion, the Competence Center for
International Logistics Networks (ILNET)attheChair of Lo-
gistics at the Berlin University of Technology conducted mul-
tiple online expert workshops in 2020 and 2021 on the im-
plications of the COVID-19 pandemic on international logis-
tics networks. The ILNET itself is funded by the Kuehne
Foundation and has a long-standing tradition of conduct-
ing expert workshops on-site in Germany, China, Brazil,
Ethiopia, and also online to discuss current trends and
strategies in international logistics networks.
The fact that logistics networks will have to adapt to funda-
mental changes in the long term is also shown, by an analy-
sis of a set of theses, presented in Fig. 1.Theseweredevel-
oped on the basis of an initial COVID-19 workshop of the IL-
NET with industry experts in May 2020, evaluated by the
expert panel and subsequently published (cf. Straube/Nit-
sche, 2020). The vast majority of participants in the work-
shop agreed, at that time, on those theses. In preparation
for a workshop in mid-February 2021 (the focus group
workshop described in the middle section of this study),
these theses were presented to a new expert panel.The
aim was to assess the extent to which these theses on the
development of future logistics networks had maintained,
or even increased, their importance.
The assumptions on logistics developments at the begin-
ning of the crisis still hold true; moreover, many have even
increased in importance. The automation of logistics pro-
cesses is still among the most pressing needs and transpar-
ency is still needed to be able to manage the crisis. But, al-
though many of the technological solutions that now seem
to be appropriate existed before the crisis, many problems
relating to the digitalization of logistics networks are exac-
erbated. Now, more than one year after the start of the
global pandemic, it is time to discuss what lessons logistics
has learned from the management of the crisis, how future
logistics networks will develop, and what fields of action
are currently emerging. More specifically, this study aims
to achieve the following research objectives:
(1) Describe the logistics learnings achieved from manag-
ing the second wave of COVID-19;
(2) Collect and assess the strategies taken to efficiently
manage the pandemic in international logistics net-
works; and
(3) Outline and evaluate potential future development
scenarios of international logistics networks.
To contribute to those research objectives, a focus group
workshop with 25 logistics professionals was conducted in
February 2021 and followed by a post-workshop question-
Nitsche/Straube, Defining the “New Normal” in International Logistics Networks
WiSt Heft 11 · 2021 17
Pre-workshop questionnaire
Focus group workshop
Post-workshop questionnaire
Reassessment of theses on
developments of international
logistics networks
Focus group discussions on crisis
management strategies, lessons
learned and future development
Assessment of crisis management
strategies, lessons learned and
future development scenarios
Expert panel received
questionnaire prior to the
workshop to reassess theses that
were developed and assessed by a
different expert panel in May
2020 to evaluate if initial
assumptions on COVID-19
implications still hold true
Conducted at the beginning of
February 2021
25 logistics experts from different
Experts’ average experience in the
field of logistics was 17.4 years
(median 15 years)
Experts were split up into mixed -
industry groups that were
moderated by neutral moderator
Three rounds of focus group
discussions on strategies, lessons
learned, and future development
scenarios preceded by a silent
individual ideation phase
Group leaders summarized results
of discussion and presented them
to the remaining groups
Carried out mid-February 2021
37 logistics experts from different
industries including participants
of focus group but also members
of prior workshops on this topic
Experts’ average experience in the
field of logistics was 19.4 years
(median 20 years)
Participants were asked to assess
the crisis management strategies
on two dimensions, to indicate
their degree of agreement with the
theses on the logistics learnings,
and to assess the likelihood of the
development scenarios
Conducted in March 2021
Phase Purpose Brief description
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0DQXIDFWXULQJDXWRPRWLYH  ±  ±EQ  0HPEHURIWKHERDUG 
0DQXIDFWXULQJHOHFWURQLFV  ±  ±EQ  2WKHUV 
HTXLSPHQW  ±  ±EQ 
2WKHUV  0RUHWKDQ  $ERYHEQ 
Figure 2: Research procedure
and description
Table 1: Overview of sample demographics for the focus group workshop
naire with 37 professionals. The detailed research proce-
dure is outlined in the following section followed by the
analysis and explanation of results of the study.
2. Research design
To contribute to the research objectives, a research design
was chosen that enabled a structured extraction and syn-
thesis of expert knowledge and an assessment of certain re-
sults on a broader data basis. The detailed research proce-
dure is outlined in Fig. 2.Thebasisoftheresearchdesign
is a focus group workshop that was conducted online in
mid-February 2021 with logistics experts from different in-
The group limit was set at 25 participants, which was seen
as appropriate and manageable in an online focus group
format with dedicated group discussions. Tab. 1 provides
an overview of the sample demographics of the focus group
workshop. Most participants represented global companies
with turnovers of more than 10 billion and mainly from
various manufacturing industries and logistics service pro-
The research procedure followed three stages:
(1) Pre-workshop questionnaire: To assess the current
importance of the logistics development theses presented
in Fig. 1 and to collect the sample demographics, a pre-
workshop questionnaire was sent to the registered partici-
pants at the beginning of February 2021.
(2) Focus group workshop: The focus group workshop was
conducted online in mid-February 2021. To facilitate more
in-depth discussions on the intended topics, the group was
split into three mixed-industry subgroups, each guided by
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5HWDLOHU  ±  ±PQ  7HDPOHDGHU 
JRRGV  ±  ±PQ  'HSDUWPHQWPDQDJHU 
SKDUPDFHXWLFDOV  ±  ±PQ  *HQHUDOPDQDJHU 
0DQXIDFWXULQJDXWRPRWLYH  ±  ±EQ  0HPEHURIWKHERDUG 
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2WKHUV  0RUHWKDQ  $ERYHEQ 
Table 2: Sample demographics of post-workshop questionnaire
a neutral moderator. The moderator answered questions re-
garding the methodological approach, ensured the intend-
ed procedure was followed, and tried to curtail too intense
discussions and give everyone the opportunity to contrib-
ute to the questions equally. After splitting up the groups,
each participant had time to think individually about the
following three guiding questions:
1) What measures did you implement after or during the
first COVID-19 wave that have now proven successful in
managing the second wave?
2) What logistics lessons learned did you draw from the
management of the second wave of COVID-19? Are there
logistics-related assumptions that have not been con-
3) What do you think about how international logistics
networks will develop in the future owing to the COVID
After thinking about these from their individual perspec-
tives, three successive focus group discussions were held
that addressed each question block individually. Each par-
ticipant was given a chance to share their ideas and
thoughts. An elected group spokesperson summarized par-
ticipants’ ideas and strategies in parallel, for all to see. At
the end of the discussion of all questions, each group pre-
sented its results to the others.
(3) Post-workshop questionnaire: Following the focus
group workshop, the results were summarized and synthe-
sized by the authors. Subsequently, a follow-up question-
naire was developed that included three main question
blocks. First, participants were asked to assess a list of CO-
VID-19 crisis management strategies that were discussed in
the focus groups. The assessment was done according to two
attributes: (1) efficiency and (2) implementation maturi-
ty, each on a 5-point Likert scale (1: low to 5: high). Here,
the efficiency of a strategy describes whether that strategy
is considered efficient for managing logistics networks dur-
ing the COVID-19 pandemic. In assessing the implementa-
tion maturity of a strategy, the participants had to indicate
if they are already implementing this strategy at their com-
pany and how mature this implementation is. A rating of 1
(low) indicates that they were not yet implementing a strate-
gy, whereas 5(high) indicates regular application of the
strategy in a standardized way and effectively, with little
room for improvement. For the second question block, the
participants were provided with a list of statements regard-
ing the logistics learnings from managing the second wave
and were asked to assess the extent to which they agreed
with those statements. For the third question block, partici-
pants were provided with a list of potential future develop-
ment scenarios for international logistics networks synthe-
sized from the focus group results. Participants had to think
five years ahead and, based on their personal expert opin-
ion, rate how likely it was for these scenarios to come true by
2026 (1: very unlikely to 5: very likely). The post-workshop
questionnaire was sent out to a group of practitioners who
were invitees to previous workshops on this topic. In total,
37 professionals, including people from the previously de-
scribed focus group but also others from various industries,
participated. The overall sample demographics of the post-
workshop questionnaire are outlined in Tab. 2.
3. Learnings from the second wave of COVID-19
companies to some extent, they were often better prepared
for the second wave in fall 2020 but were, in some cases,
surprised by its strength. In summary, various learnings
can be drawn from the management of the second wave
that will significantly influence the design of future logis-
tics networks and associated processes. Fig. 3 outlines the
assessment of those learnings, determined in the post-
workshop questionnaire.
First, it can be stated that the digitalization of working
procedures continued and the empowerment of home-of-
Nitsche/Straube, Defining the “New Normal” in International Logistics Networks
WiSt Heft 11 · 2021 19
Thesis average Standard deviation Mode
Digital tools that were introduced mainly as a result of the crisis or received a
push from it will continue to play an important role even after the crisis
Digital meetings are more efficient than previously thought
Interaction between purchasing and logistics departments had to be
strengthened to tackle the crisis
International cooperation between governments (e.g. on a European level)
needs to be strengthen to mitigate negative effects of transport restrictions
due to uncoordinated decisions of local governments
Resilience and flexibility in logistics networks (supply network and
production network) is more important than localized logistics networks
Transparency on stocks, capacities and other parameters in multi-
networks (often incl 2nd, 3rd and 4th tier) was hardly possible to achieve
For logistics networks, the political and regulatory conditions in affected
regions are much more relevant than direct effects of the virus
Diversified product portfolios (diversified by region, type of product etc.)
were helpful in mitigating the negative economic impact of the crisis
Centralized supplier strategies, also centralized supplier country strategies
are very vulnerable
Contracts with logistics service providers had to be re-
negotiated because
capacity shortage /demand peaks were not included in the planning in this
Higher safety and in-
transit stocks were allowed but were often not needed
1=totally disagree | 3=indifferent | 5=totally agree
Figure 3: Assessment of theses on logistics learnings from the second wave of COVID19
fice working through different tools and approaches was
achieved successfully. Despite skepticism about the effi-
ciency of digital meetings, respondents were proven
wrong, and they are now sure that the digital tools that
were introduced during the crisis will continue to play an
important role and shape the future of work after the cri-
sis. It also became evident that the role of governmental
regulation intimesofcrisisismuchmoreimportantthan
previously thought. Many focus group members reported
that unaligned governmental regulations, even within the
European Union, often led to more problems than the re-
maining COVID-related issues within the logistics net-
works. Therefore, increased international cooperation at
the governmental level would be highly beneficial for po-
tential future crises. Additionally, throughout the man-
agement of the second wave, it became increasingly evi-
dent that flexibilization in logistics networks is far more
important than just localizingthelogisticsnetwork,acir-
cumstance that is also reflected in the assessment of po-
tential development paths of future logistics networks de-
scribed in section 5.
4. Strategies to efficiently manage crises in
international logistics networks
One major part of the focus group discussions was an ex-
change on the strategies implemented to manage the crisis
more efficiently. Based on those discussions, a set of 14
crisis management strategies was synthesized (see Tab. 3).
Afterwards, building on the post-workshop questionnaire,
a gap analysis was performed that sought to assess and
compare the efficiency of a certain strategy and its imple-
mentation maturity within the companies surveyed. Fig. 4
outlines the results of this assessment.
First, it can be stated that all the strategies presented have
been rated at a medium to high level of efficiency, which
indicates that, in theory, there is a diverse toolkit of strate-
gies that could be implemented to manage a crisis in logis-
tics networks more efficiently and companies are aware of
this. Therefore, the analysis of the efficiency of strategies
should not be understood as a ranking, since all of the
strategies synthesized are helpful to a certain extent and
their implementation will often be based on the specific
case. However, much more insightful is the analysis of ex-
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Efficiency (mean) Implementation maturity (mean)
Establishment of home-office
Internal crisis management teams
Switch from cost-thinking to
Intelligent early-alert
Fully virtual
Decentralization of decision-
Logistics crisis
Flexibilization of production
Flexibilization of production
Co-creation logistics strategy
Scenario-based business
low medium high
ǻ 1.03
ǻ 1.94
ǻ 0.77
ǻ 0.86
ǻ 1.23
ǻ 0.74
ǻ 0.89
ǻ 1.03
Figure 4: Gap analysis of efficiency of a crisis management strategy versus its implementation maturity in the companies
isting gaps between the theoretical efficiency of a strategy
and its implementation maturity within the companies. The
biggest gaps (Δ= efficiency – implementation maturity)
are also highlighted in Fig. 4. Some of the strategies pre-
sented seem to be the norm in all companies for managing
the COVID-19 crisis. These include the establishment of
home-office infrastructure, standardized crisis reporting,
and internal cross-functional crisis management teams but
also intensified discussions with customers and suppliers.
However, there are other approaches that stand out and
separate the wheat from the chaff in crisis management;
that is, they distinguish best-in-class companies from
good-practice companies.
Among other factors, successful companies were very quick
and consistent in changing their more cost-oriented mind-
set to an availability mindset in the short term. Here, cost
concerns played a subordinate role to being able to react
quickly and have materials available. However, not every
company was prepared to implement this switch quickly in
the short term, as reflected in the implementation maturi-
ty, rated about medium, which is offset by a much higher
efficiency. The gap is even larger for intelligent early alert
systems based on artificial intelligence (AI). Even if
promising approaches are already available, companies
tend to hesitate to implement them and they are still in
their infancy. The implementation of this strategy clearly
shows the highest gap and indicates a need for action.
Another strategy that has proven particularly successful is
the implementation of a so-called supplier risk tower.
With the help of an automated supplier survey, data could
be collected at regular intervals to enable calculation of
various vulnerability scores at supplier, regional, and plant
levels. This increase in visibility facilitates keeping a con-
stant eye on any logistics risks and reacting at an early
stage. Owing to the urgent need, one company managed to
implement this system in only about six weeks; it would
normally have taken several months. In the post-workshop
questionnaire, participants rated this strategy as particu-
larly efficient in crisis management, but only very few have
a similar system and others are only just approaching one.
The decentralization of decision-making processes has
proven similarly successful, even if many companies still
find it difficult to implement a clear procedure in this area.
Moreover, in general, companies are aware that they need
to implement standard operating procedures for future
crisis situations but are not yet as far along in defining
these as they would like to be, since the management of
the current crisis remains challenging.
Nitsche/Straube, Defining the “New Normal” in International Logistics Networks
WiSt Heft 11 · 2021 21
Strategy Description
Establishment of home-office
Empowerment of all affected employees to work virtually, including VPN connections
and access to all necessary systems
Internal crisis management teams Cross-functional task force with weekly to daily meetings to solve problems quickly
Switch from cost-thinking to
Short-term reprioritization of logistics goals, leading to higher logistics costs but lower
disruptions (e.g., taking air freight over other modes of transport)
Intelligent early-alert systems Using early alert systems for risk detection based on AI approaches.
Fully virtual environment Established, e.g., through virtual lunches, regular virtual team meetings, protocols for
working online, etc.
Decentralization of decision-making
Strengthening the decision-making power and competencies of employees to ensure
quick reactions (incl. higher budget for local short-term decisions)
Highly intensified exchange with
suppliers and customers
Weekly exchanges with important suppliers/customers through calls to get insights on
early indicators, potential problems and to raise awareness for local problems
Logistics crisis plan Establishment of crisis plans and standard processes for future crises based on indi-
vidual COVID lessons-learned
Supplier risk tower Automated supplier survey to get up-to-date supplier assessments with vulnerability
scores (on supplier, regional, and plant levels)
Crisis report Weekly reporting inc. visualization of current state of logistics network
Flexibilization of production
Use of production capacity also for pre-production if other products cannot be pro-
Flexibilization of production
Relocation of production steps or components from one plant to another to avoid sup-
ply chain breakdown
Co-creation logistics strategy labs Joint cooperative workshops with major suppliers and customers to develop long-term
logistics strategy plans for greater resilience to future crises
Scenario-based business continuity
Creation of several mid-term logistics planning scenarios and corresponding measures
to create awareness of stakeholders involved and to increase logistics resilience to
various circumstances
Table 3: Description of COVID19 crisis management strategies implemented by companies involved
5. Development scenarios for future logistics networks
More than a year after the start of the pandemic, it can al-
ready be concluded that it will have far-reaching conse-
quences for the future management and design of interna-
tional logistics networks. However, it is still unclear how
these logistics networks will develop in the long term. To
contribute to this discussion, 14 potential development
scenarios were synthesized from the focus group workshop
and then evaluated through the post-workshop question-
naire. Fig. 5 shows 14 different development scenarios and
the assessment of the probability that they will have be-
come reality in five years.
It can be deduced from the analysis that the long-standing
trend of globalization is not expected to reverse. Only for a
few industries will localization be an option, and the major-
ity of industries will continue to set up their logistics net-
works globally. However, it is likely that, in five years, in-
stead of localization, creating more flexibility and resil-
ience in very diversified logistics networks will be the
norm, and companies will consider many more aspects of
risk in logistics planning than they do today. This will be
the case even if logistics and the associated networks ulti-
mately cost more. It can also be assumed, from today’s per-
spective, that companies will invest more and more in
transparency and associated technologies and that the
creation of real-time transparency in multi-level interna-
tional logistics networks will be far more widespread than it
is the case at present. Therefore, blockchain technology
and digital twins of logistics networks are among the main
future technologies that will contribute to enabling this vi-
In addition, experts believe that the automation of infor-
mational processes in logistics, driven in part by robotic
process automation, will tend to appear more realistic in
five years’ time. However, the complete autonomization of
planning and decision-making processes in logistics is con-
sidered rather unlikely within five years. Thus, the automa-
tion of informational processes should be seen as the first,
decisive step on the way to autonomous logistics networks
– a path that will take even more time. The scenario rated
as least likely was that COVID-19 was only a temporary
problem and would not, from a 2026 perspective, affect the
design of logistics networks in the long term. This result
again underlines the importance of the current crisis and
the fact that companies must begin to initiate changes to-
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very unlikely
32 4 5
very likely
Only few industries localized their logistics
networks. The majority of logistics
networks is still globally positioned.
(mean=4.28 | mode=5 | SD 0.84)
COVID19 was a temporary problem but did not significantly influence
the design of logistics networks.. (mean=2.56 | mode=2 | SD 1.17)
Logistics costs have not increased significantly because the efficiencies enabled by smart
technologies have offset t he higher costs of more resilient logist ics networks.
(mean=2.97 | mode=2 | SD 1.17)
Due to high investments in digital tools and technologies,
real-time visibility of multi-tier logistics networks is
the norm and is widely accepted and deployed.
(mean=3.92 | mode=5 | SD 1.06)
Building resilience and flexibility through highly diversified
logistics networks (incl. the supply, production and service provider
network) is the widespread approach when designing logist ics
networks. (mean=3.69 | mode=4 | SD 0.78)
Companies strongly consider multiple risk aspects when
building logistics networks even if it increases total cost.
(mean=3.67 | mode=4 | SD 0.78)
Increasing use of robotic process automation reduces dependency
on humans and processes become less prone to failure. (mean=3.61
| mode=4 | SD 0.95)
The planning horizon of logistics networks increased, and long-term
partnerships are implemented successfully much more often than in
2021. (mean=3.53 | mode=4 | SD 0.87)
There is a certain renaissance of increasing buffer and safety stocks
due to increasing uncertainties. (mean=3.50 | mode=4 | SD 1.12)
The majority of informational processes in logistics networks are carried out autonomously,
especially incl. automated decision-making. (mean=3.17 | mode=4 | SD 1.17)
Highly automated production sites e nable local sourcing/production at reasonable cost.
(mean=3.19 | mode=3 | SD 0.99)
Companies tend to nominate larger and larger suppliers (leading to market consolidation in several
industries), as these suppliers can provide the flexibility in their production network that is needed.
(mean=3.36 | mode=4 | SD 1.06)
Atrend towards backshoring has emerged (less outsourcing), since increasingly broad supplier networks
have become almost impossible to manage. (mean=3.42 | mode=4 | SD 0.92)
Due to the ongoing consolidation of the freight market, freight rates have increased significantly compared to
2021. (mean=3.50 | mode=3 | SD 0.87)
Digitalization and Automation
Digitalization becomes inevitable and companies can gain competitive edge by
automating decision processes, e.g. through robotic process automation
Fully autonomous logistics systems are not to be expected directly, but process
automation forms the basis that can be created now
zation &
Real-time visibility of global multi-tier logistics networks is already seen as a more
widespread norm in five years from now, which is why investments in related
technologies and approaches are already important today
Digital twin and blockchain technology are seen as major enablers
Risk & Volatility Management
Development of early-alert systems following AI approaches is highly needed
More agility and flexibility approaches will be implemented and volatility
management performance needs to be benchmarked
Automated risk control towers are viable approaches for early risk detection
Risk &
Figure 5: Assessment of likelihood of development scenarios becoming true in five years
Figure 6: Main fields of action for international logistics networks arising from the COVID-19 pandemic
6. Summary of main fields of action
Based on a structured research process including a focus
group workshop among 25 logistics professionals and a
post-workshop survey with 37 participants, the implica-
tions of the COVID-19 pandemic were analyzed in depth.
Logistics learnings were drawn, a set of logistics crisis man-
agement strategies was condensed, and a gap analysis was
performed to identify strategies that appear efficient in
managing logistics crises but are currently not well imple-
mented by companies. Moreover, the likelihood of poten-
tial future development scenarios was assessed to reveal
development trends in the design of international logistics
In summary, three main fields of action can be identified
that should be pursued in a focused manner by companies
to help shape upcoming developments at an early stage
(see Fig. 6). Some of these fields of action were initially de-
fined in mid-2020 (cf. Straube/Nitsche, 2020) but can now
be formulated more precisely.
Digitalization and automation: The increasing digitaliza-
tion was already one of the driving trends in logistics net-
Nitsche/Straube, Defining the “New Normal” in International Logistics Networks
WiSt Heft 11 · 2021 23
works before the pandemic (cf. Junge et al., 2019), but will
(cf. Straube/Nitsche, 2020). Not only were daily working
procedures rapidly digitalized through the increased use of
home offices, but logistics planning and control is also fac-
ing far-reaching changes. However, it should also be noted
that the problems of digitalization in logistics that already
existed before the pandemic are now further exacerbated
(e.g., access to current and reliable data). One trend that
stands out in the field is the ever-increasing need for auto-
mated logistics processes to increase the responsiveness
and resilience of logistics planning processes. However, the
automation of logistics processes is first preceded by the
standardization of precisely these processes, which contin-
ues to present companies with challenges that must be ad-
dressed at an early stage.
Visibility: As discussed, real-time visibility of global multi-
tier networks will be realized by the majority of companies
in a relatively short period of time. This will require early
investments in promising approaches and technologies to
foster this development. In this regard, blockchain and
digital twin technologies stand out among the more prom-
ising technologies contributing to the vision of multi-tier
visibility. Blockchain technology describes the principle of
decentralized and immutable storage of verified transac-
tions. Through decentralized logistics, this technology can
contribute to increased end-to-end visibility in interna-
tional logistics networks, as it efficiently addresses con-
cerns about data security and trust among stakeholders in
international logistics networks if adopted in a mindful
manner (cf. Verhoeven/Sinn/Herden, 2018). Digital twins
of logistics networks, on the other hand, represent digital,
up to real-time images of logistics networks that enable not
only completely new approaches to the planning and con-
trol of logistics networks, but also the simulation of several
scenarios. These opportunities make the digital twin one of
the most promising technologies for logistics management.
However, blockchain and digital twin should be seen as
complementary rather than competing technologies.
Risk and volatility management: In order to be able to re-
spond to future crises, the structured expansion of risk and
volatility management is one of the main fields of action in
many companies. The management of the COVID-19 pan-
demic showed that most companies already have good re-
sponse capabilities and resilience. In the short term, cross-
functional crisis management teams were set up, crisis re-
ports prepared, and other measures were taken. However,
there is high potential for expansion in more complex but
extremely promising approachestoriskandvolatilityman-
agement, as shown by the gap analysis performed in Chap-
ter 4. Establishing AI-based early warning and forecasting
systems is clearly one of the core challenges here. Compa-
nies are still hesitant to develop and implement such ap-
proaches, even though promising techniques have already
been developed and tested. For example, it is already possi-
ble today to use AI algorithms to significantly increase the
forecasting accuracy for arrival times in highly complex
maritime transport chains compared with conventional ap-
proaches (cf. Weinke/Poschmann/Straube, 2018; Straube/
Weinke/Poschmann, 2020). The SMECS research project can
be seen as one example of a proven approach in the field
(free online demonstrator available at https://smecs-eta.
de/), but other examples can also be found in the litera-
Moreover, the establishment of a supplier risk tower can
assist in detecting risks in international logistics network
early and on a regular basis, and initiating timely counter-
measures. In general, the constant measurement of essen-
tial information on the status logistics networks is a basic
requirement for risk and volatility management. One estab-
lished and proven approach is a volatility measurement
tool that calculates a volatility score based on benchmark
data from various manufacturing firms, thereby enabling
companies to identify the source of volatility in their spe-
cific case and how to initiate efficient counter measures
(see Nitsche, 2019). Further information and management
concepts in the field of risk and volatility management can
also be found online in the TUB Logistics Navigator (freely
available here:
This tool offers logistics managers the possibility to analyze
and plan logistics networks together with suppliers and
customers in a co-creative approach; it also contains vari-
ous content that has been developed through years of re-
search in the field of international logistics networks and
that has found acceptance in practice.
In conclusion, the COVID-19 pandemic will undoubtedly
have far-reaching consequences for the future planning
and design of international logistics networks. Even if the
initially envisaged reversal of globalization is not expected,
it can be assumed that logistics will be accepted as costing
more in the future and that companies will increasingly rely
on more cost-intensive – but also more resilient, flexible,
and agile – approaches. Today, it is therefore already im-
portant to develop, redesign, and implement precisely such
concepts to be prepared for future disruptions. The interac-
tion with technological solutions will become increasingly
important, so it can be assumed that logistics management
will, in future, be even more interdisciplinary than it al-
ready is today. However, even with all the digitalization,
automation, and use of AI approaches, the human compo-
nent should not be disregarded, and it can be assumed that
the COVID-19 pandemic will also have far-reaching conse-
quences for employees in logistics and their working meth-
ods and approaches. As a result, we will certainly also see
Wissenschaftliche Beiträge
WiSt Heft 11 · 202124
new approaches to leadership in logistics; approaches that
are still rather understudied today, but will become in-
creasingly important.
Junge, A. L.,Verhoeven, P.,Reipert, J.,Mansfeld, M.,Strau-
be, F. (Ed.), Pathway of Digital Transformation in Logistics:
Best Practice Concepts and Future Developments, in:
Schriftenreihe Logistik Der Technischen Universität Berlin,
Sonderband 8, Berlin 2019.
Nitsche, B., Development of an Assessment Tool to Control
Supply Chain Volatility, in: Schriftenreihe Logistik Der
Technischen Universität Berlin, Berlin 2019.
Straube, F., Nitsche, B., Heading into „The New Normal“:
Potential Development Paths of International Logistics Net-
works in the Wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic, in: Inter-
national Transportation, Vol. 72 (2020), No. 3, pp. 31–35.
Straube, F., Weinke, M., Poschmann, P., Hohes Potenzial
Für Lernende Systeme in Logistischen Entscheidungspro-
zessen, Logistik Für Unternehmen (blog), Online,
2020 (accessed: 14 April 2020).
Verhoeven, P., Sinn, F., Herden, T.,ExamplesfromBlock-
chain Implementations in Logistics and Supply Chain Man-
agement: Exploring the Mindful Use of a New Technology,
in: Logistics, Vol. 2 (2018), No. 3, pp. 1–19.
Weinke, M., Poschmann, P., Straube, F., Künstliche Intelli-
genz in Logistiknetzwerken. Verbesserung Der Zuverlässig-
keit Maritimer Transportketten Durch Akteursübergreifen-
de ETA-Prognosen, in: Internationales Verkehrswesen,
Vol. 70 (2018), No. 4, pp. 71–75.
Nitsche/Straube, Defining the “New Normal” in International Logistics Networks
WiSt Heft 11 · 2021 25
Full-text available
The world of logistics is changing and entering a new era. The advance of digitalization and technologization enables new business models, increased process efficiencies, novel planning approaches, and much more but, on the downside, there is also the risk of being lost in the maelstrom of developments. Within these developments, the automation of logistics processes and ultimately the design of autonomous logistics systems is one of the most defining trends that has far-reaching consequences for the planning and execution of future logistics processes. This Special Issue aims to contribute to the discussion and to get to the bottom of the question of how the path towards automated and autonomous logistics systems should be designed. This editorial lays a foundation by presenting application areas of automation and discussing the theoretical path towards autonomous logistics systems. The articles that follow provide highly practical insights into current research results on the automation and autonomization of informational and physical logistics processes.
Full-text available
The Coronavirus crisis is putting international logistics networks to the test and it is already clear that the crisis is relentlessly exposing problems that international logistics networks must change as a result of the crisis. This article aims to reveal future developments in international logistics networks and discuss potential development paths. On the basis of a structured discussion with 23 logistics managers and a follow-up survey among them, current challenges and possible solutions were identified and theses on potential developments of international logistics networks were evaluated. This revealed that digitaliza-tion and the automation of processes have top priority for efficient risk and volatility management. In addition, there are tendencies toward more localized, agile logistics networks, which, with the aim of greater resilience, may also generate higher costs than those seen before the crisis.
Full-text available
In the context of logistics, blockchain can help to increase end-to-end visibility along global supply chains. Thus, it can lead to improved tracking of goods and offer tamper-proof data to build trust among parties. Although a variety of blockchain use cases already exists, not all of them seem to rely on blockchain-specific features, but could rather be solved with traditional technologies. The purpose of this paper is, therefore, to identify characteristic use cases described for blockchain in the field of LSCM and to analyze them regarding their mindful technology use based on five mindful technology adoption principles: engagement with the technology; Technological novelty seeking; awareness of local context; cognizance of alternative technologies; and anticipation of technology alteration. The authors identified five blockchain case clusters and chose one case for each category to be analyzed in detail. Most cases demonstrate high engagement with the technology, but there are significant differences when it comes to the other mindful use principles. This paper highlights the need to understand the problem and to apply the right technology in order to solve it. When solving a problem, care should be taken to address a technology’s unique features to ensure effectiveness and cost-efficiency.
Development of an Assessment Tool to Control Supply Chain Volatility
  • B Nitsche
Nitsche, B., Development of an Assessment Tool to Control Supply Chain Volatility, in: Schriftenreihe Logistik Der Technischen Universität Berlin, Berlin 2019.
Hohes Potenzial Für Lernende Systeme in Logistischen Entscheidungsprozessen
  • F Straube
  • M Weinke
  • P Poschmann
Straube, F., Weinke, M., Poschmann, P., Hohes Potenzial Für Lernende Systeme in Logistischen Entscheidungsprozessen, Logistik Für Unternehmen (blog), Online, URL: nternehmen/produktionslogistik/hohes-potenzial-fuer-ler nende-systeme-in-logistischen-entscheidungsprozessen/, 2020 (accessed: 14 April 2020).