There’s a saying: “Old ways won’t open new doors.” It’s now fairly obvious that the relaxation of the Coronavirus/COVID-19 lockdown (aka “stay at home”) will only be gradual, in most countries. Whatever the “new normal” is going to be, it’s going to be very different from what we were used to. How will manufacturers and distributors adapt to these revolutionary changes?
Digital transformation, the business and IT revolution that Gartner Research called for in 2017, is no longer an undertaking that a few organizations attempt. The old ways have gone. In order to deal with remote work, physical distancing in the workplace, and other news ways of working, companies will be looking at what technology can do to assist them – in other words, starting digitalizing. Companies that don’t understand that things have changed will not survive.
What changes are we likely to see?
To be agile and stable, go digital
Businesses aim to be stable, but now they realize they need to be agile. How rapidly can you adapt if something in the market changes rapidly as it has done, and you need to change how you do things? How do you keep operating if something like this happened again – for example, second or third waves? You need to look at solutions that allow you to change those key elements of your supply chain, production operations, and shipment activities without major disruption.
Your staff need access to work transactions, processes, and data wherever they are, and they still need to talk to each other, i.e. collaborate. The technology is available now for you to enable new collaborative practices.
How can you provide access to policies, transactions, and data when information is so dynamic? Digital assistants, or chatbots, can offer relief in some areas such as common or basic queries so that your staff can be freed up for more complex issues.
Some inventory isn’t moving, other items you are running unexpectedly out of stock. How do you identify and locate items or parts quickly, especially critical ones? You need a modern inventory management system.
It’s likely that many of your sales and operations plans have significantly changed. Have you looked at solutions (not spreadsheets) that you can use for production and sourcing plans to balance production with demand, and do it rapidly?
The ability to track and report on the source and handling of items or parts is now even more important to ensure what you use is safe. Similarly, your quality control processes and practices now need to be updated and pass the most stringent requirements. Will your current tools and technology enable you to do this?
Re-evaluate the supply chain
The old globalized supply chain won’t disappear but it will certainly change. Will we move from an era of globalization to one of regionalization, where businesses look to suppliers that are closer?
In order to reduce the risk of supply, companies may look to add new suppliers to their existing base. The old ways of calling for new suppliers and validating their qualifications won’t suffice anymore, especially when you can do it digitally. So what platforms have you got to manage suppliers and the orders that you send them? In addition, shouldn’t you be considering collaborative messaging platforms where you can include customers and suppliers for better delivery and customer service?
How will factories change?
Manufacturers will need to recover first – e.g. improve liquidity and working capital – before they consider retooling. Despite this many manufacturing jobs are on-site and cannot be done remotely. What will need to be done immediately is to decrease worker density throughout the production process? This means it’s time to start exploring how you can deploy automation technologies, in materials movement and production, and using the Industrial Internet of things.
If customers look for more local suppliers, will there be a drive to bring manufacturing closer to home where possible?
Move infrastructure to the cloud
To enable Work From Home (WFH) you will need better infrastructure for collaboration, application and data sharing, network throughput, VPN hardware capacity, and user support. Now maybe the time to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of using public cloud providers rather than doing it internally.
Physical vs. virtual meetings
Physical connections will still be important. We won’t all be only socializing or working through Zoom calls once this pandemic is over.
What will happen to face-to-face meetings? If you provide a service, and part of the time you bill a client is for the cost of traveling to their site, will they rather suggest you meet online? What new opportunities can be opened by meeting people virtually, e.g., better ways of speaking with distant or international customers?
For events that people attend in person, like conferences and seminars, you may miss some of the networking and the ‘accidental’ conversations by going virtual, but you can still get the main benefits of the event, the information and insights. I have anecdotal evidence of two seminars that were recently held online in which the audience, who had to sign in, exceeded by several times the number who would usually have attended the seminars in person.
Having your events online drastically reduces the cost, so you could schedule more regular events, with great content, directly to people that need it, when they need it, without them having to travel to get it.
What will organizations need to change?
A McKinsey report commented that, of 21 keys to success, three relate to the workforce’s digital capabilities, including:
- Empowering people to work in new ways
- Giving day-to-day tools a digital upgrade
- Change the ways you communicate. For example, move away from traditional channels that support only one-way communication (like email) towards more interactive platforms that enable open dialogues across the organization.
Other keys to success involve workforce changes:
- Ensure that people in key roles play parts in reinforcing change
- New ways of working, as well as changes to the organization’s overall culture, so employees can be empowered to work differently and keep up with the faster pace of business
So technology can help but organizational, social, and cultural changes will also be needed.
Novelist Arundhati Roy ended an article she wrote recently with this observation:
“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging … our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers, and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world.”
Has the lockdown/quarantine led you to re-think some of the personal things you used to do, change them, or come up with brand new ones? Don’t bring the baggage of old practices and policies into the post-COVID world. Instead, businesses that succeed will be those that ascertain and capitalize on new practices, while not prematurely abandoning the pre-epidemic era ones that still apply.