Companies are beginning to pick up the pieces and reassemble themselves in anticipation of the post-pandemic recovery.
We all know the world is now a different place than it was a year ago. While those differences will impact how we make, buy and sell things, the full nature of those differences are not yet fully understood.
In an April 2020 IndustryWeek article titled, “What Will Manufacturing’s New Normal Be after COVID-19?” Artem Kroupenev makes the point that even “short-term measures taken in response to global crises lead to changes that last for decades.”
With that in mind, we can be certain that our business and manufacturing future will indeed be very different from the recent past. Current trends will extend into the future in a variety of ways.
Our Emerging Future
Some clues are beginning to reveal what is in store for businesses and manufacturers in the near future. Let’s look at what trends are currently developing and how they might evolve over time.
Now more than ever mobility is a requirement for business processes. Keeping systems locked down on centralized office desktop platforms is not going to be possible.
Field sales and service personnel have already taken advantage of cloud-based applications such as CPQ and CRM to identify customers, configure solutions and deliver successful outcomes. They have proven the viability of these mobilized applications over recent years, which has allowed them to operate anywhere and anytime with full connected capabilities.
These mobilization technologies will enable remote workers who are associated with many other business processes to fulfill their functions and duties beyond the confines of their physical offices.
We are very lucky that this pandemic didn’t occur 25 years ago. One of the truly remarkable things we have witnessed is the ability for so many workers to perform so many of their duties remotely with only minimal visits to the physical office.
To the degree that this has been successful, many are legitimately questioning the need for large, centralized office facilities. Indeed, REI Co-op recently announced its decision to sell its recently completed corporate headquarters building and transition to a near 100 percent remote workforce as a normal mode of operation.
This trend will likely gain traction among many businesses and processes that are not tied to requiring a physical location.
Redefining the Supply Chain
Globalization gave birth to the extended worldwide supply chain. Regardless of the social and political implications of this movement, the pandemic has exposed the frailties of this practice as implemented by many manufacturers.
The distances involved and the lack of logistical resources available to move products quickly and predictably have exposed significant weaknesses and vulnerabilities in many supply-chain operations.
The response is to locate more local sources and multiple sources for critical supplies. Although this trend will no doubt continue to evolve, companies that seek reliability, predictability and stability within their supply chains will opt for much shorter distances and redundant providers whenever possible.
Hand in hand with the new supply-chain model will be the physical reshoring of many manufacturing operations. This trend was beginning to develop prior to COVID in response to political and social pressures, and now it will only develop more momentum.
Before rushing to the conclusion that we will have 1955 employment levels at huge factories all over the country, be aware that automation will largely enable the reshoring of many of these manufacturing facilities.
Robotics, AI, IoT and other advanced technologies will continue to reduce the need for human intervention throughout the manufacturing process.
At the same time, these technologies will help enable workers to perform duties remotely from the shop floor thus enabling the remote-worker option. Workers will also wear multiple hats within the operation moving from process to process—supervising within one process and providing labor within another as needed.
Manufacturing Doctrines Evolve
Ever since McKinsey and Toyota began to redefine the factory and production processes used by enterprises, manufacturers have learned to embrace techniques like Just-In-Time, lean manufacturing, demand-driven production and other practices to reduce inventory and increase predictability of production needs and requirement planning.
Many of these practices are being reviewed in light of instability within existing supply chains. It’s not that the practice is bad, but it is simply not effective without the kind of supply-chain visibility required by those processes—especially in the context of the current environment.
Manufacturers are less willing to rely entirely on the precisely synchronized delivery of supplies without some inventory cushion maintained locally. This evolution is less predictable. However, one can wisely assume that there will be one.
Data and Digitalization as a Competitive Advantage
Most of the companies minimally affected by the pandemic are those that understood the need for maintaining and exploiting the data they generate and consume.
These are the companies that have been able to transfer critical business processes from centralized desktop systems to mobilized remote platforms that enable workers to get the job done without leaving home.
Sales forces empowered by CPQ systems, and marketing operations that are able to exploit automation tools that are both underwritten by CRM systems that contain clean, valid customer and prospect data have been able to continue to engage with prospects and customers.
Savvy companies that lack these capabilities have been able to quickly enable and implement these technologies via cloud-based applications such as CPQ and other front-office systems designed to automate the selling process.
This is the digital reality of today and tomorrow.
Now is the Time to Move Forward, Or Risk Falling Behind
Now is the time to embrace a new future and stop waiting for the past to somehow come back to life. We are all altered and changed by COVID-19. Act now or risk being left behind.