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COVID-19: What’s Up and What’s Next?

Alan Rooks
By Alan Rooks Editor in Chief, Manufacturing Engineering

Living with the day-to-day reality of COVID-19 can be challenging for individuals. Running a business in this pandemic era is an order of magnitude harder. However, in our information age, there’s no shortage of ideas and advice on how to get through this. So, what are the current trends and what will business look like post-pandemic?

Dow Inc. Chairman and CEO Jim Fitterling, in a conversation with IHS Markit vice chairman Daniel Yergin, said that this crisis is different. “It feels like 1987 from a financial market standpoint,” he said. “It feels like 9/11 in the way things shut down in aerospace. It has some resemblance to 2008-09. But it’s different in scope and scale and the fact that it’s a rolling epidemic.”

With lockdowns easing, however, safety is a key issue. The Atlanta office of law firm Seyfarth outlined these key steps regarding returning employees:

  • Maintain a safe workplace, including screenings and developing other health and safety protocols;
  • Communicate to employees regarding COVID-19 related issues;
  • Implement social distancing; and
  • Comply with federal, state and local COVID-19 related laws and orders, including paid leave laws.

And what about the post-pandemic future? Andrea Belk Olson, CEO of Pragmadik, said that companies using traditional methodologies were caught flat-footed. The inability for employees to work remotely and access information quickly, as well as a lack of digitization and employee empowerment, caused congestion or complete shutdowns. Organizations must simplify processes, improve their ability to pivot, and empower employees to solve problems, she said.

One tip: Don’t depend on physical locations. “Companies tied to old ERP systems [with] an individual tethered to an in-office computer, or with one team controlling key parts of their process [have] a ‘single point of failure,’” she said. The solution? Decentralize and empower individual employees.

Finally, a new report from Deloitte, “Navigating Disruption,” focuses on disruptive factors facing manufacturers and how to prepare for them.

The survey of industrial manufacturing leaders revealed a 92 percent consensus that manufacturers are “minimally prepared” to handle long-term trade volatility. If international trade volatility persists, manufacturers could move to managing their operations and production more regionally, as soon as the next one to three years.

The big takeaway from this crisis will be digitization. According to the survey, as many as 35 percent of industrial companies could be out of business or changed if they don’t embrace digitization. In 10 years, up to 30 percent of new revenue for manufacturers could come from digital revenue streams.

That’s a good point. While this crisis has been profound, the Internet and digital tech have allowed companies to continue to operate. Had COVID-19 happened 30 years ago, the damage would have been immeasurably worse. The transition to digital is accelerating and it’s time to embrace that change.

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