Silver linings within the COVID cloud

Dec. 4, 2020
“Post-crisis should not look like before the crisis.”

By Chris McNamara, Smart Industry editor in chief

It’s been a challenging year. There’s no disputing that, particularly within the manufacturing sector that has been crippled by the COVID pandemic—shuttered factories, worried workforces, supply chain complications, etc.

But with full respect for the pain this period has caused, let’s explore some positives that can emerge…some silver linings within the COVID cloud that will help industry return to normalcy—or perhaps even better—once this pandemic is put in our past.

Here find a collection of insights from industry optimists…

“COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation for all industries, and process manufacturing is no exception. Process manufacturers can further embrace technology—such as cloud computing, data analytics, and AI—to drive efficiencies, reduce IT costs, support new remote and connected work environments, and create new revenue streams.” Suchitra Bose, Google Cloud director of process manufacturing for the Americas

“There is an abundance of ‘new’ data that is now being presented. New edge-connected devices, such as thermal cameras, are being deployed for heath-checking purposes, generating personnel-temperature profiles. Existing devices are also being explored for more data; metadata streams from video-analytic devices, for example, are being examined in more detail to see what meaningful additional data can be extracted. 

Some of the technologies being used are not necessarily new; rather they are being deployed in different scenarios. Video-analytic devices, either edge-enabled or edge-connected, are being used to their full extent with the resultant metadata being mined to produce tracking and mapping data that was always available but often overlooked or discarded.

Despite the unfortunate reality of the reduction in frontline personnel, compounded by the inevitable changes in working practices associated with the implementation of new policies, we are witnessing safer working conditions and a greater appreciation of what can be achieved at the edge. Whether that be adding new devices or fully utilizing existing ones, combined with an awareness of what can be achieved using simple, secure and autonomous edge-compute solutions. There’s a very strong case to support ‘doing more with less.’”

Duncan Cooke, Stratus Technologies business-development executive 

“Our industry is working tirelessly to resurface from this challenging period with more positives than negatives, more strategies and more business-continuity planning skills than before. In order to be armed for future incidents and able to resume normal business operations faster despite unforeseen situations, companies must learn lessons from the situation they have just overcome. Post-crisis should not look like before the crisis. Some processes that were originally envisioned as a transitional solution will become established and shape day-to-day business. Examples include digital tools for internal and external communication with customers, home-office rules and new digital marketplaces that could supplement analog-procurement measures. If a new software tool has become established in some departments, you should analyze whether the solution could provide meaningful support for other areas.

New processes need to be actively integrated into everyday business activities. You need to fully exploit the potential of digital tools to slim down processes even further while boosting productivity and effectiveness.

Here are a few constructive essentials that have been uncovered due to the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Agility and transparency are everything—they deserve to be developed and acknowledged on an ongoing basis.
  • Leadership and executive unity need to be practiced and reinforced on an ongoing basis in order to ensure resilience during times of uncertainty
  • Your businesses can be reborn in ways you never imagined. You can and should make provisions for a digital future
  • Invest in digital support for all core processes in order to substantially reduce negative impact for customers, partners and employees during a crisis
  • An ‘employee's first’ structural foundation will enable for positive business results in the long run

Software can support the crisis resilience of companies in any industry. For this reason, businesses should seize the opportunity and protect processes with digital tools according to the latest standards. Being more effective can not only save lives and your business, that effectiveness harbors additional potential that can bring you a key advantage in times of growing competitive pressure.”

Bernd Gross, Software AG CTO

"From the beginning, we've seen the pandemic cast a new light on the unseen workers who service and maintain critical assets. Field service technicians are, by nature, not stay-at-home or able to shelter-in-place. They are the frontline workers who are making sure people have power and clean water, ensuring critical machines like ventilators and MRI machines are working, and working around the clock to keep the world running. COVID has exposed a major digital gap in organizations across industries, and one of the silver linings of the pandemic is that it's finally forcing companies to transform their service business to compete in the future—giving these technicians the tools they need and deserve to perform their jobs safely and efficiently." Neil Barua, ServiceMax CEO

“Manufacturing has completely transformed in recent months; since the COVID-19 pandemic began, many manufacturers have been forced to scale down or focus on fewer product categories, while others have needed to scale up to meet increased demand. The state of today’s market put the manufacturing industry up to the test, assessing its ability to quickly adjust to new needs while maintaining growth with less capacity. As global mobility remains limited, customers are quickly embracing the need for cloud-based tools to enable remote work and maintain overall business continuity during times of turmoil.

Demand for digital services—what an OEM can provide to a customer after they have sold the piece of equipment—has increased significantly since the start of the pandemic. For example, customers are realizing it’s much more efficient from both a time and cost perspective to grant their OEM direct access to monitor and manage their machine from a remote location.

Enabled by digitization at various levels, machine builders are starting to more broadly adopt a services-oriented model.

Today’s turbulent environment was unforeseen and impacted OEMs’ ability to service customers in conventional ways. The capabilities offered by digital technology, fueled by advanced connectivity, have opened the door to growing end-user support services revenues for OEMs while strengthening resilience and increasing productivity for their customers. For manufacturing facilities to adapt to unexpected volatility in our current state, as well as in the future, modernizing operations is key.”

Simone Gianotti, Schneider Electric EcoStruxure industry-deployment leader

“During these unprecedented times, industrial-security teams have grappled with unprecedented security challenges. As we gear up for operations to resume, it’s imperative these teams are equally as prepared. By investing the necessary time and resources to fortify the security of OT now, organizations can be sure of their continued uptime, efficiency and safety and we push into a promising future.” Michael Rothschild, Tenable senior director of OT solutions 

“For CFOs in manufacturing and industrial distribution, the pandemic was a call to action–a call to quickly adjust and initiate new methods and guide business decision-making along paradigms that were, and in some ways still are, changing daily.

By clearly communicating the potential implications and financial ramifications of various pandemic responses, finance leaders can not only help minimize the long-term impact of the pandemic, but also help position their companies for the future–particularly a future that may never look like what had been planned before COVID-19.

Capture the key strategic actions that can maximize the recovery. Then, communicate it, prepare for it and rally the company’s associates around it. Just as the pandemic created a call to action for finance leaders, the recovery plan can be a call to action for a stronger recovery and a healthy business.” Greg Cook, Motion Industries EVP & CFO

“Technology that focuses on powering our human frontlines will become increasingly important as the world realizes the importance of industrial workers and digitally connecting them to the people, information, systems and machines to improve their safety, productivity and output quality. This connected-worker technology includes scalable platforms that help ensure the increased safety and security that so many workers currently lack. By implementing solutions that support workers, industrial organizations can also hope to retain business continuity through uncertain times.” Jaime Urquidi, Parsable regional vice president and CPG lead

“In many ways, the OT domain is fortunate that this pandemic arrived now, rather than even a few short years ago. Had remote-access technologies not sufficiently matured and already become entrenched in industry, today, many companies would face an even greater challenge and tougher decisions. They would have had to consider more difficult choices such as whether to put more of their employees at risk, or to further reduce production outputs, or in some cases, even to have to shutter operations if their OT systems were otherwise digitally unreachable.”

Doug Wylie, CISSP, principal security director of Accenture Security’s OT security global practice

“Due to the limited supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), the 3D-printing community rushed to the aid of hospitals across the country to help supply them with essential PPE. It feels good knowing that the company you are working for is making a difference in preventing the spread of COVID-19. With 3D printing PPE and supply chain disruptions all over the news, businesses are realizing the versatility of additive manufacturing and choosing this technology as a way to ensure just-in-time part supplies to avoid costly delays.” Greg Elfering, Ultimaker Americas president of 3D-printing OEM 

“Uptake of certain new technologies is happening much more rapidly than before the pandemic because it is easier to see the applications. These advances will remain when the crisis is behind us. For example, augmented reality is undergoing a boom because it enables people to receive instructions wherever they are, often taking the place of in-person instruction and allowing co-workers to collaborate while physically distant. In all likelihood, users of augmented reality will see the full range of benefits including increased efficiency and huge reduction in errors, and make it a standard part of their operations. With all of the challenges workers and businesses are facing, it is important to acknowledge and celebrate the positives where we can find them.”

Jessica Juozapavich, MxD vice president of finance and business operations