A challenging year for industry to say the least – and one that has forced companies to adapt by re-evaluating their existing practices and technologies. Over the last weeks we have caught up with industry figures to discuss how leading companies have reacted to and mitigated the global Covid-19 disruption in 2020 and how they will approach 2021 with a renewed mindset.
Kirsty Hazlewood spoke to Michael Ford, Sr. Director Emerging Industry Strategy at Aegis Software….
KH: Michael, how did your company initially react to the crisis?
Our first priority was to safeguard the health of our company members and their families, eliminating all unnecessary travel, as well as setting up the provision for everyone to work from home. Many of us were already set up to do this, so the hardware and tools required were easily available. In fact, we went remote quite literally overnight thanks to a great team and our existing rather advanced infrastructure. In parallel, we contacted customers to provide the assurance that our normal support and service would not be affected in any adverse way, and that we were there to help as they needed it.
KH: Supply-chain challenges affecting production were a major consequence of the pandemic. What areas of the supply-chain, both regionally and product-wise, were worst hit, and how did you overcome the disruption and manage supply-chain risk?
Supply-chain quickly became a key concern of most of our customers, as they recognized key dependencies on materials sourced remotely, with factories making components and assemblies being threatened with disruption or even shutdown, as well as logistics and allocation challenges. The use of our existing software tools helped customers in this regard by identifying accurately and exactly, materials that were internally available and how they were allocated, such that decisions could be quickly supported for additional sourcing or a priority change should access to materials become later than expected. In addition, our incoming material quality control has provided enhanced management of incoming material inspection, given the greater risk of quality issues and potential counterfeit materials. Our exact traceability feature ensures that should any material related quality issues be detected, the exact scope of materials at fault can be identified, and appropriate action taken.
KH:How did your operating procedures change regarding staff absenteeism and health and safety? Did you implement a work-from-home policy? What did this mean for normal business operations?
Continuous close communication with company members, putting their health first, enabled us to transition smoothly to working from home, without significant disruption. Sales and marketing activities, as well as customer support, and even deployments, were done virtually, which means that a completely normal business operation could continue. Being a software company, our challenges were easier than for others, giving us time to focus also on helping customers as they faced their own challenges, which was helped by knowledge obtained from our team members in China who had earlier experience of the nature of the Pandemic.
KH: With exhibitions and other face-to-face sales opportunities cancelled, how did you adapt the marketing and sales of your products?
We immediately decided that face-to-face marketing events and trade shows were not possible. Being familiar with on-line tools such as Zoom and GotoWebinar, we have ensured that the content planned for each event was transferred into on-line presentations at the replacement virtual events. We also have been creating our own multiple series of webinars, designed to help and inform the market at large. Our US-based virtual user group meeting has been the highlight of this, with excellent attendance and audience satisfaction reported.
KH: How did you support your existing customers during the lockdown and how successful was this?
There were many instances where our customers were helped by our tools, with little additional support from our side. In one such example, a customer successfully transitioned from manufacturing defense products to medical products, and won the UK ventilator challenge, gaining regulatory approval in a small fraction of the time normally needed, due to a combination of their excellence of best-practice led operation, together with the use of our software tools, which easily and quickly satisfy requirements across all industry sectors. We offered our customers making medical devices free “surge licenses” to help them meet sudden demand changes that they faced.
KH: Do you believe the COVID-19 pandemic has forced companies to adapt and invent, and in fact accelerated innovation?
A: We see that companies have had to make tough choices in order to adapt their operations throughout the pandemic, and also to strategize for their recovery. We have seen a very large increase in demand for digital tools that gather data, provide contextualization of data to build visibility and actions, through the use of our built-in AI ontology, supporting decision-making for optimization and the ability to address challenges as they occur. These tools differentiate manufacturing companies in terms of capability, responsiveness, flexibility, as well as core quality and performance. The most advanced companies that understood this way forward have reacted very quickly, with others following as they discover the real business benefits that today’s most modern software tools provide.
KH: How do you foresee technologies such as IIoT, artificial intelligence, robotics, and 5G future-proofing the industry against possible future disruptive events?
Manufacturing now cannot fail to recognize the importance of risk management in their business, to eliminate dependencies on things that they cannot control. Whether caused by a pandemic, a trade war, civil unrest, or simply the weather, the holistic business model must include practical elements of cost and risk together. We see that this is already beginning to result in the move toward on-shoring and re-shoring, as well as significant supply-chain changes. Technologies such as IIoT and AI are essential in terms of making that business case work, bringing added value from fixed cost resources, especially as product-mix and direct shipping increase.
KH: Has your business model now irrevocably changed and will you continue with some of these changes, even once the world returns to a new normal?
The business model of the entire industry, and beyond, will permanently change as a result of the challenges faced in 2020. For many, this represents the “silver lining” of the Pandemic, in that there has been a real acceleration in the already active re-understanding of core business needs within manufacturing, as they catch up to the reality of trends that have emerged in the market over many years. For ourselves also, we have taken the opportunity to enhance our knowledge management, OKR engine, as well as levelling-up our digital marketing and deployment activities. Utilizing smart tools make the transition to modern digital manufacturing very much more painless, with clear benefits for the economy, the environment, as well as everyone working in the industry.