How Technology Can Drive Remote Work in a Supply Chain Environment
Published on 13 January 2021
When the pandemic struck, shutting down supply chains around the globe and bringing most manufacturing to a temporary halt, companies faced challenges they had never faced before.
The threat to business wasn’t from a failing economy; it wasn’t trade-related (although trade between the U.S. and China remains a source of ongoing strain on supply chains), and it wasn’t a threat caused by a loss of market share.
What the coronavirus has demonstrated in frightening detail is how critical people are to everything. This may seem obvious since it’s people who build and run companies but when a virus can paralyze the movements of literally billions of individuals around the world, how does a company face down and solve that kind of challenge?
Spend Or Save?
Many manufacturers were in the middle of digital transformations and when Covid-19 brought supply chain activity to a halt, they had to decide whether to continue digitizing or put on the brakes, conserve cash and try to weather the storm – assuming the storm would pass quickly.
Indeed, it now appears that won’t be the case. Many epidemiological experts maintain that the virus will remain among us for months, perhaps years. Our social habits may be altered permanently. Certainly, as manufacturing operations begin to resume, companies have had to rapidly re-think how their workforce can stay safe while doing their jobs.
This is where digital transformation plays such a vital role. Before the virus, the point of digitizing both front and back-office operations was to gain greater and greater efficiencies, break down internal information silos and create organizations that had complete visibility into their business operations, including supply chains, in real-time.
Digitized operations mean that a manufacturer can pivot relatively quickly to adjust to shifts in supply or demand ¬– or, in the case of what has happened since January 2020, shifts in both supply and demand.
The Art Of Remote Work
Centralizing data through the elimination of data silos, one of the key benefits of digitization, has also meant that management and employees can handle and track operations remotely. What is digital is also mobile, today. That mobility holds the key to moving business forward in the midst of an ongoing global health threat.
Accenture maintains, in a recent report, that “digital enablement is an essential part of fuelling rapid change and building resilience in manufacturing.” The authors argue that those companies with digital platforms, accessible data and advanced analytics capabilities (which are inherent in many digital solutions, for example), will be the ones able to respond faster, more accurately and more successfully to any further Covid-19 disruptions.
As supply chains transform into digital ecosystems, data accessed remotely means that many employees don’t have to be physically present to do their jobs. Numerous technology companies, for example, may have a titular head office but the majority of employees work from home. More and more businesses will opt as much as possible for this model as social distancing becomes the established norm. Technologies that permit remote work like Zoom, Go To Meeting, Google Meet, Salesforce Quip, and even the grand-daddy, Skype, allow communication among employees to continue safely, unaffected by social distancing.
However, many are unable to work remotely. Essential workers have done exceptional, often heroic, work during the pandemic. Front-line medical staff, grocery store clerks, paramedics, fire-fighters, police officers, and others put themselves in danger of infection on a daily basis while carrying out their duties. All too overlooked are the long-haul drivers and the warehouse workers who move produce and other essential goods across North America, ensuring that food delivery remains as uninterrupted as possible. Food wholesalers and producers must ensure that their logistics plans are locked down tightly; maximizing the work that must be done in a distribution center to store, pick, and pack products for shipping coupled with route efficiency while minimizing mileage and time traveled is mission-critical when shipping truckloads of perishable goods to market and that need has only been heightened, thanks to the coronavirus. Accenture states it is imperative that companies ensure their logistics partners can continue to deliver on time, something that can be readily determined only within a digitally-focused supply chain. Even here, logistics can be managed remotely, further removing health risks to employees.
Is Technology Saving The Global Economy?
In March, the BBC ran a story on its news site that posed an intriguing what-if scenario: what if the pandemic had struck in 2005, rather than 2020? Just 15 years ago, much of the mission-critical technology in use today, hadn’t been developed. Mobile phones were just that: phones that you could carry in your pocket – not the powerful, hand-held computers and communication devices that they are today. Laptops were limited in their memory capacity of around four to six gigabytes; this blog is being written on a laptop, several years old, with nearly 1,000 gigabytes on its hard drive. Internet bandwidth was limited and millions of users were still using the old, slow-as-molasse dial-up services. And forget about software for remote work. Skype had been developed in 2003 but was strictly an internet phone service with no video capability. In short, if the coronavirus had struck just 15 years ago when our technology capabilities were still very limited, the global economy may very well have ground to a complete halt with catastrophic results.
It can be argued that digital transformation may have been a voluntary undertaking prior to the pandemic but it is now unthinkable for a manufacturing business to put off what is essential for corporate survival. Generix Group North America has created a platform that covers every aspect of supply chain operations. The proprietary solution, called the Generix Supply Chain Hub, consists of four separate but interconnected components: Warehouse Management System, Transportation Management System, Manufacturing Execution System, and Enterprise Asset Management. Together, they provide manufacturers with a 360-degree view of their operations in real-time while containing the means for companies to address the safety needs of employees and the power to work remotely.
If you’d like more information on how the Generix Supply Chain Hub can power your company’s operations, we invite you to contact us today.
Companies must expect that temporary supplier shifts will become permanent, evaluate current warehouse and fulfillment spaces, and make decisive changes. Good planning will allow businesses to be flexible and keep operations moving in times of crisis.