Digital readiness and how businesses are responding to the new normal
JP van Loggerenberg, Chief Technology Officer at SYSPRO
If the past few months have shown us anything, it’s that businesses everywhere are at different stages of digital readiness. We have all had to venture bravely into a “new normal” and adjust to a new, more remote, world of work and daily life. While this transition has been more natural for the companies who already had a strong digital strategy in place, it has been a challenge for those in the earlier stages of digital transformation.
The key is not to get too despondent or lose hope altogether. Instead, now is the time to acknowledge where you are in the digital transformation process. Decide where you are going and what you want to achieve, then gradually work towards it.
The art of reinvention
It has been interesting to see how mid-sized businesses have begun to reinvent themselves as pandemic-related regulatory changes have brought a halt to business-as-usual. All businesses have had to re-look both their customer and workforce journeys, re-mapping them to comply with regulatory requirements.
Supply and demand have been shaken and stirred due to global lockdown measures. The manufacturing sector has been particularly hard hit, as so much of the supply chain has been outsourced to other countries. We are definitely seeing localisation occurring now as global supply chains have been severely restricted.
The need for new safety protocols
Many of our manufacturing clients have had to implement interventions, including regular testing and isolation, where necessary, of employees. Workspaces need modification to ensure limited interaction; high-frequency cleaning of high touch surfaces has also impacted the planning of shifts. Improvement of filtration and ventilation systems and the use of personal protective equipment has become mandatory, among other initiatives.
This new normal has affected all spheres of the business. We’ve seen changes in the delivery process, for example, where strict sterilisation efforts are in place from the time the goods leave the supplier to when they are delivered to the customer. Now customers no longer need to sign for goods received, which would have been a deal-breaker in the past, all to ensure compliance with necessary safety protocols.
The need to adapt
Across the world, automotive manufacturers have pivoted to produce ventilators instead of car parts, luxury brands are producing sanitisers instead of perfume. These changes to the production lines have helped to answer the increased demand for personal protective equipment and at the same time have helped to keep the businesses afloat during these uncertain times.
Staff training still needs to continue. Businesses are learning to adjust from onsite, face-to-face training to remote training sessions through platforms like Zoom or MS Teams meetings. This in itself has also been a learning curve for many. How do you test those being trained if you did not have online testing in place to begin with?
Transition to hybrid cloud
I think it has become clear just how important it is to have a defined overview of all operational areas of your business, and to have interoperable systems in place that allow for seamless integration. The ability to scale up and down quickly to respond to any major events such as Black Friday, other seasonal sales, or pandemics that force everyone indoors, is essential.
Our consulting team is working with several clients who are looking to make the transition to the cloud. Several businesses are seeing the value in adopting hybrid cloud strategies as they will be able to move specific applications that require scalability and high availability to the cloud, enabling them to respond rapidly when demand increases.
Another critical operational area, in which we’ve seen an increased requirement, is cyber-security. Businesses worldwide have had to enable entire workforces to work remotely, which places critical information at risk over unsecured connections. Cloud enables them to ensure they have the flexibility to scale, to facilitate remote working and to take advantage of the additional levels of security that accompanies the move to cloud.
Renewed interest in digital technologies
Businesses are also assessing technologies like artificial intelligence, digital points of sale, online retail capabilities, bots and others. Where previously these technologies were something they were considering, or were working towards implementing at a point in the future, today they are considered fast-track elements that can help them to move forward in the business and remain viable.
It is not just manufacturing clients who are having to adapt. Retailers, whose sales were previously predominantly through brick-and-mortar stores, have had to make changes too, creating stronger online presences and implementing online stores. Some have made the transition more successfully than others, but it is a good start, and we all realise that adapting to this new normal is a learning process for everyone.
Companies which, in the past, might have manually captured 100 orders a month via their Web sites have had to act quickly, increasing their online store capabilities. They have to ensure that orders can now be captured automatically on their systems as volumes have increased, sometimes as much as one-hundred-fold, and more staff have had to be hired to assist with the picking and packing to ensure that goods are ready for collection or delivery.
By having a clear view across the business, these organisations were able to see the potential hazards, assess what they could and could not manage, and respond by scaling up to manage customer expectations and thus saving the customer experience.
Moving proactively forward
You do not have to panic if you did not have a very specific digital readiness plan in place previously. An important starting point is to gain an understanding of your organisation’s digital maturity. You need to be cautious about rushing to roll-out a digital strategy, without this key insight. While your IT department might be digital-ready, your users might not yet be digitally mature enough to handle the transition, and the disruption that digitalisation could cause may impede progress or make your users unproductive.
Now is the time to identify what some of the pressing needs are for your business, assessing whether you have a foundation on which you can build. If you will be starting from a zero position, you can begin by putting a digital transition plan together, and then start gaining momentum.
You can also take a rather conservative approach, and analyse what's going to be best for your business. Ask yourself what digitalisation would allow your business to do? Decide what the best outcomes would be for your business, and identify some of the pressing challenges that you're experiencing now, and how you can address those challenges.
Implementing an industry-built ERP solution with multiple deployment options, whether on-premises or in the cloud, can help you deliver specific functionality that enables you to adapt to your unique, and particular, business requirements. It can aid in optimising and simplifying your operations, helping you to stay current and in control, and has the agility and scalability to adapt to your needs, simply and cost-effectively.
Speak to your current vendor, or with multiple vendors if you don’t already have one. Explain your objectives, let them know what systems you are currently running and find out what they can do to assist you. This will give you a better idea of what is possible, what will need to happen, and what the costs involved will be, so that you can align with a partner to help you to move forward.
Being agile in your response to unusual events or activities that can impact the success of your business is important. Having a clear view across the business, and being able to scale up and down, or make adjustments in your supply chain quickly, with minimal disruption to the business, is now mission critical.