The current situation is undoubtedly extremely challenging for enterprises across every industry. Manufacturing is one area which has been significantly disrupted, particularly with regard to production processes and supply chains, and it will take a while before things get back to normal. This means a solid response strategy is required — especially for large companies that are distributed across multiple locations and have a network of partners, suppliers and customers to manage.
Core processes must continue running to the best extent possible under the given conditions. What’s more, it is essential to continue serving both new and existing customers. Companies must account for the limitations on employees’ work and mobility capabilities during this time. Crisis resilience is called upon. In other words, companies must have a solid plan in place to strengthen their wherewithal, and a strategy to keep operations going. A centralised management instrument providing staff, stakeholders and customers with digital support can play a decisive role.
Specifically, the following steps should be taken:
- Analysis of the current business situation, risk assessment and priority definition
- Definition of effective countermeasures and implementation of relevant processes
- Development of a reliable strategy for returning to normal and communication of new processes and governance
- Application of insights gained to current business and development of long-term business continuity management strategy
Document and assess your status quo
The auto and manufacturing industries are heavily dependent on intercontinental supply chains, so too are many suppliers. Procurement and distribution chains are currently unreliable as a result of limited logistics capabilities. And the production standstill is taking a toll on many companies in the value chain. To plan new routes and adapt delivery processes, information must be assimilated quickly. Businesses that have invested in process documentation, analysis and monitoring in recent years will now have a clear-cut advantage, able to quickly identify and coordinate the relevant measures.
Laying out an emergency plan also requires an understanding of an organisation’s core processes, roles and responsibilities as well as its IT and partner ecosystem. Based on the emergency plan, the next step is to conduct a risk ranking to define operating procedures and keep central processes running. For this, it is advisable to create digital workflow maps. The process should be digitally supported, and documents should be forwarded to the person or team that is next in line in the process chain. Documentation ultimately ensures effective communication across all departments.
Adapting processes and compliance with regulations
Interaction in a digital, process-oriented work environment enables efficient and well-structured communication even when employees are working from home. Furthermore, safeguarding employee health during the current situation through the application of specific guidelines (e.g. on infection prevention and travel) is of the utmost importance. A “read & understood” function enables efficient distribution of guidelines and the ability to verify that they have been received and understood by all relevant employees. In this way, it is possible to distribute and apply new operational procedures very quickly throughout an entire organisation.
Employees whose physical presence is necessary on-site must be protected as well – to safeguard their wellbeing, the UK’s Health and Safety Executive produced guidance for employers around measures to help maintain business continuity during the outbreak. The government guide produces advice for employers on how they can keep employees safe – this includes information on how best to maintain social distancing, staggering work shifts and how to speak with workers about maintain safety at work. Beyond this, indoor tracking technologies can help to ensure that social distancing measures are adhered to in order to maintain continuity at factories, warehouses and other key facilities.
Remote monitoring of machines and factories
Even if some manufacturing plants are operating at the bare minimum, core processes must continue running. This is especially true for inventory monitoring as well as the operation of complex machinery that cannot be shut down easily. Companies must come up with solutions that can be deployed quickly: plug-and-play is the order of the day. Furthermore, they must retrofit older machines to rapidly include them in their monitoring setup.
On-site interval monitoring can be replaced by remote oversight and event-based infrastructure. When machines are digitally connected, triggers can be set to detect dangerous levels so that maintenance teams only need to be deployed when necessary. IoT solutions are becoming the lifeblood of worker protection and service continuity, and self-service solutions are making deployment possible within just a few days.
Continuity management after the crisis
As soon as an end to the acute crisis is in sight, businesses must begin a gradual return to normality. This will also be the time to take stock of lessons learned. Various toolkits and guides are available to support organisations in equipping themselves for potential crises. For example, the Government’s business continuity management toolkit outlines how organisations can maintain essential business processes in the event of an incident and ensure they can get back to business in the quickest possible time.
Secure your future
There is no doubt that businesses have a lot to be dealing with at the moment. Governance, staff information, internal communication, and administration of legacy systems can only be overcome if information is assimilated and made available to everyone who needs it. Cloud-based platforms are invaluable tools for internal and external process management. They give decision makers a central point from which to manage key processes — from analysis and recommendations for action to modifications and evaluation. In times of uncertainty, organisations need clear leadership and communication.
The current situation is proving to be a stress test for many enterprises. Its impact will be felt for a long time to come and businesses would do well to preserve crisis data to help minimise any future disruption. Digital tools offer businesses a way to build resilience and position themselves for a future after the crisis. Achim Berg, President of Bitkom, recently commented that many companies were taking too long to digitalise their processes. Companies should take heed of his wake-up call. Those who set up the necessary structures and digitalise processes and business models will likely emerge from the situation stronger.
Bernd Gross, CTO, Software AG