This post isn’t about how to deal with the fallout from the pandemic. Like us, you’ve been dealing with it for the past several months. This post is about the lessons Covid-19 can teach us about being prepared for the unexpected.
Because as painful as personal and economic suffering has been for so many, the virus that overnight changed how we live and work, brought many changes that could benefit our company, our clients’ companies, and the general economy for years to come.
Stronger Than We Thought We Were
For example, working from home for extended periods, many staffers were motivated to be as transparent and accountable as possible, and even more diligent about task completion. The lock-down also gave us the opportunity to fully embrace communication and collaboration technology like Zoom, which via thrice-weekly check-ins, forged bonds between parts of the company who, pre-pandemic, interacted less frequently.
More generally, in our client base and in the economy, Covid-19 gave even those with relatively secure jobs a reason to try harder. Strong companies found even better ways to work; weak companies found out which flanks were most exposed and began shoring up their defenses, so to speak. On that note, here’s what we’ve learned from the pandemic so far.
Lesson 1: Stay Flexible
A major challenge for manufacturers as well as organizations whose supply chains featured links to global trading partners, was lack of alternate suppliers when the pandemic forced China and then others to close their factories and ports.
Healthcare networks and hospitals found themselves unable to procure adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) just as patients with Covid-19 symptoms began to show up in ERs and waiting rooms.
Once companies found other suppliers, or made a transition to supply new and sometimes non-traditional customers, many had difficulty electronically exchanging the business documents like purchase orders, invoices, and advance shipping notices necessary to keep goods and revenue flowing through their supply chains.
In ordinary times, delays stemming from the usual onboarding transitioning might be acceptable. During the pandemic, however, intense competition for available inventory put organizations with less advanced integration capabilities at a disadvantage.
Likewise, distributors and manufacturers with no supply issues were faced with customers who were shut down. The question for them was how to adjust to decreasing demand and avoid getting stuck with excess inventory.
For example, one REMEDI client was able to transition from relying on bricks and mortar retail distribution to selling on Amazon, eBay, and Wal-Mart. Having an agile and scalable integration platform provided business processes, web services, and protocols that allowed our client to pivot to online marketplaces in a matter of a few weeks.
So instead of being dead in the water, they saw modest growth while similar companies saw steep declines.
Lesson 2: Fix Vulnerabilities
For companies struggling to pivot while relying on last century’s EDI and integration capabilities, the first question for many is, what do I fix first? While every situation is different, our answer is always the same. Start with the gaps that caused the most pain.
Clients turn to us to help relieve three types of business pain with varying degrees of negative financial impact:
- Inability to support an integration request from a trading partner or forced reliance on work-around solutions
- Limited or no end-to-end transaction visibility across partners from the transport, transformation, and ERP layers
- The cost and effort of supporting aging single purpose EDI, EAI, and MFT while managing friction between the operating systems, software, and integrators
The first step is to find and document the break points and black holes that are limiting operations and costing your company money, then come up with a remediation plan. Our B2B/EDI Architecture Documentation template is designed to help you assess and explain your integration gaps and needs to stakeholders and decision makers.
It will simplify the process of identifying the partners, systems, technologies, and messaging your integration group-- and other integration-related groups around your organization—currently support.
More importantly it can help start the discussion of where those elements may be limiting your growth or competitiveness.
Lesson 3: The Rules Have Changed
Ever since the first version of NAFTA and the advent of “Just In Time” inventory management, manufacturers and distributors have operated according to the gospel of buy from the lowest-cost supplier and keep inventory levels low. Going forward, strict adherence to either may not be the wisest strategy.
In fact, blended strategies may be more prevalent for sourcing that balance cost with other strategic considerations including ready availability of raw materials or components, competition for finished goods (think PPE) production cycles, and shipping costs to name a few.
Furthermore, while you’re re-thinking everything on the supply chain side of your business, customers may be putting you under a similar microscope.
Lesson 4: Expect The Unexpected
Like you, we wake up every day to a new world with new rules, new priorities, new vulnerabilities. While Covid-19 was unprecedented in its scale, scope, and speed, it would be a mistake to assume it was a 100-year event.
To judge from signals such as the recovery in housing prices, 401(K) balances, and employment level, it was natural to believe the pain from the downturn known as the Great Recession—which officially ended in 2009—was a distant memory.
Yet in a matter of a few weeks, unemployment nearly tripled from jobs lost to the closing of restaurants, malls and other businesses deemed necessary to enforce social distancing and contain the spread of the virus. No one could have predicted how swift and widespread the fallout would be. Now, as we inch toward whatever the new normal looks like, we’ve learned it’s prudent to begin preparing for the next normal.
Lesson 5: Never Let A Crisis Go To Waste
In justifying the cost of investing in modern integration to management, funding for these proposals seldom cite the need to build out the capacity to survive unknown, previously unimaginable events. With memories of Covid-19 so fresh, we now know what unimaginable looks like.
Mind you, we’re not suggesting that having current generation EDI, EAI, and MFT capabilities will cause new customers or opportunities to materialize out of thin air. At the same time-- to reiterate our client’s experience with online marketplaces cited in Lesson 1—those capabilities will make it easier for your company to pivot swiftly and respond to the opportunities that present themselves.
The lessons outlined above (each of which we’ll be exploring in more detail in the weeks ahead) and the tools and insights we’ve curated here can help you build your case for modernizing your ability to do business with a variety of trading partners, not just the ones whose standards and processes are currently meshed with yours.
Because if Covid-19 has taught us anything, it’s this. Unexpected economic events are going to come along and punch us in the face. Modern integration tools that add resilience to our supply chains, flexibility to our revenue streams, and strength to our reputations can help us keep from being knocked out when they do.