It was clear from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that this global crisis, even if not new in the modern world, was totally different from any previous one. The main reason for the difference is due to the globalized organization of our modern world and society. The second reason is the technology available that supports our globalized society. These two aspects are making the pandemic’s impact and its consequences very different than any previous pandemic. As time went on and it became clear that the emergency was going to last longer than expected, it became obvious that the impact COVID-19 would leave would impact our lives and business for years to come.
COVID-19 happened after several years of strong technological acceleration, just as we were starting to understand the impact and benefits this technology could have in our life and factories. Suddenly we had to accelerate advancements faster and embrace some of the risks that come with unknown technologies. We switched to survival mode and left behind normal cautions. This created an unbelievable global lab that has transformed our lives and businesses in months, a time frame which normally would have been years or even decades.
One of the most significant examples is the creation of the COVID-19 vaccine. This is the first time that the life science industry was able to create, test, and deliver several different vaccines to market in only a few months on such a massive scale. While this was enabled by necessity for survival, it came from unprecedented usage of technology and capability of collaboration along the global supply chains, especially the most rigid ones. To meet urgent unprecedented demand for products, many companies had to reorganize their manufacturing capacity, increase or decrease production volumes (depending on the product), convert or adapt production lines, and partner with other companies (even competitors) to fulfill demand.
In my opinion, these changes will permanently modify the client supplier relationship for any element in the entire supply chain. The main driver of this relationship change is the necessity for businesses to react to fast changing demand. I see it happening even from my limited point of view. Many of our clients, even the most reluctant, are changing their approach and reaching out to discuss long term relationships based on common goals and aligned strategies. They are asking for flexibility, fast reaction capability, and stability of service. But at the same time, they are sharing mid-term or long-term plans and goals, as well as offering higher continuity of demand and volume. Price is not the only main decision driver on bringing in a system integrator (SI) anymore, as strategic visions for technology implementation, expertise, consulting, working as a team, and understanding the company’s goals is essential. And, of course, SIs that can effectively support a digitization initiative are preferred.
During emergencies, people turn to their communities, family, and close friends for support and relief. During recovery, individuals continue to rely heavily on one another and experience an increase in connectedness. They also demonstrate caution towards new-comers and are wary to allow them into their own social circles. Within the system integrator field, this sense of community is also growing. Communities of partner companies are expanding and responding to their need for safety. The reliability of the relationships gained have an unprecedented value with the current unknowns being so frightening. While changes are happening quickly and many of these changes are in response to the immediate needs of the COVID-19 pandemic, I strongly believe that they are destined to remain and reshape the original client supplier relationship.
Luigi De Bernardini is CEO at Autoware, and President of Autoware Digital, certified members of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Autoware, visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.