Navigating the Post-COVID-19 “New Normal”: How Engineers and Manufacturers Can Use Information Management to Adjust

The way that business is conducted has been radically – and quickly – transformed by the coronavirus pandemic. Businesses across the United States and the world are struggling to downsize their offices and facilities and support remote work whenever possible. Companies are scrambling to streamline their operations, create new procedures and build systems that enable the necessary flow of information between workers.

Manufacturers and engineers, particularly, have been hit hard by the sudden closure of workplaces and halting of operations. A recent survey by the National Association of Manufacturers Found that up to 78% of manufacturers anticipate a financial impact due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 53% anticipate a change in operations and 36% anticipate supply chain disruptions.

Many of the economic difficulties that manufacturers and engineering firms face are unavoidable. However, there are steps that companies can take to improve internal flow of information and access to documents for employees.

“Many manufacturers still rely on paper systems and outdated procedures, which makes working effectively offsite much more difficult during this pandemic,” says Brian Sallade, CEO of Kinsmen Group, an organization that specializes in engineering information management. “Until COVID-19 hit, there was often no perceived incentive to change. Now is the time for manufacturers and engineering firms to take a good look at their technology and procedures and to implement new systems that will better facilitate the transfer of information – both during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.”

KB-Resource spoke to Sallade to get his perspective on the challenges that engineers and manufacturers currently face. Given these challenges, how to implement both short-term and long-term solutions for optimized flow of information was explored.

 

KB-Resource: Did the manufacturing industry have difficulties with document management and information access before COVID-19? If so, why?

Sallade: Before COVID, many companies knew that they had outdated and inefficient procedures, but had not faced a “wake-up” call until the pandemic hit. Paper systems, which many engineers and manufacturers still use, can appear to work fine when everyone is in the office. However, in a situation where everyone is required to work from home, getting the relevant information becomes vastly more difficult. A robust document management system that incorporates Cloud technology is part of the solution.  Ideally this would be in place in advance of an emergency.

 

KB-Resource: What can companies facing shutdown with no prior system in place do right now? Is there a short term-solution they can implement?

Sallade: A short-term or “band-aid” solution can be implemented in several weeks or one to two months depending on the size and complexity of the business and its information flow. Implementing a short-term fix will involve assessing the current problems in the organization, determining what documents are needed and where information should go. Once data has been prioritized, a system can be quickly implemented. However, I must emphasize, this method is only a short-term fix. A longer-term plan can take up to six months or even longer to implement. I strongly recommend that companies in this situation begin the planning process now.

 

KB-Resource: What are the long-term effects? If this is the new normal – what will these industries need to do to go beyond the temporary band-aid solution?

Sallade: In order to help our clients, Kinsmen Group begins with a thorough analysis of the company’s internal processes, including an in-depth look at how data enters, travels through and leaves a company. We assess the maturity of certain business processes to create goals that are realistic for specific companies. Investment in technology is important, but that is only one pillar of many in a successful strategy. Not everything can be put in a system – without thoroughly organizing processes and information, new systems will lead to exacerbated chaos. More chaos is the last thing businesses need right now.

 

KB-Resource: Why is this an immediate issue?  What is the harm that trickles down to the supply chain?

Sallade: Robust information management and timely access to documentation is critical for efficient business operation. This pandemic has shown us that no industry or part of the economy is an island – disruptions in one area lead to ripples that affect the entire system. We are seeing these effects in real time in the food industry and oil and gas industry. Depending on the industry in question, lost productivity can impact the lives of millions of people.

 

KB-Resource: How can a business transition to post-COVID? What is the “new normal” for manufacturing and engineering firms?

Sallade: Businesses right now are struggling. They are focused on easing temporary pain in order to keep their doors open and workers employed. However, at Kinsmen Group we emphasize the importance of long-term planning. When business is slow, companies should use the time to take a deep dive into their processes and information management systems. Determining what needs to be done will build a stronger, more effective company that is able to survive the unforeseen. There is still no telling what exactly the “new normal” will be – even the experts don’t know. But, I can tell you that COVID-19 is a wake-up call for the need to do business differently – to adapt, to become more flexible and prepared in the face of the unknown. This is a critical time – businesses that use this time wisely to invest in themselves will be the ones that survive.