Thought LeadershipJuly 7, 2020

Lessons from the pandemic

Disruptions caused by COVID-19 shutdowns challenged businesses everywhere, but some responded more nimbly than others. A growing number of analysts agree that these companies’ advanced digital capabilities allowed them to take disruption in stride—and they’re now urging all companies to follow their example.
Avatar Jacqui Griffiths

When countries around the world went into lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, critical supply chains experienced massive disruption, just as demand for life-saving medical and safety equipment skyrocketed.

In response, global medical technology provider Medtronic pledged to double its production capacity for ventilators. But it also looked beyond traditional business boundaries and announced plans to openly share the design for its PB 560 portable ventilator so academics, startups and other manufacturers could quickly start producing them, too.

“We know this global crisis needs a global response,” said Bob White, executive vice president at Medtronic. “By openly sharing the PB 560 design information, we hope to increase global production of ventilator solutions for the fight against COVID-19.”

Like Medtronic, dozens of businesses and individuals worldwide stepped up to help during the pandemic. In the UK, automotive and aerospace organizations including McLaren Group, Airbus and Rolls- Royce joined forces to design and produce ventilators. So did Ford Motor Company in the US. Meanwhile, Japan’s Fast Retailing, the parent of fashion brand Uniqlo, enlisted its manufacturing partners in China to produce 10 million surgical masks for medical facilities across Italy, the United States and Japan.

While that’s just a small sample of how companies responded, the ones named above share one crucial commonality: the ability to digitally collaborate, adapt and respond swiftly with scientifically accurate 3D models that could be widely shared via the internet. Now, experts agree that those same capabilities will be the foundation for accelerated resilience beyond COVID-19— and the ability to weather other forms of unanticipated global disruptions.

A supple supply network

As factories around the world shut down to help contain the spread of the virus, it became clear that businesses could no longer afford to rely on the monolithic, global supply chains that have grown up in recent decades.

“The COVID-19 outbreak has exposed just how vulnerable far-flung supply chains have become,” the three partners at US management consultancy Bain & Company wrote in an article on the consultancy’s website, called “Supply Chain Lessons from Covid-19: Time to Refocus on Resilience.” “What long passed for adequate flexibility is now subpar.”

Instead, authors Olaf Schatteman, Drew Woodhouse and Joe Terino recommend that companies need to develop a flexible ecosystem of suppliers and partners, deploy cloud-based platforms and collaboration tools to empower decentralized teams, enable real-time network visibility through integrated data, and ensure rapid generation of insights. “Companies that begin investing today in a resilient supply chain will be best positioned to weather the next event that obstructs the global flow of goods,” they wrote.

Digital marketplace technology brings together all the elements listed by the authors to match buyers with reliable suppliers that suit their needs—from 3D printing to CNC milled, injection molded, laser-cut or formed sheet metal parts— and provide a digital space for them to collaborate.

“It solves a problem, which is how do you find parts that are available commercially from who knows who, and get them into [your design platform] as quickly and painlessly as possible?” said Paul Parise, president of Convergent Technologies, a US engineering firm that provides equipment and new products for high-tech companies. “I can also compare various suppliers, and find out not only, ‘What if I change quantities, will this supplier give me a better price?’ but ‘What will the various suppliers quote for time, delivery and even available materials?’”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, digital marketplaces offered support to existing users and even to newly formed consortiums of companies—including automakers and ventilator manufacturers—who needed shared workspaces to enable life-saving collaborations that provide vital medical equipment. In the post-COVID world, these same marketplaces and collaborative platforms will play a vital role in ensuring business resilience.

Businesses that can shift technology capacity and investments to digital platforms will mitigate the impact of the outbreak and keep their companies running smoothly, now and over the long term.

Sandy Shen
Senior Director Analyst, Gartner

The new world of work

When businesses and educational establishments moved to  work-from- home models to help combat the spread of COVID-19, whole countries found themselves taking a crash course in remote collaboration. Experts suspect that steep learning curve may have dispelled any lingering doubts employers had about the effectiveness of remote working.

“This may be the tipping point for remote work,” said Kate Lister, president of US- based research and consulting firm Global Workplace Analytics. “Once managers work from home themselves, they are far more inclined to support it. Doing it, and seeing it work, does more to reduce their fears than data ever will.”

Businesses already recognized remote work as a way to attract and retain talent, reduce real estate costs, increase employee engagement and enhance sustainability, Lister said. But as some workforces pulled together using piecemeal applications for videoconferencing, document sharing and the like, it became clear that this patchwork of applications couldn’t offer enterprise-level privacy, security and collaboration.

“While the ability to work from home is a benefit many employees value, many companies lack the technology infrastructure to offer that capability without some sacrifices to business as usual,” said Bernard Marr, a UK-based strategic business and technology advisor, writing for

Organizations with a made-for-cloud digital platform in place were instantly ahead of the game. For instance, Vertical Aerospace, a British aerospace manufacturer, implemented a digital platform on the cloud before COVID-19 hit, and was able to seamlessly extend secure, remote collaboration capabilities to all its employees, suppliers and partners.

“At Vertical Aerospace, we were fortunate  to have moved onto a collaboration platform on cloud before we were remote working,” said Owen Thompson Cheel, senior aerospace engineer at Vertical Aerospace. “The team has all they need to work from home; and by using the platform on cloud, we have been able to continue working with virtually no difference in performance. It’s an excellent case for working on the cloud, and the platform has allowed us to remain agile and secure without loss of capability, effectively maintaining business continuity.”

As the world recovers from COVID-19, economic challenges and increased investor scrutiny about disaster preparedness—not to mention the environmental benefits of reduced business travel—will keep driving the remote-working trend. “Regardless of whether or not we slide into another recession as a result of COVID-19, the experience will likely cause employers to rethink the ‘where’ and ‘how’ of work,” Lister said.

Ultimately, organizations that are ready to collaborate seamlessly will recover faster and grow more, McKinsey predicts, by using their platform capabilities to take advantage of opportunities as the recovery gains momentum.

A platform for preparedness

Keeping pace with COVID-19’s effect on economies, industry sectors and businesses is an ongoing challenge, but one impact of the pandemic is undeniable: a vastly accelerated trend toward digitalization.

“From virtual meetings to automated factories, [and] online orders to drone delivery, digital services are growing in importance, permeating an increasing number of sectors and activities,” Matthew Stephenson and Nivedita Sen of the World Economic Forum wrote in their article, “How digital investment can help the COVID-19 recovery.”

“Digitally agile firms are adapting to the ongoing crisis more successfully, and others are rapidly skilling up in response to challenges to their business models,” they wrote.

A consortium led by Aden Group, one of Asia’s largest integrated facility management companies, is a case in point. The consortium is using a virtual collaborative platform with virtual twin 3D simulation capabilities to develop a turnkey infectious disease solution for hospitals that can be quickly deployed and easily maintained in countries severely impacted by COVID-19.

Simulations of a hospital’s entire lifecycle, from engineering to construction, procurement, operations and maintenance, are supported by Aden Group’s virtual collaborative platform, enabling infrastructure and city innovators to find new, more agile approaches to building.

“In a global context where decisiveness and rapid action are essential to help in the fight against COVID-19, combining quickly buildable modular architecture with a digital platform can accelerate the construction of a cutting-edge medical facility and ensure it is fully operational in record time,” said Joachim Poylo, co-founder of Aden Group. “By using the digital platform, we hope to develop a solution that would enable us to reduce engineering changes, maintain a rapid development schedule and meet delivery commitments quickly and effectively, as well as ensure long-term hospital maintenance and safety in anticipation of further pandemics.”

For less agile firms, these examples offer a clear lesson: digitalization across the organization, including partners, employees and stakeholders, will be the lynchpin of business continuity in the post-COVID world. Why? Because companies that are already using these capabilities will create a competitive environment in which everyone must join them, just to keep pace.

“This is a wake-up call for organizations that have placed too much focus on daily operational needs at the expense of investing in digital business and long-term resilience,” said Sandy Shen, senior director analyst at Gartner in the company’s report, “Coronavirus: CIO Areas of Focus During the COVID-19 Outbreak.” “Businesses that can shift technology capacity and investments to digital platforms will mitigate the impact of the outbreak and keep their companies running smoothly, now and over the long term.” 

Stay up to date

Receive monthly updates on content you won’t want to miss


Register here to receive a monthly update on our newest content.