Manufacturing Sector Business Continuity In A Post-COVID-19 World

The COVID-19 has highlighted the need for business continuity informed by technological trends. By Ravi Gopinath, Chief Cloud Officer, AVEVA
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The COVID-19 has highlighted the need for business continuity informed by technological trends. By Ravi Gopinath, Chief Cloud Officer, AVEVA 

How the world does business was changing before the outbreak of COVID-19, yet what we have seen in recent weeks and months has accelerated this metamorphosis beyond all recognition.

Business continuity is nothing new. It is, quite simply, prudent business planning. But the speed and scale of the current global crisis have made organisations put much more stringent and robust measures in place to not only cope with the here and now, but to mitigate damage in years to come, should we witness something similar in the future.

Looking back, the last pandemic that threatened businesses in this way was H1N1, or swine flu, which happened a decade ago. Away from this, the world tends to experience a seismic shock to the system every 10 – 15 years that has a global negative impact on markets, economies, industries and employees.

Cloud Technology In Place To Simplify Operations And Mitigate Damage

One of the major impacts of the virus has been on the movement of people. It stopped operations and prevented people from being onsite. 

The damage and disruption to the manufacturing supply chain and industrial operations has been well documented too but, if there is a positive to be taken from it all, it is that it has shone a light on the technologies and innovation that are taking place today – all of which can mitigate the damage.

From the speed of modern business to the rapid response to COVID-19 enabling millions of people to work remotely, it is hard to imagine a world without cloud technology. 

At no other point in time has there ever been such a need for the instant availability of IT resources enabled by the cloud than during this pandemic.  

The cloud transforms connectivity between people and businesses on a global scale. Cloud is everywhere; in our vehicles, on our television screens, in our phones and the user benefits of cloud computing include rapid deployment, high scalability and flexible pricing. 

Furthermore, it enables businesses to spend fewer financial resources on IT and less time on installing new IT capabilities as capacity if needed can be added through a self-service portal via the internet.

Without the cloud, many organisations could not do many of the things they do every day—a list that has grown exponentially during this global COVID-19 pandemic. 

For example, it would be more challenging for executives to access real-time business sales information for their companies from anywhere in the world. 

Companies would also have found it harder to share and co-edit documents securely, with colleagues across the ocean – and even in their own cities. Even short physical distances would have presented a challenge for collaboration between coworkers without the cloud.

Empowering Industrial Sector Workers

Today, employees do not need to be onsite as the modern industrial organisation is connected by the cloud. People can operate remotely, and teams can still collaborate fully. This applies even to the engineers and other members of the workforce that need to be hands-on with the equipment.

This is because there are emerging technologies like big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning and virtual reality that have not only opened the door to remote access but also led to the advent of the digital twin – a virtual replica of machinery and factories – all powered by data. 

This means management, maintenance and control of machinery can be done digitally. Using 3D modelling and advanced engineering and visualisation tools, sophisticated tasks can continue via an effective operational dashboard.

There are organisations that have been deploying this type of technology for some time, but in a post-COVID-19 world – however, and wherever that maybe – it is going to be a continuing trend. 

The upshot of this pandemic is that it has forced the hand of entire sectors to embrace innovative digital platforms available to facilitate a way of working that keeps both people connected and agile, and more importantly, safe.  

A Best-In-Class Way To Manage Operating Assets

But it is not just people however, these technologies are also having a major impact on industrial operating assets too, most notably in the reduction of downtime.

Despite the challenges that the pandemic has brought, there is little doubt that only a few years ago it would have been much worse. The damage done by factory closures and staff reduction levels would have been harder, faster and longer. 

When it comes to operational equipment, the choice would have been an overexposure of the staff to virus risk, or an enforced shut down for a longer the necessary period – neither ideal.

But long before the world had heard of COVID-19, Asset Performance Management (APM) was being deployed by organisations to deal with precisely this challenge. 

Combining industrial big data, Cloud, AI, digital twin, and AR technologies, APM means organisations can monitor their assets to identify, diagnose and prioritise impending equipment problems — continuously and in real-time. 

This enables companies to reduce unscheduled downtime, prevent equipment failures, reduce maintenance costs, increase asset utilisation, extend equipment life and identify underperforming assets.

It can stop issues before they occur, while appropriate steps can be undertaken by relevant engineers to prevent larger issues such as downtime, errors and total breakdowns. 

In turn, physical contact with the site in question is limited and business can continue as usual even though teams are working remotely. 

As industrial operations move to autonomous or near-autonomous modes, the ability to ensure reliable and safe performance while delivering production objectives becomes an imperative, and APM provides the framework and methods to ensure this.

With a proven ability to deliver real business benefit, cut time and expense and improve output, there is little doubt that APM is going to stay and is a core part of any long-term business continuity strategy.

Safeguarding Long Term Business Continuity

These innovations are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the cross-section of industry and technology. Elsewhere, we are seeing vast improvements to virtual training, right through to vastly improved communications to ensure the smooth running of onsite operations at a time when workers could be restricted. 

There are many more examples, but the overriding point is that these technologies are here and have been for some time. They are proven and ready to deploy which is going to be critical in our new ‘normal’.

If there is something optimistic to be taken from the current situation, it is that it has driven great solutions that can safeguard long-term business continuity to the top of the agenda.

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