There’s no question that circumstances have been difficult over the past year. Are there any among us who anticipated the way the economy would be turned upside-down, over night? The pandemic has injected unprecedented levels of uncertainty into literally every aspect of life. The manufacturing industry and the supply chain are no exception.

Consequently, manufacturing leaders have been forced to rethink their approach to pretty much every aspect of the industry, from marketing to demand to supply chain to delivery.

Pivot is the word of the year, and believe it or not, we will look back on some of these pivots with gratitude or relief, even if they were forged in blood, sweat and anxiety. Difficult circumstances can sometimes trigger welcome changes. “Hindsight is 20:20” is an old saying: Let’s see if hindsight ABOUT 2020 has any special magic.

In the meantime, let’s note a few pivots that the pandemic forced on us that may help us thrive in a post-COVID world.

Data Collection and Management

As working at home became de rigueur for many personnel without hands-on responsibilities, data collection in the SME (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) sector transformed from manual to digital. Some SMEs were previously still in the pen, paper and clipboard phase of data collection. Many enterprises of all sizes have quickly shifted to data collection that is partly or fully automated, or they boosted their automation. This is a great advantage in monitoring factory performance in real time, whether remotely or in person. It’s also the first step towards the power of “big data,” enabling management to adapt to shifting customer demands, improve labor productivity, and scale up operational efficiency – all remotely! Even in a post-vaccine, post-pandemic world, increasingly automated data collection will deliver many advantages.

Automated Monitoring of Equipment

Many manufacturing firms have increased their capabilities and reliance on automated monitoring. While they may have been compelled by the reality of skeletal crews on the ground, these tools will still pay off post-COVID. They can increase the continuity of operations while optimizing process parameters. Payoffs can include higher yield, better quality, and reduced cycle times. These attributes will serve any company well, pandemic or no pandemic. Continuous-process industries will benefit in particular, since they excel when process parameters are subject to continual monitoring and optimizing.

Boosting Online Presence and Relevance

The pandemic has shattered previous business models. Over 100,000 brick-and-mortar stores shut down in the first two months of the pandemic, but digital retailers are thriving, showing a 76 percent increase in online sales. This may have a greater impact on B2C than on B2B businesses, but this shift affects the entire supply and manufacturing chain. Any business that relied on the in-person customer experience had to change or suffer, and possibly even shutter. No segment can look to the future without giving serious consideration to their digital presence.

Reflect on Your Enforced Pivots

The light is beginning to shine at the end of the tunnel. It’s just a tiny glimmer, but we will get out of this and return to some kind of new normal. Take the time to reflect on what the pandemic brought to your industry or your business. If nothing else, congratulate yourself if you are still standing, however battered and bruised you may be. Then think about the pivots you were compelled to undertake, and make sure you make the most of them over the long term.