The last several months have been about challenges and opportunities in the corporate world. Businesses that pivoted fast, thrived; while those less agile, perished. We’ve seen communities come together to design and manufacture lifesaving products for first responders within days, and turn homes into remote engineering classrooms for millions of students.
The pandemic also showed us our vulnerabilities and gave us the opportunity of a lifetime to rethink how we work, design and manufacture, globally. As we enter a world of new normals, here’s how I think companies can evolve, reimagine the workplace and adopt technologies to create a better future.
We’ll see a lot more companies adopt cloud-native platforms to accelerate innovation and boost business agility. According to Gartner, 85% of organizations will embrace a cloud-first principle by 2025, which will require using cloud-native architectures and technologies to fully execute on their digital strategies. In addition, Gartner estimates more than 95% of new digital workloads will be deployed on cloud-native platforms, up from 30% in 2021.
Why the Increase in Demand for Cloud Platforms?
It’s demographics. Cloud and digital-native employees are moving into leadership positions, and they want technology that works the way they do -- collaboratively and asynchronously. These professionals have grown up using tools such as Google Docs to collaborate with peers and Onshape to design products in real-time. Like digital nomads, they are used to working from anywhere vs. being tethered to a machine in an office.
It’s technology. The growing popularity of 3D printing and the availability of new materials allow engineers to design parts and products right the first time, accelerating the innovation process. Companies are also pushing digital transformation strategies to meet the demand for better and more personalized customer experience. These are some of the drivers that have companies reimagining product development platforms and processes.
Supply Chain Congestion Will Abate and a New Normal Will Emerge by Q3
As we’ve seen, the pandemic has disrupted the global supply chain like never before. The initial ramping down of production and quick reversal of increased demand resulted in a shortage of many consumer products – from toilet paper to silicon chips. The recent bottleneck, where goods worth $24 billion were floating in California ports, also demonstrated the vulnerability and gaps in our supply chain. Yes, the port congestion will decrease with improved operations and near-shoring along with the recent funding from the government and private-public partnerships. But I expect the disruption to continue into 2022 as we will see companies shifting to a just-in-case strategy – building up inventory to accommodate disruptions.
With the nation’s renewed focus on infrastructure, more companies should focus on investing in innovative technologies to get economies of scale, at a faster pace and at a lower cost of production. Instead of just-on-time strategies, companies should focus on finding new suppliers, including regional suppliers, to work with. Innovators and engineers should also reconfigure their products to use different materials that are easily available and use new processes. In short, in addition to re-imagining how to manufacture goods, teams must also rethink ways to take an idea from digital to physical, fast. The days of face-to-face meetings with suppliers and manufacturers are over.
Industrial IIOT Will Become More Mainstream
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) market is predicted to surpass $176 billion by 2022, yet only 10% of manufacturers use IIoT in their operations today. Given the relentless drive for manufacturing optimization—to reduce time and cost while enhancing workflows and quality—the strategic push for more data and closed-loop analysis will increase. We’ll also see additional investment in industrial automation, while smart devices will continue to find their way into production lines. More data from more sensors will help manufacturers make necessary course corrections much faster and accurately than was possible just a few years ago. Replacement parts by default now almost always will have an IIoT connection by default.
While we don’t know exactly how the U.S. government’s infrastructure plan will roll out, it will surely include incentives to entice manufacturers to invest in automating their factories. Many manufacturers are also expected to save up to 30-40% on equipment maintenance expenses using remote technology deployments. We’ll also see companies adopt sophisticated robotics and automation platforms to boost efficiency in factories. In short, automation will help fill the gap in skills shortage we are experiencing today.
Companies Will Adopt Emerging Technologies to Support Hybrid Workplaces
According to a McKinsey report, executives expect the “core” employees to be back in the office three or more days a week, while employees would like to work from home for two or more days per week, and more than half want at least three days of remote work. It’s no surprise that companies are looking forward to bringing employees back to the office to restore some pre-COVID normalcy, while employees are not too thrilled at the prospect of commuting every day. Which means companies must rethink how to best support the hybrid workforce and allow employees the flexibility to split time working in the office and at home. The transactional office type of roles such as building spreadsheet models to purchasing can continue to operate in a teleworking mode. Granted, the hybrid workplace can be a win-win for many, as fewer days in the office may reduce the required office footprint, while saving workers countless commuting hours and increasing productivity.
The pandemic has also shown us the not-so-positive side of teleworking. Creative and collaborative projects such as whiteboards with colleagues have suffered during work-from-home time. Tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams kept us connected and helped move programs forward. However, file-based tools, installed software didn’t work as it required people to work in a serial process and send files around instead of interacting with a cloud-native application – where they can collaborate in real-time. If measured, the loss of time due to version-control mismanagement would negatively affect the world’s GDP.
In short, to support the hybrid workforce and boost collaboration, companies must continue to invest in emerging technologies, technologies that can be installed within minutes and allow the team to be productive immediately vs. one that requires hours of training.
Bottom line: It’s not just manufacturing that needs to be re-imagined in 2022. We have an opportunity – and a responsibility – to redesign how we work together, in what we hope will soon be a “post-pandemic” world. We also need to reimagine the workplace, the processes and platforms we adopt to get work done, to create a more innovative and better future.
John McEleney, VP of Strategy, PTC, is an entrepreneur and industry luminary. He has spent his career transforming businesses, driving corporate strategy, and forecasting what’s next in product development and manufacturing. He has more than 30 years of experience in mechanical design and software He is the founder of Onshape and he is now vice president of strategy at PTC.