Everything is smooth sailing until a storm hits and threatens the lives of everyone on board. In times of crisis, the crew looks up to the captain of the ship, seeking advice and hope. Imagine if the captain is unable to cope with the emergency because they lack the ingenuity and equipment to deal with it… the ship might sink. 

Author Radiana Pit | Copperberg

But there’s hope—perhaps the captain will take control over the situation and organize everyone to save the day. Or, perhaps, a new leader will emerge to take charge, weather the storm, and lead other fleets by example.

This hypothetical scenario is the current reality faced by the manufacturing IT landscape, in which the chaos caused by the pandemic has become a real test of leadership and agility. Will manufacturers become agile quickly enough to sail this stormy sea successfully while also inspiring others to follow suit? Or will they sink to the bottom of the ocean while their competitors and peers will rapidly and astutely ride the waves above them?

Sailing through fears of disruption

Before the crisis began, manufacturers embarked on Industry 4.0 and digital transformation initiatives. Unfortunately, their plans were swiftly disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and a wave of fear washed over the industry.

According to OutSystems’ latest research report, The Speed of Change—App Dev Priorities in an Era of Crisis and Recovery, survey respondents from the manufacturing sector were primarily worried about:

  • A market downturn or recession
  • Changes in customer behaviors and preferences
  • Disruptive regulatory changes

Because of these fears, most companies prioritized the need to address evolving customer behaviors and preferences, thus shifting their focus from their initial digital transformation projects.

But, for manufacturers, survival relies heavily upon accommodating digital demands—not only in times of crisis but in the future as well. As such, the need to reduce costs and improve efficiency rose to the top of their priority list for digital transformation, followed by the need to:

  • Improve agility and accelerate innovation
  • Address evolving customer behaviors and preferences
  • Achieve growth in new markets
  • Outperform competitors

Additionally, the demand for application development is at an all-time high. This drives leaders across all industries to align their sustained digitization efforts with application development. However, the OutSystems report explains that manufacturers don’t feel this demand as keenly as their peers from other industries. According to their research:

  • 47% of the respondents in the manufacturing sector have 10 or more apps planned for delivery in 2020;
  • Just 31% of the respondents in the manufacturing sector have 25 or more apps scheduled for delivery in 2020.

This data shows the lack of digital maturity and agility that the manufacturing sector is struggling with. And as long as application development continues to take a back seat, organizations will not be able to meet their cost reduction and efficiency goals any time soon.

Innovation takes the helm

In times of crisis, three types of leaders emerge. The first type is the untrained leader who is overpowered by the circumstances. The second type is the effective leader who can navigate through the here and now but who lacks long-term vision. And the third type is the innovative, visionary leader who leads the crisis response while simultaneously creating a post-pandemic pathway towards bigger wins.

The manufacturing sector needs innovative, visionary leaders at the helm that inspire companies to get faster and better despite travel bans, social distancing norms, budget cuts, disrupted supply chains, and other unfavorable circumstances. As the current situation demands bold decisions regarding digitization, successful leaders will be courageous enough to foster innovation by equipping their IT teams with the necessary skills and technology to accelerate application development. 

Understanding that this will set up their companies for future success, innovative leaders can invest in IoT-enabled technology and workflow automation, such as predictive and prescriptive servicing. Additionally, leaders should address the talent scarcity in their IT teams and consider expanding their training budgets to help developers learn new skills.

In the near future, IT teams should be capable of using multiple development environments and programming models to accommodate digitization demands. So, making these investments will not only help companies survive the digital urgency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but also thrive in a post-pandemic world with newfound agility, resilience, and maturity.

Although everyone is hoping for a “new normal”, the reality is that the current disruption continues to cause uncertainty. The “new normal” will be set by those who have unlocked the ability to act fast and get ahead of the curve by creating a holistic digital strategy for the coming years. In the new era, manufacturing leaders will want to be prepared for any disruptions, and able to adapt and innovate when resources become scarce. 

That’s why innovating today at a faster pace will prepare your businesses for the unforeseen changes that might occur tomorrow.

Towards calmer waters

Each crisis is unique in its own way. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to crisis response. Likewise, there is no guide on “how to be a good leader” in times like these. But there are solutions to existing application development challenges that leaders can implement to rise up to the occasion, steer their companies towards success, and create blueprints for future innovation.

Luckily for manufacturers, the OutSystems report provides actionable recommendations on how to go from laggard to leader. The key is to unlock agility. Manufacturers are recommended to focus on their digitization initiatives and speed up the pace of transformation by building upon the skillsets of their developers, updating their legacy infrastructure, and becoming customer-centric.

A Chinese proverb says that in every crisis lies the seed of opportunity. This year’s pandemic has created an opportunity for digital innovation, agility, and maturity. It’s up to you to seize it, appease the waters you’re swimming in, and inspire others to do the same. With newfound resilience and a holistic digital strategy for the future, any disruption will feel like a mild shower in comparison.

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