Across the world, countless digital divides between rich and poor nations are emerging, stoking stark developmental disparities and stymieing opportunities for cross-cultural collaborations. The IMF even suggests that technological progress is one of the main factors driving global inequality. It should be the opposite.
Meanwhile, Oxfam figures reveal that the richest 1% hoovered up a staggering 82% of all wealth created in 2017. The poorest half of humanity got nothing. This has a stark and detrimental impact on appropriate levels of connectivity, workforce skill levels, and R&D expansion, all of which can cumulatively and negatively hit global markets in the long term. These are particularly alarming consequences in the context of collectively dealings with major issues, such as climate change, global supply chain sustainability, or food and water supplies.
Today, the Internet is a basic human right, yet far too many regions are being cut out of the loop as cloud platforms and network infrastructures are being rolled out across developed economies. The divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ is widening. Governments can, and indeed are to some extent, helping to mitigate the situation. However, tech leaders need to take more responsibility than ever before when it comes to developing nations and this can be achieved with innovation ecosystems that can benefit existing and nascent businesses.
Now is the time to better unite the tech industry and inspire concrete commitments that go well beyond short-term sponsorships, charity initiatives or perfunctory Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) drives. At a minimum, all tech leaders should consider the following:
- Review company values. Do you currently leverage your expertise and resources to effect positive change? If not, rethink your strategy. It is important to be brave and have a sustainable plan. Tweaking and humanising your priorities could also fuel a range of associated business positives, including becoming a more appealing employer for increasingly ethics-driven millennial talent.
- Be a bold advocate for change. Collaborate with your partners, clients, and competitors to maximise deployable resources and eventual impact. Your stance should inspire others to champion worthwhile causes and catalyse change in critical areas. For example, you and your peers may have abilities and technologies suited to combating climate change via monitoring, analysis or general resource efficiency. Why aren’t you already speaking up more loudly on the issue and sharing progressive insights with governments, the UN or bodies like the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO)?
- Close the tech industry skills gap. Are you really doing enough to expand your recruitment and training in developing countries with significant talent pools like Africa, the Middle East, and India? Address the imbalance by nurturing indigenous skills and proceed with inclusive intent.
- Make connections. The tech industry is a hotbed of virtuosic problem-solvers, so it is important to facilitate the right connections and communicate progress wherever and whenever it happens. We need an open source approach to the problem wherein every value-adding voice can easily contribute. Feel like there aren’t any idea-sharing platforms suited to your needs and skills? Go ahead and make one.
- Encourage employee secondments to regions that need them. Purposeful, transformative use of technology always needs local knowledge and feet on the ground. Get out there, get your hands dirty and, while you’re at it, expand key employees’ perspectives and career horizons.
- Don’t ignore adjacent grassroots. Work with industry bodies to galvanise the wider tech community to endorse a sustainable programme along the lines of “Technology for All”. This can include investment in people, schools, universities and training programmes, as well as disclosing data with the capacity to create, educate and empower.
A charter for change
We can’t stand idle on the side-lines anymore. Technological innovation and development should be synonymous with helping the less fortunate. Ultimately, it is the tech companies that can powerfully back up strong values with substantive resources and decisive action that will be viewed as tomorrow’s true pioneers. Aside from the obvious ethical imperatives, it just makes good business sense.
How panic-buying disrupts traditional supply chains
Panic buying has become commonplace during the COVID-19 crisis. PAULO DE MATOS, chief product officer at SYSPRO, outlines how good technology and ingenuity is panic-proof.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the world cannot afford for manufacturing and distribution to grind to a halt. From food on our shelves, to medical necessities, these sectors are at the heart of our economy and must keep going at all costs. Although the global supply chain is usually a well-oiled machine consisting of a system of organizations, people, processes, information and resources, disruption of this well-oiled machine has become the new reality. According to a new survey released by the Institute for Supply Management (ISM), 75% of companies worldwide have reported supply chain disruptions as a result of COVID-19. Added to that is the increasingly unpredictable demand caused by panic buying and consumer stockpiling.
Reinventing the supply chain to face the challenges of today
In response to the pandemic, manufacturers and distributors have had to pivot in a new direction, to turn the supply chain challenge into a competitive advantage through ingenuity.
The US recently invoked the Defense Production Act to allow American manufacturers to suspend their normal production schedules and begin manufacturing materials such as ventilators, which are needed in this time of crisis. The Act, which was originally passed in 1950, was a war mobilization effort. It allowed the government to direct efforts of manufacturers to focus production on the much-needed necessities in times of need, from medical supplies through to necessary disinfection products.
Australia has applied a similar approach through the implementation of ‘wartime’ manufacturing. Due to a shortage of necessities like ventilators and hand sanitizers, the Australian government is offering financial packages that incentivize factories to manufacture critical supplies. For example, one of Australia’s biggest packaging companies, Pact Group, is converting production lines at three of its Sydney plants as it starts making hand sanitizer for the first time, instead of industrial cleaners.
Within Canada and South Africa, distilleries have also committed to supplying alcohol, a key ingredient in hand sanitizer.
Using technology to ensure long-term resilience
Until recently, China has consistently supplied global manufacturers with the bulk of their required components, raw materials and or processed materials. Presently, 6 in 10 (62%) of the respondents of the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) survey have reported that they have experienced increasing delays in receiving orders from China. This is of course just the tip of the iceberg, with the pandemic now impacting almost every country in the world; delays are going to begin affecting deliveries from every country, and the lateness of the delivery is expected to increase. With the increasing shortages of parts, global manufacturers are now scrambling to identify alternative suppliers and supply chains to make up for the missed deliveries.
Technology systems, such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, can certainly improve the situation by giving manufacturers improved visibility of the reliable local suppliers and their supply chains. Through ERP integration, representatives from different supplier companies can interact on a single platform, improving the flow and availability of information and improving the reliability of delivery. For example, the SYSPRO Supply Chain Portal was originally launched with a Request for Quote capability, which enabled the formal invitation of suppliers to tender for the supply of goods and services. Not only can manufacturers identify local suppliers who can meet their orders in a time of scarcity, but manufacturers themselves could easily find alternative suppliers.
ERP also has the added advantage of reducing document handling and other manual activities and facilitates cross functional collaboration by enabling an online process for engaging with customers and suppliers. What’s more, planned receiving and manufacturing process steps can be amended temporarily in your ERP system to include additional Quality Assurance. For example, the wiping down of surfaces and spraying of goods with appropriate chemical or detergent cleansers and adding waiting times before issue or delivery.
In times of unforeseen scarcity, as the world is currently experiencing with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative that the supply chain is kept open and full. The challenge that the company faces is to identify the cheapest and easiest way to accomplish this, using their own unique combination of technology and ingenuity. If there is surplus stock in the supply chain, the surplus could easily be sold onto neighbouring organizations – after all, the function of a manufacturing organization is to fulfil whatever is identified as a shortage in the economy.
Managing disruption in the long-term
The World Economic Forum has suggested that moving forward after this pandemic, there will be a “new normal”, a need to manage disruption by developing predictive models for proactive scheduling, and dynamic planning of supply with careful consideration of the uncertainties and risks. This change will most likely usher in the next level of digital transformation, based on the collection and analysis of data from various disparate applications.
Ultimately, having the right combination of technology and dynamic ingenuity will allow manufacturers to weather the storm and navigate the unknown, bringing with it the success of discovering “the new world.”
Pandemic will change co-working – and vice versa
By CHARMAINE LAMBERT, WorkInProgress – an Absa Innovation Lab
The COVID-19 pandemic is set to realign the world’s social and economic structure, and fundamentally change the way people work and interact, personally and professionally. While the current social measures in place around the world are aimed at stemming the spread of the virus, there’s a good chance that there’ll be a residual adoption of elements of them as humanity adapts to ‘the new normal’ – because the world will fundamentally never be the same again.
Hundreds of thousands of people are set to lose their jobs as economies tank – but the optimistic view is that that’s an opportunity for the future, rather than the very real catastrophe it feels like at the moment – particularly in the SME space. It’s a rare economic situation that sees major corporations struggling as much as SME’s, and the upshot is that people may have to create employment opportunities for themselves and others, rather than returning to the jobs they had before the pandemic.
It’s clear that the world will need more entrepreneurs, whose smart ideas can help rebuild economies, create employment opportunities and re-establish – and rebuild – the livelihoods of entire communities.
Many have glibly asked ‘could that meeting have been an email?’ – but the reality is that the working world is rapidly discovering the benefits of finding new ways to address business needs, that rely less on physical face-to-face interactions. Catching up as a group on a Zoom meeting is important, but cutting out a commute, the niceties of the preamble to a meeting and repeating yourself for the guy who stumbled in five minutes late has made meetings more efficient and to-the-point.
Meetings won’t go away, because humans are collaborative. It takes one person to have a great idea, but it takes a team to realise and implement it – which is why co-working spaces will remain an important part of life for those taking up the challenge of employing themselves, and others by forming SME’s, in the new world order.
The shift in ways of working has also shown that decentralisation is possible – something that may become a necessity in the future. All those shiny offices in global centres are expensive line items on the annual budget, and since budgets are going to be way tighter – if not non-existent – in future, even SME’s may have to make peace with the fact that not everyone needs to share a space. And knowing what we know now about how easy it is to spread viruses in close-contact working spaces, there’s a convincing health argument for decentralisation, too.
If an SME team is driven enough, nobody will have to worry about clock-watching or ensuring that people are doing their jobs by having a manager stalking the halls and peering over cubicle walls. There will be essential functions that rely on being physically present in a space – but there’s no reason that different functions of a business can’t be split across different spaces, cities or even time zones to maximise efficiency and save costs. And with flexibility of working time now becoming an option across many industries, that demand will need to be catered for by SME’s and other employers, in the future.
Building more efficient spaces has been an important global trend over the past few years as companies realise the impact their business has on the planet. What about the environmental cost of getting people to that office every day, and of business travel? Cutting out the commute for the global workforce has already had a noticeable effect on the environment – fake-news dolphins in the canals of Venice, aside – so now that we’ve proven it’s possible to decentralise or work remotely, why not continue that?
Carbon monoxide emissions in New York have been slashed by 50% over the past few weeks – mostly on the back of reduced road traffic – and an analysis by climate website Carbon Brief indicates that the shut-down in China has resulted in a 25% drop in energy use and emissions over a two week period at the height of the pandemic there, which is set to lead to an overall drop of 1% in the country’s carbon emissions for 2020. As industry ramps up again around the world, emissions will rise once more, but those numbers do illustrate the significant impact a reduction in worker commuting, can have for the planet.
4IR Creating Opportunities
While there’s plenty of concern that the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is going to cost millions of jobs, it’s also set to deliver millions of opportunities and plenty of efficiencies.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can take over manual, repetitive tasks – but instead of making the people in those functions, redundant, it frees them up to tackle more important and non-automatable tasks which can improve business operations. The global economic crisis means that efficiency and multitasking are going to become the order of the day – something the lean SME space is used to, to an extent. Embrace technology and let the people who are the heart of your business focus on helping you re-establish it and re-invent it. It’s time to innovate.
While things are set to be very different, there’s a huge benefit to collaboration to establishing and maintaining a dynamic, agile business. Entrepreneurs and innovators thrive off being able to kick around ideas, sense-check decisions with others and find ways for seemingly-unrelated companies to work together to deliver unprecedented opportunity – and there’s nothing the world is going to need more than opportunity, once we come out the other side of this.