Coping With Covid-19 Crisis
Published by : Industrial Automation
The surprise, the consequences and the aftermath – Industry Leaders respond to a few posers from Industrial Automation in understanding the magnitude of the crisis.
To say the world is passing through trying times is to state the obvious. Also evident is the fact that for too long the world has been ignoring the warning signs of environmental degradation fuelled by human excesses and greed. But this is no time for ifs and buts, nor recrimination. Instead, the crisis should be used as an opportunity to make the required course correction to make the world a safer place for all living beings, and the ecological balance, restored.
Industrial Automation invited a cross section of industry leaders to offer their views and possible course of action as a way forward from this situation, even as governments across the world and the people are trying to make sense from the still evolving scenario. Has the present novel Corona Virus strain, designated Covid-19, caught the world unaware and unprepared? “Yes that’s the nature of an epidemic – it catches you unprepared. How best and early you react to it – that's what matters,” says a Senior Executive from a Leading Consultancy who responded on the condition of anonymity. While most of those responding here agree with this, there are a couple of variations. To read full responce click here
“I think nature was always telling us but, we had not the eye to see that. A paper written in 2007 talks about SARS and the circumstances of how the then pandemic was born. Since then many more such indications were published by scientific community, but businesses both in China and across the world turned a blind eye,” says Dr Guruprasad Rao, Director & Mentor (Leadership Team), Imaginarium India Pvt Ltd. JP Singh, Independent Consultant with 30+ years of Sales & Business Leadership, not only agrees but adds: “It is not as if the world had not been forewarned. WHO has for several years now predicted and cautioned that the world is not ready for a pandemic, should there be one, like the 1918 ‘Spanish Flu’. Not just WHO, countries – including India – have not spent enough on critical healthcare and capacity creation to deal with such a pandemic.” To read full responce click here
“It was something waiting to happen,” opines Rajesh Rathi, Technocrat Entrepreneur and Leader, CI Group of Companies. “There is no better example than this. The whole world has been shaken up by few tiny microbes. The problem has assumed unprecedented scale and threatens to become much larger. Problems from biological threats like this have occurred before but remained confined to specific geographies. Visionaries have warned about threats of the current kind, but have not been taken seriously. Even as late as a few weeks ago, many world leaders and their populations were in denial. That has prompted the unpreparedness,” he adds. To read full responce click here
The more serious concern at the moment, apart from staying safe and in self quarantine in order to contain the damage, is to think about the implications for business – in the near, medium and long term. “Depending on the Sector, Sub-Sector and Segment, implications vary. But every sector is impacted, many businesses on multiple fronts. Almost all, barring very few got affected/will get affected financially. The magnitude of impact may vary from mild in the short term to severe in the long term, severe from beginning itself to insolvent in medium term; again depends on Micro, Small, Medium or Large, Manufacturing or Service. Depends on how fast the virus is tamed and extent of spread across the country; also how fast and affordable medication is put into commercial use,” states Dr K Nandakumar, Chairman and Managing Director, Chemtrols Group of Industries. To read full responce click here
G Ganapathiraman, Vice President & General Manager, ARC Advisory Group, India, quotes from ARC’s latest Automation Index Report: “Scenarios vary widely, but in the worst case, Covid-19 will have a long-term negative impact that destroys some supply chains and causes productivity losses. The global pandemic can cause revenue losses of up to US $18 billion in automation markets. In a world of global supply chains, the effects of disruptions can propagate far, and the lack of even a single part can bring production to a screeching halt. The travel industry has been badly hit. Initially, there were only travel restrictions, but now most countries (even States in India) have sealed their borders and international and domestic flights are cancelled.” To read full responce click here
“Businesses globally and in India are in for a very long and hard fight. Sectors like tourism and airlines will take decades to come out of this impact. So also, many other service sector industries,” asserts Dr Arvind Tilak, CEO, Ascent Intellimation Pvt Ltd and MD, Ascent Strategic Management Group. “Talking specifically about manufacturing, these are looking at long spell of lowered demands for all goods and products. With lowered incomes and vast costs of medical care, personal purchase decisions will be postponed. Government sector demand will also be going downward for foreseeable future. Many projects will be kept on hold and will be postponed, or worse, even cancelled,” he adds. To read full responce click here
“In near and medium term, business would take a severe hit. The financial market in India has seen an unprecedented fall. How long will it take to recover, is anybody’s guess. A forecast says there will be about half a per cent decline of growth on the global economy due to the Corona Virus. The forecast of the growth of GDP globally was 2.8% and under the present circumstances it is expected to dip to 2.3%, but the larger impact will be on India as it estimates the GDP impact of COVID-19 to be to the extent of -1.1%,” says Rajesh Nath, Managing Director, VDMA India Services Private Limited. To read full responce click here
The exact scale of damage will be known only after the crisis blows over, but the plain fact is, it will be felt for years to come. Now is the time to find out what the experts feel about governments being prepared to handle such pandemics in future. “Though governments are primarily responsible for this, the initiative can be further enriched with collaboration and participation of private enterprises a model similar to PPP (Public-Private Partnership) in civic infrastructure and construction sector. With the abundant growth opportunities that biotechnology and healthcare services offer to the stakeholders, the opportunity should encourage private enterprises to earn a renowned label and associated incentives,” feels Arijit Chakraborty, Senior Consultant (Materials, Industrial Automation & Equipment) – Future Market Insights Global and Consulting Pvt Ltd. “Countries like India and those from Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America should increase their healthcare expenditure budget owing to their population size. With the large percentage of young population in these countries it is high time to do the required, else they may suffer like in the case of Italy, which has higher share of geriatric population, and the elderly have succumbed to the Covid- 19 effects,” he adds. To read full responce click here
“The proactive steps taken by the government of India to screen and quarantine international travellers, close commercial establishments and prevent virus spread are commendable. Looking at the population density of the country, the situation is in manageable frame so far. Major shortfall our country faces is of healthcare infrastructure. The ratio of number of hospital beds, ICU beds and ventilators to the population needs immediate attention. With availability of good healthcare facility we will be better equipped to handle any mass health scare in future,” expresses Shraddha Danani, Director Business Strategy, Ashish Interbuild Pvt Ltd. “Second important area which needs national level improvement is availability of healthcare professionals – doctors, hospital staff, paramedics and well trained social workers with access to mobile medical technology at grass root level. There are various indigenous innovations which can be implemented across the country through efficient healthcare platform system making rapid response systems available in all parts of the country to combat better,” she adds. To read full responce click here
Sunil Khanna, President & Managing Director – Vertiv Energy Pvt Ltd, stresses on the need to evolve early warning systems and reaction mechanism like weather prediction. “Even though weather is a complex system to predict, advanced systems currently in place give vast population some advance warning to minimise casualties. Similarly, Governments across the world can come together and build something like an early warning system for epidemics and pandemics and implement a system to contain them quickly. With advances in technology like AI, machinelearning and big data this is possible now more than ever before,” he suggests. To read full responce click here
Work From Home or WFH is not exactly a new concept. It has been around for years, which however came into prominence in the internet era. But it is still forms a very small percentage of working people. Will this crisis provide a boost for WFH culture and signal a paradigm shift? “This is going to be an interesting watch. I recently interacted with companies in the web collaboration space and they are seeing a sharp rise in usage. They are in the top downloaded apps in Android, Apple and Windows too. Most companies have put in place business continuity and made an attempt to switch to remote working. India had some learnings to take from other countries so we could foresee a lockdown and many companies did use this time to prepare their IT systems and employees to enable work from home. My view is that some of this can become a new normal especially in IT/ITeS/Education sectors,” contends A Technology Veteran, Digital Transformation projects.
“Yes. There will be a paradigm shift,” agrees Sushil Bahal, Managing Director at Raka Reputation Management Services Pvt Ltd. “Thanks to the technology, automation, etc., we may be working from home to earn our living. We are forced to learn working from home to earn our living now, thanks to Coronavirus. It is likely to set the trend that working from home to earn our living may not be restricted to a few industries like IT, etc.,” he elaborates. To read full responce click here
Dr Thirumurugan S V M, Healthcare Consultant and Orator, strikes a cautionary note. “We can only wait and watch. From my colleagues in various sectors, there has already been an increasing shift to WFH mainly due to unproductively long commutes from homes to office, and the increasingly digital nature of the work for most,” he says. “Those sectors involving touch labour will continue to need their employees to ‘come to work’, and these are the sectors greatly hit today by the pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns. Businesses have traditionally required in-person meetings to seal deals, to perform due-diligence and for inspections. These were slowly transitioning to remote/tele-presence, but today it is the only way. Whether people will revert to physical in-person interactions or not depends on the duration for which this situation lasts, and the benefits they see,” he adds, realistically. To read full responce click here
The show must go on. It will go on of course, but would it be business as usual? Highly unlikely. There will be far reaching implications and changes in most aspects – personal, social and commercial. Some analysts have suggested this crisis will boost automation and make a case for Lights Out Manufacturing. What do the experts feel? “Automation has to be seen in a context,” says Dr Arvind Tilak, and mentions the following trends, some which are already being predicted: “Most business will want an option of “no touch” operations to whatever extent they can adopt – will be true even for manufacturing where “Lights Out Manufacturing” with robots and autonomous machines will be attempted. Remote monitoring and operational control will be tested and strengthened to every extent possible. Many sectors like autonomous cars and drones are already far ahead in this game. Other areas like driverless trains and metros will become reality soon. Interoperability and connectivity will be the two main pillars and lots of work in this area will happen in near future and hopefully this will benefit everyone.”
“In every challenge there seems to be an underlying opportunity. New business models and strategies are bound to emerge. I think the coronavirus will drive demand for robots and increased automation in factories the world over. Several hospitals in China are using robots to deliver food and medical supplies internally to limit people’s potential exposure to infection. Due to the lockdowns, e-commerce seems to be flourishing; already Amazon is adding 100,000 new jobs to cater to the extra demand,” says G Ganapathiraman. As for boost for automation, “This is already on with Industry 4.0,” opines Dr K Nandakumar. “Manufacturing has already embraced this in many parts of the world. In India, Government support is essential for MSMEs to adopt automation across manufacturing, as cost of initial investment and skilled resources are high,” he suggests.
“Automation use was already on the way up and this will further accelerate it,” agrees Rajesh Rathi. “Light out manufacturing may not happen but we will need different goods than we need today. For example, we may not need as many vehicles to commute to work or to customer places. Customers will accept virtual visits by the suppliers to their plants. We will then need automobiles only for transporting goods and for recreational use. This means reduction in the automotive demand. On the other hand audio visual, conferencing, home automation and recreational products will be in greater demand,” he elaborates.
JP Singh, is of the view that the crises could encourage more people towards ‘Lights Out Manufacturing’, which is certainly not unknown. “Fanuc has been operating in this manner since the early 2000s. There are also several accounts of this mode of manufacturing being used in the manufacture of Plastic Moulding Machines. Having said this, given the investments needed, the availability of good work forces and the like, only the larger in a sector could possibly be encouraged to try this as a future manufacturing risk management strategy,” he emphasises. “Automation is the only option,” concurs Dr Guruprasad Rao. “This needs a lot of capex investment and technologies from developed world. Even the supply chain in future will have to change. We are offering medical device prototypes to help develop low cost life-saving medical gears using our 3D printing facility. We need more such digital manufacturing facilities,” he says.
Are there any lessons to learn from this crisis? “The term VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) has hit us hard when we look at this crisis. But not only products, services and processes need to change, the companies have to change more fundamentally. They need different business models, different company structures, different leadership and different ways of interacting with each other. For example, the supply chain would need to look afresh to handle and sustain such crisis,” asserts Rajesh Nath.
“Dedicated disaster management model, reinforcement in investments on infrastructure, staff recruitment and training, seamless transfer of information and co-ordination of operations should be pursued at by both developed and developing countries which is currently existing in bits and pieces,” says Arijit Chakraborty. “Also, additional provision of modular or make shift facility system should be prepared to address 1000X of the target population, e.g., China’s modular hospitals erected in 10 days,” he suggests.
“One of the key learnings from Corona crisis is the need for a comprehensive business continuity plan, with investment in strong IT infrastructure to enable secure access from anywhere in various situations. Secondly, we need to bring in concept of ‘responsible self- care’. When a person is unwell, s/he should rest and avoid meeting others at social or work or entertainment avenues for betterment of self and others. This fundamental shift in attitude could prevent various disease spreads,” says Shraddha Danani. “To avoid total collapse of business, we must have a well-oiled business continuity plan in place, duly reviewed and updated to handle such crisis and many more that may come in the future,” opines Sunil Khanna.
“One clear message is heath first; if you are unwell stay indoors and don’t spread the disease. Secondly when governments mandate it is our responsibility as citizens to respect and follow. Third there needs to be more effort to improve our immunity by eating healthy and focussing on our health so we reduce the chances of getting infected,” says ND, and adds, “Lastly as businesses; all employees must step up and act responsibly so as to minimise business impact and support work remotely so we recover from this as fast as possible. We all hope this cycle is passed and we rise again and normalcy prevails.”
“Coronavirus has a fair amount of social, psychological and economical lessons,” expresses Sushil Bahal. “The first of the social lessons is the family and community preservation. Second lesson is that the human divisions according to caste, creed, colour, geography, and economics are artificial and they should be done away with. Ultimately, we are all bound by the umbilical cord of humanity. The third social lesson is the idea of compassion is likely to be accepted in policy making, relationships, etc.,” he explains.
“When this situation ends, we will have discovered ingenious ways to overcome problems. These lessons learned need to be documented and absorbed into emergency response procedures, imbibed into best practices and communicated all over the country, if not internationally,” concludes Dr Thirumurugan.
(Note: The responses of various experts featured in this story are their personal views and not necessarily of the companies or organisations they represent. The full interviews are hosted online at https://www.iedcommunications.com/interviews)