It is becoming increasingly clear that Australia moving to level 4 lockdown in response to COVID-19 is unlikely. However, what appears to be on our horizon is far less linear and predictable and no less challenging to manage. 

We are now asking questions like:

  • How long will each of the alert levels last? Weeks? Months? What does this mean for our response?
  • Are we going to be in and out of different alert levels throughout the year? What does this mean for business continuity?
  • Will different alert levels be in place at different times across States or even suburbs?

These questions are important to consider, because in many ways the potential impact on varying parts of your business will be no different to a full lockdown. You’ll still have to manage the reduced ability to easily access your sites or assets due to lockdown measures, or even ill health.

Ultimately the current circumstances have highlighted the need to improve the resilience of our organisations. The good news is there are a variety of cost-effective and reasonably easy-to-implement solutions to manage these risks and improve your resilience, thanks to smart ways of using new and existing technologies. And what’s more, any investment you make in digital solutions now will not only improve existing business continuity but will continue to improve the efficiency of your business well into the future. 

We look at the top three challenges you’re likely to be facing now and some of the tools and activities that could help solve them.

Challenge 1: The flow of information to your support staff from site is compromised, impacting their ability to work 

You don’t know what you’re missing until it’s gone. This is certainly the case when it comes to being able to visualise your site, find and locate information associated with the site or its assets, or even complete engineering or maintenance planning tasks. Fortunately, we live in the digital age and there are relatively inexpensive ways to get around this to help keep your site running, such as using basic reality capture. This information can be the start of your site’s digital twin.

Challenge 2: The flow of knowledgeable and technical people required to your site is compromised

Isolation is like trying to operate your machinery in the dark - you can’t operate or interact machines or assess assets or infrastructure in the same way you did before. And you also can’t physically show others how to do the same tasks. A quick check of the screens or drawings is no longer possible. Suddenly your ability to solve problems is a whole lot harder, slower and sometimes not even possible. With technology like the Microsoft Hololens you can leverage technical expertise remotely to seamlessly engage and guide on-site resources. It can be integrated with other digital information e.g. (isolation procedures, SOP’s etc, real-time information) to improve efficiencies of operations, maintenance and engineering activities in the field with the key benefit being higher asset productivity.

Challenge 3: Decision makers may not have access to the data needed to make important operational decisions

You’ve come to rely on your experts, you might even be one, but suddenly you can’t cross State or country borders to be the unicorn your business needs to fix their problems. Suddenly non-experts are being forced to make decisions on your behalf, they may not do it correctly or in the same way, and they run the risk of making costly mistakes. Using cloud-based data dashboards, you can leverage remote decision makers to support seamless decision making, by integrating different data sources to simplify data. The cloud-based analytics can develop insights to optimise operations and reduce costs (e.g. energy, water overall equipment effectiveness etc), and predictive analytics and digital models help to predict performance issues and help rectify these. While this may solve the challenges you’re having today, this is the start of using your data to its fuller potential long-term. 

What does the future hold?

With COVID-19 bringing unforeseen challenge and uncertainty to the market and our ways of working like never before, the speed with which we have had to adapt is mind boggling. Some of us were more prepared, or even more able to cope with working from home and are now in business continuity mode. Others weren’t set up to easily transition to working from home, and significant effort has gone into coping with the immediacies of the new normal. Many people appear to simply be doing what they were doing yesterday, but in a slightly different fashion to reflect their own personal circumstances. 

Now is the time to bypass some of the hoops we would usually need to jump through, to help our business make pragmatic decisions for the short and medium-term that we know are going to help. This is the only way we will be prepared for what could happen tomorrow and it’s the best thing any of us can do to manage the uncertainty. Thankfully there are smart, pragmatic, low risk and relatively inexpensive digital solutions out there that can be easily tailored to you and your business’ needs and integrated with your existing systems for benefit now and well into the future. No one knows what the future will truly hold, however we do know that trying times force us to change and innovate where we would be otherwise comfortable. It is these actions that keep us in business today and will drive our future successes tomorrow.

For more examples of specific Digital Solutions to help you and your business through these trying times, check out the following page.

About the Author
Stewart Coleman

Business Director - Industry 4.0

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