As The Virus Changes, So Will Our Enterprise Technology Footprint

Article written by Stephen Zoder

Let’s assume you have some sort of central IT application managing your accounts, customers, suppliers, products and locations in your organization today. It may be one of your (or the) Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems. It may also be a bespoke-developed solution using a relational database or a legacy Master Data Management (MDM) tool. Your analytics team will know that it doesn’t require one or a couple of these but probably at least 5-20 of each of these and that some of them change a lot, not just in terms of content but also structure.

Whatever you have today, just like the virus, your operations may also likely change significantly in the coming months. Why? Because if this health care crisis is a lesson in anything, it is that access to trusted data is a must and that government and your customers will change the way you interact with all your stakeholders. If you are not set up to accommodate the impending onslaught of regulations around health, supply chain, financial and data privacy monitoring, you are likely to be either non-compliant very soon or at least throwing a lot of funds into one-off projects to prove adherence. By “not set up” I mean being mandated to, or at least strategically prepared to collect, share, protect and analyze more information about your suppliers, employees, contractors and customers. If you are being asked to share the location of every physical interaction by a specific consumer segment with your state or federal healthcare agency, how would you do it today? Recalls are a good blueprint for this challenge. If you securely collect remote temperature readings from plug-and-play smart phone thermometers to reduce health premiums, how would that happen? Corporate wellness incentives are the example for this. If you need to confirm that your human resources involved in manufacturing systemically critically equipment are available given local or state government “shelter-at-home” orders, could you?  How would you report this today and execute any front-line policies in near real-time across the enterprise and your wider operational environment?

It is great to know that a retail location in Palo Alto, your plant in Sheboygan or your Japanese business unit has its act together on these but if these locations are the only well-oiled piece in your long physical (and data) supply chain, things start to crumble quickly.

I don’t mean to sound Orwellian but if this crisis has laid bare anything, it is that government has a role to play to solve big challenges, cooperation of all participants (including us) is required and that technology can mitigate the physical effects of a pandemic. This starts with jumpstarting viral test kit development by sharing academic research; quickly identifying clinical trial subjects, maintaining a constant stream of expert guidance (think Dr. Fauci); and yes, pacifying kids at home for their own and our safety.

What could you potentially do today and what should you think about in case some virus-driven regulatory and commercial changes materialize?
Employees & Suppliers
If you have an occupational health and safety system, which typically exists on a facility-by-facility basis, a central MDM may need to capture new regulatory changes to track Coronavirus incidences across all facilities. OSHA is currently giving guidance on what will likely become changes to existing law. The same tracking, but for contractors and suppliers, may also be something your organization would want to be aware of when planning new capital projects or diversifying your supply base. Moreover, you may also need to report these to the government, especially if you are historically or a “new” systemically critical organization.
Similarly, you may need to change rules in your absence management workflow to accommodate payroll changes due to paid sick leave from SARS-CoV-2. These rules assume you have values loaded for new absence causes. If you are running production sites in multiple countries, you need to analyze the probability and current impact of absences within and outside of your four walls. The same is true for international travel and long-term assignments and the impact to benefits, tax and payroll as it pertains to spot-bonus and other compensation mechanisms currently under consideration. Most human capital management (HCM) and payroll automation vendors do not provide coverage for all major countries out-of-the-box or natively but use local third-party tools and integration to their code base. This is why most HCM vendors have been trying to convince multi-national companies to switch to a single instance for years. However, the legacy cost of such a migration in addition to increasingly varying legislative requirements makes this a tough sale.
Another set of regulation is likely to emerge quickly and it will dwarf what you and me are thinking of in terms of workplace safety. These rules will go beyond custodial sign-off sheets at the back of the bathroom door indicating “toilet was cleaned by Mike on March 16 at 2 pm”. It may now have to be done by a trained or certified employee, approved materials, captured digitally, validated in a workflow, aggregated across all facilities and reported to a public authority or an insurance carrier. Just as hospitals publish clinical outcomes for their community, other businesses may now be asked or choose to report their sanitary efforts to their communities and customers.

Requirements around health-related supplies may also pop up to assure that future shortages are mitigated. Supply risk was typically associated with core materials required to maintain production levels outside of the healthcare sector. Situations I have seen in a hospital network a few years ago where $100,000 of often expired materials were discovered in supply closets on every floor during construction are unacceptable and indicative of a poor data governance culture. In non-healthcare businesses, supply risk may be extended to include such materials; normally not required in a sales, service or production process; e.g. masks, gowns, sanitizer, etc. These could end up being tracked on an employee, location, workflow, material, and supplier record. Much of this is being done today on a SKU-level to maintain safety stock but can it be associated in the correct relationship with the correct operations (literally in case of a hospital), locations (stock vs use) or employee basis?

Customers & Consumers

Commercial customers and retail consumers profiles will also require an upgrade in ERP and CRM systems. These applications manage anything from sending you email promotions, capturing interactions during the offer and sales process to billing you accurately and budgeting for future expansion. However, as smart devices permeate our lives (think iPhone, cable box, Nest thermostat, doorbell, Alexa, wearables, etc.), the collected data points are not only sensitive in nature but also extremely valuable in terms of protecting your operations.

Companies like Google already work with government agencies to track and predict the future spread of this virus using social media and device dataData privacy concerns aside for now – I am sure they will pop up once the pandemic starts to subside – this information has tremendous value to Google, its merchants but also the government. The power to reduce the negative impact to our lives from a health but also economic perspective cannot be understated.

First, services which can be easily switched to remote delivery (digitally enabled) will accelerate to become primarily fulfilled through eCommerce in a very short timeframe. Talking to people, researching, buying, learning will become an online activity by default. This, however, demands sometimes vast technology landscapes move data easily, accurately and quickly between various stages in the consumption cycle. Today, this is still a major challenge for large and small companies alike. As an example, many corporate leaders in the same organization will often provide different figures when it comes to how many active customers they have, their annual spend and profitability, their channel spend, the cost of servicing and so on.

This crisis indicates that consumer behavior can change rapidly and drastically as they may be more eager to receive but also share more personal information to stay healthy but also reduce their cost-of-living as layoffs loom. Capturing such concerns at every digital, phone or (if still possible) face-to-face interaction is crucial to serve customers better in this time of turmoil. Any act of proactive goodwill will not be forgotten in the long run. This could mean credit extensions, price freezesfree ad-on products and services, like home delivery. Some firms may even offer free financial planning assistance, contractual changes such as a rebalancing in insurance coverage or a reduction in subscription services. Understanding the risk tolerance driven by customers’ financial health or their particular health situation or expectation today should drive how, how often and when to reach out. Consider it corporate altruism or paying-it-forward schemes, which may likely pay dividends in the future. You definitely don’t want to be the one company which hikes their price for product X by 100% because you smell the desperation right now.

Other considerations to track customer information are: purchase history and patterns to avoid hoarding of essential items and to reselling of stockpiles, digital on top of physical travel patterns to understand product needs as well as digital capability and capacity. In the past, service centers used the latter to drive call deflection. Today, it can signal the opportunity to switch customers to a different channel for commercial or health reasons.

Relationships matter

The last thing I want to point out is that despite your best efforts in statically tracking and reporting on changes to individuals’ and materials’ profiles, you are likely still not out of the woods. As pandemics vividly illustrate, it is all about relationships. What good does it do for a pandemic researcher to know who has symptoms today? The core issue is to understand who “patient zero” is; who the patient came in contact with (community spread); who was infected and how; as well as who, given behavioral patterns, is likely at risk to be infected next. The “cloud” has not changed this complexity but just shifted the problem to someone else’s budget. Doing the underlying detective work using legacy technology, integrating data sources to each other and managing this spaghetti network every time something changes across a vast number of private and public data sources, is not only frustrating but extremely slow and expensive. That is the last thing we want today – lack of speed and spiraling cost.

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