From a technology perspective, the lessons of both the pandemic and the current global supply chain crisis can be summarized in a short phase: “build in resilience.” That’s why governments everywhere are assessing how these lessons should inform both future policymaking and operations planning in 2022 and beyond.
If you ask me, there are five key pressing operational and policy issues:
1. The pandemic underscored that paper-based, manual processes must give way to automated, digital processes that can leverage the benefits of advanced capabilities and analytics. The supply chain crisis has confirmed the need for standardized automation and digitalization.
2. Just as business has done over the past decade, governments must modernize their digital capabilities with a focus on building-in resilience.
3. To achieve the benefits of digitization, access to operational data – the fuel for advanced capabilities and analytics – is essential. It’s the only way to fully digitalize, or digitally transform, operations.
4. Policymakers must tailor regulation to fit the differing nature, purposes, and uses of data within an enterprise.
5. Post-pandemic operational decisions and policy choices must advance digitization while securing all data to meet the expectations of the consumer and public in the on-demand economy.
Setting the Right Success Metrics
Already, there has been a significant amount of energy devoted to assuring future supply chain and public health readiness in the U.S. as Congress and the Biden Administration have made resilience a key priority in a number of legislative initiatives.
These efforts are occurring at a critical time, as the public is both frustrated over the social restrictions brought about by the pandemic and increasingly concerned over the future of the country. A Monmouth University poll released in late January found that “fully 7 in 10 Americans (70%) agree with the sentiment that ‘it’s time we accept that Covid is here to stay and we just need to get on with our lives.’” Similarly, the recent average of national opinion polls from Real Clear Politics shows that nearly two-thirds of U.S. voters believe the country is on the wrong track.
These findings underscore the public’s desire for two things: first, a return to a more normal day-to-day life, and second, an expectation that key systems and institutions in our society should function efficiently and show resilience. This is why it is so important for post-pandemic policy and planning to focus on making government as efficient and accountable as possible, both in overall operations and, more specifically, in supply chain management.
The Public’s Expectations
The public’s desire for greater resilience and efficiency is not particularly new. Consumers have been expressing ever-higher expectations of business for years, long before the start of the pandemic. Over the past decade, these expectations led to the creation of the on-demand economy. In turn, the requirements of the on-demand economy drove successful companies to deploy digital solutions and technology across their operations. The challenges of the pandemic have created similar expectations of government. Fortunately, governments have been able to rely on the demonstrated experience of such sectors as retail and transportation & logistics in using proven technologies to meet supply chain and public health challenges.
In a way, the pandemic has made obvious what much of the world has known, at least unconsciously, for some time – namely, that the era of slow, manual, and paper-based processes is over. To realize the performance benefits of the on-demand economy, both government and business will have to continue their drive toward digitization of data and digitalization of processes. In turn, this will require empowering workers on the front lines with the power of data, mobility, and real-time connectivity. Thankfully, the federal government has provided significant funding to state and local governments so they can make the same kind of investment in digitalizing key operations as private sector businesses have been able to make over the last decade.
As a bit of history, it is worth recalling the on-demand economy’s journey over the past decade.
Initially, organizations focused their digitization and digitalization efforts on the “core of the enterprise” by introducing better enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, and warehouse management systems (WMS). They also migrated patient data to electronic health records (EHR) and similar digital information systems. In the years leading up to the pandemic, technological momentum increased and shifted to the “edge of the network.” This led to the equipping of front-line workers with mobile digital technologies that could access the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and the cloud. This trend has moved into high gear over the past two years, as the public made clear it wanted both business and government to provide greater and greater levels of efficiency, transparency, and real-time understanding into their operations. This expectation was often expressed by the pandemic-inspired question: “where’s my stuff?”
Data Policy Is Key
In evaluating future public policy choices related to digitization and digitalization, it is important to understand first the key role that data collection, use, and sharing play in advancing digitalization of processes and industries. Data is the essential fuel that operationalizes digitalization, which, in turn, enables the application of advanced analytics and automated decision-making that enhance performance and lower costs.
While issues related to data collection, use, and sharing can elicit a myriad of concerns, it is essential for public policy to enable governments and businesses to leverage the power of their data in serving consumers and the public. This is why future data policy must recognize – and be commensurate with – the type of data being collected, used, and shared.
There are some commonsense notions that can provide an initial starting point for policy discussions. For example, it is clear that information about employees collected by the human resources (HR) department for employment purposes is quite different from anonymized information relating to employees’ movements in a warehouse or employees undertaking a specific operational activity. As a result, it is critical to make certain that different data sets have tailored regulatory structures that reflect their practical and actual differences.
Additionally, it is beneficial for governments and businesses to continue efforts to address digitization, digitalization, and security in their own operations. One way to address this is to deploy purpose-built enterprise technologies in government and business settings as they are designed to deliver the required level of performance (think ruggedization and battery life) and limit attack vectors as well as help eliminate unnecessary distractions in the workplace. This stands in contrast to the use of consumer technologies in enterprise settings, which can create both distractions and potential security vulnerabilities given the unrelated features and applications that often reside on such devices.
The choice of enterprise vs. consumer technologies has become quite timely given the large influx of COVID-19-related federal relief funds that have been – and will continue to be – provided to state and local governments over the next several years. As public (and private) sector leaders look to further efforts to digitalize operations and advance security, decisions about whether to provide enterprise or consumer technology to front-line workers look to become an increasingly important “fork-in-the-road” decision point.
Leaders in both government and business must continue their efforts to advance digital innovation throughout their organizations. Likewise, lawmakers must support the development of public policy that promotes digitization by enabling the proper and secure use of work-related data. 2022 is poised to become the year when governments and businesses everywhere recognize and embrace the essential importance of data-driven digitalization – and fully advance the journey. Those on the front lines must be empowered with the capabilities needed to meet consumer and industry expectations in an on-demand driven economy.