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Flexibility, Cloud, and Processes Trump Disruption

If your company is still reeling from the repercussions of post-pandemic disruption, not to worry—you can still thrive! We recently invited three industry veterans from AEye, Inc., Tonal, and Product Realization Group to discuss how they’ve overcome disruptions and business obstacles brought about by the pandemic.

Here is a brief snapshot of our webinar How to Thrive Amidst Constant Disruptions and the discussion that shares insights and advice on how to navigate and survive disruptions by focusing on three key areas: business flexibility and adaptability, leveraging cloud-based solutions, and enhancing processes. Our guests also share strategies on how your company can future-proof for ensuing events.

Our moderator is George Lewis, VP of Product Strategy at Arena, a PTC Business. George is a CAD/CAM/PLM industry veteran with more than 20 years of experience working with product development companies.


George: The past two years have brought more disruptions than ever, not only with the pandemic but with natural disasters, political unrest, part shortages, and more, and are continuing to this day. This has changed the way we get work done and how product companies design and develop products. We’ve learned that disruptions are inevitable and can come at any time. In this uncertain environment, it’s become necessary to reimagine how we communicate and collaborate in every aspect of our business.

Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with three industry veterans who’ve not only survived during these tumultuous times but thrived. Let’s get their insights on how they’ve navigated their way and how companies can prepare for future events.

Q1: George: What’s been the biggest disruption or disruptions you’ve encountered in your careers? Was it the pandemic, a natural disaster, supply chain issues, or other unforeseen events?

Mike, start us off?

Mike Keer, Founder, Product Realization Group
During my 30+ years in the industry, I’ve experienced a few major disruptions. The first that comes to mind is geopolitical realignment and the increasing tensions between the U.S. and China. This has raised interest for U.S.–based companies to relocate key product development and manufacturing outside of China, and drive a resurgence in reshoring back to the U.S.

Another disruption is the impact of the pandemic. This has caused teams to shift from in-person mode to leveraging more cloud-based tools like PLM or ERP systems.

The supply chain has been another disruption. Some of that is due to the pandemic and some of it has been caused by an increase in demand for things like electric vehicles (EVs), increasing electronics in health technology, 5G, and IoT.

You have the worst of both worlds. You have the pandemic causing a shortage and the uptick of increased usage of components causing some components to be out of stock for 52 weeks or greater, and less-skilled workers in the workforce. It’s getting harder to find talent to run businesses.

George: Cindy, what was the biggest disruption at AEye?

Cindy Lalowski, Sr. Quality Systems Manager, AEye, Inc.
Our biggest disruption has been the supply chain, which goes hand in hand with the pandemic. Manufacturers had to shut down and reduce production. This has impacted not only the industry but AEye’s ability to meet schedules. In some instances, we had to do a redesign.

For supply chains, it was due to component availability. We scrambled to find exact matching sources, and in some cases alternates. But we’ve been able to bank off the ‘substitute’ alternative additions on our bills of materials, and that’s proved invaluable for us to be able to move forward with production.

George: Jeff, how about you?

Jeff Rosen, VP Planning, Tonal

I can summarize my disruptions into three buckets—a couple have been talked about already. One is economic, just historically large cyclical disruptions, from the bubble in 2000 to the crash of 2008, until the pre-pandemic time period. It’s a lot of growth and then flattening and growth and then flattening. These factors drove the classic boom-and-bust supply chain semi-cycles that we’re all used to.

The two other really important disruptive elements that the pandemic had on product realization and supply chain are the whole collaboration disruption and the accuracy and velocity of information flow. You’re managing global supply chains via Zoom and not being on-site—it’s a very 2D model. The pace impact on the supply chain has just sped up so dramatically, but our ability to keep pace and understand what’s going on not only hasn’t kept up, I believe it’s actually slowed.

Q2: George: What advice do you have to best prepare for unforeseen events? What’s your strategy for manufacturers to thrive despite constant disruptions?

Cindy Lalowski, Sr. Quality Systems Manager, AEye, Inc.

My advice is to have the cloud-based tools in place, access to those tools—also have robust processes in place to have the employees trained to use those tools.  This is the only way we were able to thrive in this new environment during the pandemic. Currently, most of our workforce continues to work remotely or has a hybrid schedule.

George: Mike, any thoughts to add?

Mike Keer, Founder, Product Realization Group

I would advise companies to be flexible and open to change as the world experiences more frequent disruptive events. By doing this, you can reimagine and improve how you operate (like using more online tools) and increase your competitive advantage.  Think about systems like PLM and ERP and tools that really integrate a business together. I think those tools are going to be needed more than ever as we face more disruptions. This will enable you and your business to adapt and thrive during the next major disruptive event (which may be happening as we speak) and come out even better.

George: Jeff, how about you?

Jeff Rosen, VP Planning, Tonal

Put in place a more structured cadence of measurement, and oversight. Invest in your processes. In my role, it’s scenario planning constantly. Build flexibility wherever you can afford it and where you perhaps cannot, seriously assess and determine whether you can afford not to. Invest in the right tools. Focus on master data management, a common source of truth, connected interfaces, and less data latency. Otherwise, chaos reigns, and without these solutions and approaches, it’s things like Google Sheets. And I will tell you it’s a great product, but it’s not scalable for what we do, and that’s not really where we want to be.

George: Thank you all for a great discussion and for sharing your experiences. Three words resonated throughout this conversation—flexibility, cloud, and processes which, all align with the digital transformations that are necessary today.

Staying ahead of business disruptions

This unprecedented age of disruption has tested the resiliency of global manufacturers and their supply chains. Pandemics, natural disasters, part shortages, ever-changing regulations, and labor disputes are just a few of the obstacles that can prevent companies from delivering products to customers. Overcoming unforeseen events requires teams to collaborate in real time whenever and wherever.

Digital technologies like cloud-based product lifecycle management (PLM) help product teams better communicate and gain greater visibility into supply chain execution activities to avoid unnecessary production delays, quality issues, and other factors that impeded product launches. In turn, manufacturers can rapidly respond to and proactively address the next wave of disruptions that come their way.

Listen to the webinar to hear the full dialogue of questions and answers. Have you faced any of the challenges these panelists discussed? Learn how to thrive anytime in an age of disruption.