By Stefan Fahrni, Christian Jansen, Michael John, Tarek Kasah, Bodo Koerber, and Niko Mohr

 

Industrial companies expected 2020 to bring economic pressure from ongoing trade disputes, the aftermath of Brexit, automotive-industry challenges, and slowing demand in China. But none anticipated that the COVID-19 pandemic would throw the global economy, and their own operations, into an unprecedented crisis. As the coronavirus continues to spread, governments, healthcare authorities, and business leaders are focused on preserving lives and containing the pandemic. In parallel, they want to lessen the humanitarian toll by protecting the livelihoods of millions of workers who are now furloughed, unemployed, or in danger of losing their jobs.

Within industrials, shocks to both supply and demand have significantly decreased production volumes or stopped operations. For instance, all major automotive OEMs in Europe have shut down their production networks, resulting in the breakdown of entire value chains. Where business has continued, physical-distancing measures are dramatically altering operations, employee responsibilities, and staffing.

To navigate the current crisis and reach the next normal that will emerge after the pandemic abates, companies must embark on a journey with three horizons, each of which involves different questions:

  • Resolve. How can we ensure business continuity now?
  • Return and resilience. How can we return to business and increase our flexibility to thrive in the “new normal”?
  • Reimagination and reform. How can we improve our business over the long term, in a world changed by the pandemic, and emerge even stronger?

Industrial IoT (IIoT), a major element of Industry 4.0, can help companies as they proceed on this journey. It has demonstrated its value on many occasions over the past few years, but some skeptics still doubt its worth and elected not to make bold investments in this area. What’s more, few business leaders view IIoT as a critical improvement lever in times of crisis, especially if their organizations have not previously explored it.

This article dispels misconceptions about IIoT and describes how industrials can apply it as they move through the three horizons outlined (exhibit). Companies can begin this journey without a full IoT stack in place because the necessary technology foundations, including connectivity solutions and platforms, are readily available on the market. Any business can, therefore, apply IIoT solutions with limited effort.