By Mischa Tessendorf

Over the last year, the devastating spread of Covid-19 has touched all of our lives and brought many challenges to our everyday living.

However, given these various challenges, they have also brought a light upon new and existing opportunities for positive change. How the engineering sector responded to the pandemic has been inspiring.

Opportunities always lead to improvements. Companies have also had to rethink the entire supply chain in which they operate. How to be safer, faster and more efficient at the end of the day has been high on the lists of change.

Distribution channels have created tremendous opportunities, and many companies are leading the way in which they tackle problems. There are also ever-evolving connectivity innovations and platforms like Zoom and MS teams that have required adaptation in day-to-day work and tasks.

Covid-19 has further raised awareness about the importance of HVAC&R systems. From vaccines that need to be refrigerated at low and ultra-low temperatures within the cold chain, to your office air conditioning and air quality. The opportunities within these fields alone will lead to a high demand in innovation within the industry.

With vaccines on the doorstep in South Africa, businesses have an opportunity to embrace the new world which they face. Engineers see themselves as problem solvers and continuously adapt to their circumstances and have proved highly flexible to the changes brought on by the pandemic.

These changes have resulted in quick decision-making, supply-chain sourcing, alternative options to design such as 3D-modelling, virtual engagements and general changes to the ‘regular’ work environment.

The situation we find ourselves in today is much different to that of a year ago. Technology solutions have always been met with some scepticism; however, these solutions when approached now, can provide a cutting-edge point of view and differentiate you and your company in the offerings you provide to the market.

Technology has the potential to keep the world moving, even when you are working from home (WFH). It is providing fast development in the workplace. The complete shift to WFH has decreased operating cost (rental costs have dropped, as have things like travel and catering, for instance) for many businesses. There has been an increasing use of virtual platforms and other VC tools.

There is now scope for innovation and creativity within business-generation in a virtual space. To help with the transition from digital to real-world, companies use software like SharePoint, one central system for employee access.

Engineering BIM360 software creates a digital twin, a computer model of the real world, and helps engineers acknowledge unforeseen problems that could occur. The model is continuously improving as the projects evolve and puts in real-world, real-time data as it emerges.

The interesting thing is that this pandemic has highlighted areas in our businesses that need to be updated or upgraded, either from a systems point of view or from a personal perspective. There is a better understanding of how to serve customers virtually, or alternatively.

A focus area within this is how to build trust, develop relationships and generate business in a virtual setting. Will the new norm be avatars in virtual rooms? Or is this perhaps not seamless enough to be useful? Keeping employees engaged through strong communication is a clear focus area too. WFH has people generally surprised at their increased productivity relative to the office.

In one of his interviews, Bill Gates revealed that there is a downside to virtual meetings to that of in-person events. His inability to meet and collaborate with new people was noted as a significant challenge and therefore a new way to build social engagements and trust is required.

The value of digital networking can be a significant resource during this time. Platforms like LinkedIn offer a place to increase learning, contribution and increase value. Value creation and business opportunities continue to develop. Business development opportunities are in fact endless as travel time has, for the most part, been eliminated, it is now really all about a mind shift.

Targeting clients in a unique way has also changed under the parameters of digital channels and so too have many businesses’ social impacts. International collaboration as another element has also increased.

Visiting customers, trade show cancellations, or any other live events have been replaced by focusing on alternatives like virtual events, online webinars, technical presentations and social media engagements.

Many companies have resorted to doing digital product launches with a clear focus on digital sales and marketing journeys. Virtual tradeshows have paved the way, and one can attend a show that you would usually need to travel to. This also reduces costs significantly and opens each of these companies up to personalise their user experience.

Covid has certainly changed how systems and the supply chain work. Optimisation of these systems is required, hence, engineers have focused on artificial intelligence, automation, and process control. A big focus for companies now will be education and how their employees are trained and kept engaged.

Intra-team communication has remained good, but inter-team communication is down. A renewed focus on keeping people from the age old ‘working in silos’ now needs to be addressed again and monitored.

What 2021 and beyond will bring will no doubt require a lot of innovation and creativity, and possibly even trial and error as so many aspects of what we used to consider ‘normal’ business’, are no longer.

“The enterprise that does not innovate, ages and declines. And in a period of rapid change such as the present, the decline will be fast.” – Peter Drucker