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The original article was published on my Beyond PLM blog

The coronavirus is a health crisis we never have seen before in modern civilization. I’ve seen the collapse of the USSR and Middle East Wars in my life before, but nothing came even close to the proportions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Besides being a health crisis, coronavirus brings an imminent restructuring of global social and economic order. The question, I’m hearing a lot these days is about what will be after coronavirus? Are we going back to normal? And if not, what will be this new normal?

There are multiple aspects of coronavirus impact. I’m going to look at this from my PLM twisted mind focused on engineering, manufacturing, and people involved in product development, production, maintenance, and support. These things are not going away. We will still need machines, houses, equipment to produce food and many other things needed in lives. Engineering and manufacturing won’t go away but will change.

Let me take a look at 3 steps of changes.

The Path to Resilience

Most countries are still at the stage that the coronavirus problem is not resolved yet. It will take time and unfortunately, countries will pay a heavy human lives toll. There is very little experience of what will happen afterward. We can see some initial steps of resilience happening in China, but it is still very very early. As we will pass the stage of resolving the problem with the virus, businesses will be acting on plans for re-establishing industry structures and relationships and resetting competitive positions of industries and companies.

Business back to operation

It is hard to bring businesses back, but they will do so. It will take time and I expect to see companies struggle to operate in a sustainable way. A potential return of the virus will demand a high level of precaution, which will make companies to take multiple actions and balance between full operations and social distance. This stage will also bring a lot of learning for businesses on how to be sustainable and operate in a sustainable way.

New Normal

A disruption and shock will create a big shift in the expectations of people, their behavior and preferences as employees and also consumer behavior. Coronavirus will be one huge push to rethink how we work, use technology, consume old and new products. Many years ago, my grandparents were telling me about their experience in the post-war world of the late 1940s and the beginning of the 1950s. I’m not excluding the possibility of a similar effect in a new normal world after Coronavirus.

So, what does it mean for the business of engineering manufacturing software? The good news that as we still need to manufacture things, the fundamental needs will not change. However, I can see three possible changes that might happen in a state of “new normal”.

1- Contactless Engineering. WFH will change the way engineers will work and collaborate forever. It can become an event finally to rethink the technology and our capabilities to work in distributed teams. The speed of changes is hard to predict, but I can see how engineering will become contactless and not dependent on location and organizational office boundaries.

2- Reimagination of supply chain will create a demand for a larger scale of intelligence needed to predict possible disruptions and also support decisions allowing businesses to sustain. I can see a huge spike in the demand for systems capable to model an entire design to the manufacturing value chain and optimize it when needed.

3- Training, maintenance, and customer support. These are fields that require a lot of personal human touch. I expect it to change significantly. Virtual training environment, IoT, robotic monitoring and different contactless communication technologies will come into this space to create a revolution in user experience and operation.

What is my conclusion?

We are still far away from the resolution of the virus. Most countries are still struggling and experiencing a growing level of death from COVID19. The next few weeks are expected to be the most horrific in the U.S. Nevertheless, as we all sit in isolation, the time is right to think about future trajectories of the businesses. I almost said “when the situation will back to normal” and then I realized that it will not be old normal anymore. We need to prepare for the new normal. It will be coming without asking us for permission. Because I wrote in my blog 12 years ago – “If you want to have a great future you have to think about it in the present because when the future’s here you won’t have the time”. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups, and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.

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