53 Transformers say the pandemic has changed company missions in survey
- As part of Business Insider's Transforming Business series, we surveyed 53 of the Transformers to gain insights on their leadership strategies, goals for the future, and important challenges ahead.
- The survey revealed that COVID-19 caused many of the respondent's companies to make subtle shifts to how they pitch their products and services, citing a higher focus on well-being and safety.
- Large companies are more willing to listen to startups that have clever solutions to issues raised by the pandemic.
- Visit Business Insider's Transforming Business homepage for more stories.
Artug Acar, director of product management for RightHand Robotics, used to tell customers that supply-chain automation was about investing for the future. When covid-19 arrived, "the future became today," he said.
The selling proposition of the Cambridge, MA, company had long been productivity. The company's robotic grippers did jobs that were hard to find enough human workers for. As different items pass by on a conveyor belt, the grippers pick them up. The items are then gently placed in baskets to fulfill a customer order. This seemingly simple task is made possible by advances in artificial intelligence.
When the pandemic hit, safety became a larger element in the company's pitch. Robot pickers are great for social distancing. "With COVID, people cannot work side-by-side in warehouses," Acar said. "They can work beside robots."
A Business Insider survey of Transformers revealed subtle shifts in many companies' mission in light of the pandemic. The overriding theme of these efforts is well-being in different forms. Many companies focused on how their goods and services make workplaces safer. Others are protecting customers from unexpected circumstances. Still more are embracing general societal benefits.
For example, one survey respondent noted, "Every large organization that has advantages of economies of scale and/or strong ecommerce should be supporting the wider small business/analogue ecosystem."
Some companies made changes to their products in response to covid-19. Take Miso Robotics in Pasadena, CA. Its "Flippy" robot cooks hamburgers and fries in fast-food restaurants. That allows better social distancing in crowded kitchens. However, since Covid-19, a less-obvious benefit has been added to Flippy. After washing their hands, human workers can scan them with technology embedded in Flippy to confirm they can safely handle food.
"We need to move even faster to help restaurant operators confront the pandemic head on," said Buck Jordan, the company's founder. "The new normal will include germophobics."
Covid-19 also turned a spotlight on the mission of companies that had mostly been in the background before the pandemic. Consider DHL Supply Chain North America, one of the world's largest logistic providers. "The supply chain has historically operated largely out of sight – in fact, remaining unseen was often a sign that we were doing everything right," said CEO Scott Sureddin. "With the onset of the pandemic, however, the delivery of essential goods such as PPE, pharmaceuticals, food supplies, and cleaning products became more critical than ever."
During the pandemic, inventory strategies were turned upside-down. Some customers ordered much more stock, and some cancelled orders. "As a result, we were called upon to help customers adjust their supply chains quickly to the trends they were seeing and to increase their flexibility and efficiency," Sureddin said. "The good thing about all of this is that it forced us and our customers into a much quicker process of making decisions and contracting, and brought us into much closer proximity on a daily basis."
Even after the pandemic, DHL expects a greater call to help customers increase resilience and redundancy in their supply chains. This will include more automation, better visibility on inventory flows, and improved forecasting ability. DHL's mission is not only to move goods, but to anticipate and resolve issues before they happen.
Other survey respondents echoed those sentiments. As Jimmy Kim, cofounder of a Seoul-based venture firm called SparkLab, puts it, "Even when Covid-19 is contained, people know that something else – a Covid-20 – will come up in the next few years." Preparing for the unexpected has become a compelling business proposition. Companies like Kim's are positioning themselves as the problem-solvers of the new normal.
"Big companies were always a little reluctant to do business with startups," he said. "The pandemic has lowered the barrier to have a meeting or try something new. Big companies are more receptive to collaborate because the pandemic revealed they have a lot of problems that need to be solved."
Many survey respondents indicated the pandemic will accelerate the path their industry was already on. Acar said warehouse automation was reaching a point of "not if, but when." That said, strategies have been advanced by years because of Covid-19.
Within a decade, he expects robot pickers to be working in grocery stores. "You'll just pick up the bag, and you won't realize a robot put it together for you," Acar says. You also won't realize that Covid-19 got that robot into the market so much faster than expected. Because part of the new normal might be that company missions are accelerated and continually sharpened.
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