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The bridge to the future

May 20, 2024 by Alistair Enser

As highlighted over the last few weeks, cases of Coronavirus in the UK continue to plateau, although the death toll surpassed 20,000 over the weekend: a stark reminder of why staying at home and maintaining social distancing is so important. The latest Google mobility reports show continued acceptance of the need to lockdown and it’s hard to assign recent fluctuations in travelling to and from work, and staying at home, as part of a wider trend.

At Reliance High-Tech we are seeing previously locked down sites planning to reopen for essential maintenance and engineering, inviting us in to work on their security systems where this work cannot be undertaken remotely. Even then, our people must maintain safe working measures while the sites are empty.

Indeed all of us must take responsibility for following the guidelines and stay at home where possible. Health Minister Matt Hancock said this week that it was still too early to remove lockdown measures. It’s more about making sensible progress in critical areas. Thus far the NHS has taken the massive influx of patients in its stride, even if this has been at great cost to those on the frontline themselves.

The picture at the top of this week’s article is of my son, Aaron, who is normally at University, but is currently portering at a local hospital. He sent me this image the other day and it is hard not to be reminded of all those workers in the NHS – and other sectors – supporting the nation. It got me thinking about what we might learn from this experience.

Get out of your comfort zone

I have been interested to see more debate around the concept of ‘Just in Time’, and how it this might in future be replaced by ‘Just in Case’. Effectively, this debate relates to the way that lean supply chains have been engineered with little or no slack in the pursuit of ever greater efficiency. The trouble comes when a crisis like COVID-19 hits, as these systems fall apart very quickly. Planning for ‘just in case’ involves taking preventative measures and placing buffers into supply chains and is starting to make greater sense.

The concept isn’t just applicable to supply chains, either. As an editorial in the Financial Times explained this week, it has ramifications for all organisations: “Too late, many executives and [business] owners have realised that by pursuing the holy grail of ever greater efficiency, they sacrificed robustness, resilience and effectiveness.”

Here in the West, we have developed societies built around minimum cost and maximum value. As consumers we have embraced minimum time and instant gratification. But at what cost? Have we overlooked resilience? The COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity to reconsider how we engineer our organisations. Efficiency isn’t just about instant delivery and minimum stock levels. It’s about resilience. It is a balance of risk and reward.

Importantly, adding in resilience doesn’t have to be more expensive. It can be about using technology to meet requirements and add value add in a different way. It helps organisations be more effective, more secure and could actually result in a lower Total Cost of Ownership. To achieve this, using technology must be carefully thought out. It requires a greater amount of planning and consideration upfront.

The technology bridge

Over the last five to ten years, the IT and telecommunications industries have moved to a remote service model where resilience is built in by default. Look how the internet has held up as millions of people have worked from home. Help desks are automated while frontline personnel have been freed to deliver the same, if not better service.

The security sector needs to follow suit. One example that springs to mind concerns one of our Account Managers, who held separate meetings on the same day with a University in the South East as well as one in the North of England – all on Microsoft Teams. Clearly there remains preference for face to face interaction, but these types of events are becoming the norm. They are far more efficient and eliminate wasted time, cost and environmentally damaging travel.

I am certain that, once things return to normality, we will still go out and see customers. But will we drop those ‘virtual’ meetings, and dispense with the greater efficiency they provide? I very much doubt it. There is almost certainly a middle ground between where we have come from, and where we are now. This could bring greater efficiency, productivity and, yes, resilience. Technology is the bridge that will get us there.