2021 Thought Leaders: Warwick Bardsley
What opportunities do you predict for the growth of your industry in 2021?
2021 will be another interesting year for all industries. Following on the unpredictability of 2020, and with the hope of vaccines to come, this will at least give some hope and resolution to the ever-necessary lockdowns and restrictions we have all faced during 2020. Now having had some forced insight as to how some types of work can transition to new ways, this should give us all the confidence that we can operate ‘normally’ in less-than-normal circumstances.
As the clouds part we should see some opportunity in delayed or postponed projects recommencing, and even the smaller process and efficiency activities recommencing within plants. Hopefully with a vaccine, and low virus rates within the community, the state governments, and local plant operators will see a reduced risk of infection, and a resultant reduction in shutdowns due to COVID-19. This would allow the engagement of contractors on locked-down sites allowing things to get started again.
The other handbrake we must watch is our trading situation, and the current trade status between Australia and China. Many industries can, and will, be affected by this ongoing spat, unfortunately affecting confidence. In some ways this is not a bad thing as it’s been a reminder that you need a diversified market to ensure resilience. There is lots of work going on behind the scenes to both address the China challenge, and broaden the market, which is a good thing. There are many opportunities out there with the strengthening trade agreements within Asia and with the changes in the UK.
What impacts has the COVID-19 global pandemic had on your industry, and how does this affect your business strategies for 2021?
We have had a mixed year in 2020. We were able to act quickly and change our Sales and Marketing focus early on, realising that physical presence would be greatly curtailed. The overall performance in the industries we serve has been varied, as their individual demands for their products have changed, either decreasing, remaining stable, or actually increasing, depending on the segments they are serving.
For us, we will plan for increased physical interaction with our customer base via site visits and industry events, but will also continue with our virtual services such as continuing to increase and improve our web-based tools and online services, expand our web-based information and training offering, along with virtual exhibitions, and continue to offer online customer support with case management and virtual service offerings.
How has the current international uncertainty impacted your cybersecurity and/or supply chain management plans for 2021?
The issue of cybersecurity has been one on our collective minds for some time, and we continue to invest in this area, for the good of our customers and ourselves. We have watched in the recent past major disruptions to physical supply chains by the corruption of IT systems, bringing whole businesses to their knees extremely quickly. We don’t want this to happen and continue to pursue a strategy of an in-house IT service provider (InfoServe), focused directly on the needs of our business.
We also strive to ensure the robustness of our IIoT offering such as achieving EuroCloud 4 Star Certification for our Netilon cloud-based services. Our physical supply chains have also had their challenges, mainly due to the rapid change in air freight availability and cost during the COVID crisis. We now keep larger inventories, have expanded our sourcing, and further developed and tightened our freight contracts.
What are your thoughts about the post COVID-19 ‘new normal’ in relation to remote working technologies and supporting staff?
The envisaged flexible working arrangements, that for many years have been possible but not popular, have been undertaken by necessity by organisations around the world. It is possible for non-presence work to be done remotely, commonly in a home or alternative environment away from the office, with a high level of quality and engagement. Although the technology is sound, after the investment of many of the basics, the arrangement doesn’t suit everyone, and this must be worked through. We are still human, and I believe that there is still a need for human interaction that can’t be 100% covered by a video link — there is a need for some amount of workplace attendance. Team building and maintenance, integration, collaboration, and innovation depend on it.
The ‘new normal’ will likely be a balance, and an acceptance that at times remote working makes sense, and at other times office days are required. We have had flexible working arrangements in place for some time, and the technology to back that up has been there. The move to remote working was pretty seamless. Now it’s up to business managers to ensure guidelines and support are in place to allow and facilitate a situation that gets the best out of both worlds.
Employers will have to look to having regular office days, and further work on the engagement piece to deliver value on those days, for both the organisation and the individuals, for the new normal to work for all. The companies that do this well will get the best from the new normal — and we intend to be one of them.
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