The Corona crisis – reflections and learning

Article · 2020-03-31

The spring of 2020 did not turn out as we expected. At the same time as authorities and politicians are working to reduce the spread of infection and dampen the effects of the stagnant economy, intensive crisis management and transition in industry is ongoing. How do companies think about the crisis and the future?

Eva Holmström, Karlskoga Automation, Mats Sedlacek, Atea, and Soran Rashidzadeh, CGI.

Automation Region's Business Development Group plans and conducts activities aimed at increased business and networking. The group's most recent meeting was conducted remotely, focusing on the effects of the corona pandemic and what the companies in the network can do to support each other. We have talked to three of the group's members – representatives from Karlskoga Automation, Atea and CGI.

Risk assessment and crisis strategy at Karlskoga Automation

Karlskoga Automation provides system solutions and consulting services to customers in the pharmaceutical industry, the engineering industry and the defense industry. The company has about 30 employees and an additional 10 hired consultants. Eva Holmström is chairman of the board of Karlskoga Automation and chair of Automation Region's Business Development Group.

How has your business been affected so far?

“Our production staff are still working but we are very restrictive with visitors and all major meetings are canceled. We do not yet see a slowdown in our projects, but we are working intensively on a crisis management strategy where we go through our key customers and try to assess their vulnerability.”

“For our own deliveries of automation equipment, our primary focus is to secure access to components. We sketch various possible developments and prepare ourselves as far as possible.”

You lead the work in the Business Development Group, what signals do you get from other people in the network?

“Many companies still have a lot to do, especially those with a large proportion of their customers in the public sector. On the other hand, there is a clear change where major investments and development projects are pushed into the future. Now, the assignments are more about fixing things that do not work and helping customers to adapt to the new conditions. Many consulting companies are also forced to cancel scheduled courses and training.”

How does the Business Development Group adjust its work?

“In 2020, the idea was that we would focus on three areas – employee engagement, the public sector and service innovation. In the new situation, we are instead discussing digital forums for sales and education. We think that makes more sense for Automation Region members right now.”

Atea supports new ways of working

Atea is an IT company focusing on IT infrastructure, digital work methods and change management. The company has around 2,600 employees in Sweden and among its customers are both public organizations and private companies. Mats Sedlacek is sales and consulting manager at Atea in Västerås.

What are your customers demanding right now?

“They need help to get started on new ways of working, especially in terms of distance work. Many have tools and some experience, but in this strained situation, new questions arise about how the tools can be used effectively. Leaders must find new ways to see their employees and manage their operations. And for those who now work at home, their own discipline can be a challenge, not least in terms of prioritizing breaks and recovery. Our experience is that people who work remotely place higher demands on themselves, both in terms of accessibility and performance.”

Is it possible to see some potentially positive effects of the crisis?

“We are in a situation where we are forced to implement a number of changes at a high pace. When we eventually emerge from the crisis, we have probably crossed many thresholds that previously felt high, for example about how we can collaborate digitally. The challenge is that we do not have time for education, we have to learn in real time. An important lesson - which can be regarded as a positive effect - is that we need to work more proactively with digital tools in the future.”

“Many times innovation also arises when conditions change rapidly during a crisis. New problems require new solutions and that kind of mindset drives development forward.”

How can networks like Automation Region contribute?

“One example is that all organizations will face a number of similar challenges and then solve them in different ways and with varying success. These are insights that we can discuss together and benefit from.”

“Many people have probably found it difficult to set aside time for collaboration and networking when daily operations take all the oxygen. But this crisis really highlights the need to develop the learning and exchange in the ecosystem.”

Early readiness at CGI

CGI is a global IT consulting company with approximately 5,000 employees in Sweden. Among the customers are several municipalities where CGI provides parts of the IT infrastructure. They also work with change management and development of IT solutions within Robotic Process Automation and business systems and more. Soran Rashidzadeh is Director Consulting Expert at CGI.

How have you handled the crisis and what kind of business effects do you see?

“We have had good crisis preparedness and we started working with Covid-19 as early as January. In February, we introduced strict guidelines on travel and physical meetings to protect our employees and customers. Many of our customers have key functions in our society and it is very important that we can continue to support them now.”

“All industries and companies will be affected in one way or another and it is difficult to say what the consequences will be. But cuts in industry will also affect the consulting companies.”

How can companies in the Automation Region network help each other?

“The Automation Region offers a forum where we can exchange experiences and knowledge without prestige, for example about how we can work effectively online with our customers. Within the Business Development Group, I feel that everyone is prepared to help each other and also to acquire new knowledge.”

What questions do you think will dominate in the future?

“Right now, I think most organizations are just trying to handle the situation as best they can. In the longer term, there will be discussions about scenario planning, crisis management and IT security. Again, I see that we have much to learn from each other in order to build a common resilience to future crises.”