2022 was undoubtedly a wake-up call for the entire business world.
A perfect storm of geo-disruption, pandemic, monetary policy, and societal tectonic shifting. The history books may look back on this era and label it “The Great Workforce Supply Chain Failure.” Even the phrase “supply chain” underwent a contextual change in its traditional meaning to now include people – the workers (us).
Yet despite breakdowns in “flow” with a number of things, the opportunities to harness the intersection of data, tech, and humans are robust. We continue to see a surge in AI/ML acceleration. Companies shifting to high-performance as they automate, digitize, and modernize. Leaders who are prioritizing the way they are using data to steer intelligent decisions.
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So as we move forward in 2023, we are in a prime opportunity to carry forward lessons learned over the last few years. Two very real examples we can pull from, that demonstrate just how important our approaches to tech and resiliency infrastructure design, involve the airline December debacle and the widespread shipping/freight bottlenecks that impacted every business and consumer on a global scale.
In December 2022, a popular commercial airline company experienced a computer system failure that caused widespread flight cancellations and delays, stranding thousands of passengers and causing widespread public frustration.
Though it seemed like a problem that originated overnight, the Pilots Association said in a statement that the problem actually began “many years ago when the complexity of our network outgrew its ability to withstand meteorological and technological disruptions.”
The meltdown highlighted the importance of having a comprehensive technology infrastructure in place, including backup and redundancies built in. When exploring the root cause at an even more granular level, it was a manual crew scheduling process that ultimately broke the entire system. Planes can’t fly without pilots and for this airline, its workforce supply chain failure exacerbated the crisis.
Supply Chain Woes
The supply chain issues of 2022 — massive delays, driver shortages, shipping delays, etc. — were also the culmination of cascading events. The pandemic triggered a surge in electronics along with a shortfall in chips to meet the swelling demand.
Shutdowns led to shipping bottlenecks and containers literally afloat with no place to port. And similar to the airline, it was the workforce supply chain that ultimately failed the industry. Fewer workers stifled production, and the entire ecosystem caught a cold. Competition for workers drove up labor costs, thereby increasing training expenses while also lowering quality control. And delayed shipping delayed revenue capture. We can see how the cycle spirals from there.
Though it may seem that the similarities between travel and logistics are fairly superficial, thanks to technology all of our world and paradigms are somewhat similar these days. Lessons learned from logistics can apply to travel which can apply to hospitality and to construction and to social services and the like.
Because at the end of the day, what all industries have in common is their interdependence and interconnectivity, unlike anything the world has ever seen (fueled by concepts like globalization and Web 3.0). The wiring and connectivity is increasing every day, as does the complexity of the codified labyrinth.
We… every human and every business… are now both beneficiaries and beholden to this new paradigm of techno-virtual-driven reality. A world where the physical can’t exist without the metaverse, and vice versa. The code meets materials so intertwined that the bottlenecks are now like “Giordion Knots” – and seemingly insoluble to untangle. The more you pull, the worse the knot becomes. And unfortunately, as the ancient Greek moral goes, the solution of swinging a sharp blade at the knot is not a real fix.
So regardless of the industry you’re in, the lessons learned can apply to all of us. Here are a few that are top of mind:
- The importance of building a resilient and robust technology infrastructure has never been more important. We can’t wait as businesses. Rather, we have to invest now and build software, solutions, and products capable of withstanding disasters and macro shifts. A key to resilient infrastructure is for businesses to continuously test and monitor their solutions.
- What’s more, the elevation of data and advanced analytics is a lifeline for business continuity and sustainability. When we can improve our forecasting and gain access to real-time trending data, we gain powerful visibility into our business ecosystem, teams, and larger community network (of our customers, partners, shareholders, etc.) With access to real-time insights, we can detect risk before it hits, change actions and behaviors based on what the data is telling us, and make truly data-informed decisions.
- And thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, we need to remember the importance of how humans and tech come together. One always affects the other, and so we need to approach our technology, data, and automation efforts designed through the lens of maximizing the superpowers of our teams. Technology should never replace humans. And technology can also never go unwatched. When we lose sight of that, our infrastructure – no matter how brilliantly designed and infallible it may seem – is just one ripple, one strong breeze, from collapse.
We are living in exciting and disruptive times, and businesses must adapt and integrate “the butterfly effect” into strategy and planning. While it may not be true that a single butterfly in flight can cause a hurricane halfway across the globe, what is true is that small, micro changes, can lead to seemingly unpredictable consequences.
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