Industry trends... 2021 and beyond
What opportunities do you predict for the growth of your industry in 2021?
Since COVID-19, businesses have been seeking to improve efficiencies and are wanting suppliers that offer comprehensive solutions. In September, IPD Group acquired Control Logic, which has given us the capability to provide end-to-end solutions for our customers across Australia. This allows us to streamline our service to customers and is timely considering the growth opportunities that have emerged in the new environment. We are seeing growth in solutions for healthcare including aged care, data centres considering the growth of cloud applications and the demand for data centre space and cybersecurity, food and beverage solutions, and government infrastructure such as schools, roads and rail. Manufacturing is a key opportunity because the pandemic made business realise the impact of having a heavy import strategy, and how this was dangerous for the entire supply chain. To mitigate potential future risks, manufacturing is coming back into Australia, with automated solutions a big part of the manufacturing process.
What are the three biggest challenges or threats facing your industry in 2021?
Apart from ongoing impacts from COVID-19, the biggest threats are:
Cybersecurity. During the past 12 months a ransomware attack put our business offline for three days. For us this is a big threat. Our investment in cybersecurity is significant and we are increasing this investment to protect against both internal and external threats. We recognise that if our system was hacked, it could impact the security of our customers. Our biggest risk internally is our employees not having the knowledge to appropriately mitigate cyber risk. To address this, we provide our teams with cyber awareness training and regularly spam employees with simulated email attacks to determine individual responses. This allows us to identify employees who need further training. Our customers also face similar concerns for their automation networks and we are able to provide them with solutions to help mitigate these risks.
Sustainable energy production. Energy costs are going through the roof and this is a big risk for both businesses and the private sector. One example is new technologies such as electric vehicles, which are proving more popular. While they haven’t taken off in this country yet, it’s only a matter of time and this will put more pressure on power generation stations. We are already seeing this with the huge amount of energy that powering the uplift in data centres is creating. A key challenge for Australia is whether we will have enough infrastructure to meet this demand, and if not, which is likely the case, tailoring our investment towards clean energy solutions.
Skills shortage. Our company depends on engineering skills for our distribution business and trade skills for our services business. Trying to find qualified people in both of these disciplines is becoming more challenging because there is little attraction for young people to learn a trade compared with the previous generation of employees.
What impacts has the COVID-19 global pandemic had on your industry, and how does this affect your business strategies for 2021?
Our business depends on high technology products that are manufactured overseas, so with factories working at reduced capacity it impacted our supply chain. We tried to mitigate this impact by increasing our inventory and changing the way we did business with our suppliers. It necessitated a much closer working relationship with our suppliers than we had in the past. Before we had more of a transactional relationship but now we have a partnership approach. This has been a good outcome from the pandemic that will remain with our business in 2021 and beyond.
What are your thoughts about the post-COVID ‘new normal’ in relation to remote working technologies and supporting staff?
As a business we’ve always put the health and safety of our employees at the centre of everything we do. COVID-19 forced us to provide more flexible working hours and the technology needed for remote work. While our administrative staff could work from home, our warehouse operators needed to remain on site, so we split work shifts to reduce the risk of employees catching COVID-19. During lockdown we met every day as a management team. We’d never used Zoom or Microsoft Teams before, so the first meetings were on Houseparty. We found that applications previously used for social interaction became critical business tools, and reduced business travel. Historically, if a customer in Perth needed assistance, we’d have to physically travel to meet them. Now we can jump on a Zoom call within minutes and give our customers the same level of personalised attention without the travel time or costs. Since COVID-19 we have adopted working from home more than we did in the past. However, we won’t move to a permanent work from home environment because so many valuable conversations that happen in the office around common areas, don’t happen on Zoom. We believe this also provides a number of benefits for the wellbeing of our ‘work family’. We also found that working remotely posed a number of significant challenges for new staff, who didn’t feel comfortable with onboarding and training in isolation despite our best efforts. For us, the balance is about having flexibility while ensuring the wellbeing, safety and protection of our employees.
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