Jan Burian
Jan Burian (Head of IDC Manufacturing Insights EMEA)

After the first COVID-19 wave, many executives believed that the “new normal” would not be that different from the past. It’s clear now, however, that the disruptions caused by COVID-19 are truly unprecedented and that the changes in the way companies operate are going to be significant.

This exceptional situation has put the C-suite into the spotlight — and the COO in particular. The role and responsibilities of the COO have expanded beyond their traditional realm of overseeing day-to-day administrative functions and business operations. COOs are now focused on change management and digital transformation (DX). This includes a general rethinking of operations, technology arbitration and integration support, improvement of customer experience (CX), and risk management.

Digital Transformation and COVID-19 Shaping the Role of the COO

How does the COO role need to change? IDC recognizes several key trends that have driven the changing COO role during the past six months:

  • Mandate for companies to change their business and operational strategies in response to COVID-19, with a view to potential future disruptions resulting in even more resilient and flexible operations
  • Focus on the improvement of operational efficiency, resulting in cost savings (both opex and capex)
  • Establishing a work environment that rigorously complies with health and safety policies
  • The need for upskilling and reskilling of the workforce in response to the rapid deployment of digital solutions and limited access to a digitally experienced workforce
  • New ways of working such as work-from-anywhere and remote operational task fulfillment
  • Deployment of AI-driven solutions that support and even automate decision-making algorithms
  • The rising importance of business collaboration ecosystems
  • Process automation technology enhanced with AI that enables a “lights out” operational environment
  • Advanced solutions providing (near) real-time data from IT and operational technology (OT) systems
  • Efforts aimed at improving sustainability, impacting internal operations as well as the supply chain base

How Can the COO Succeed in an Uncertain Future?

The future face of manufacturing will be very different to what we have previously seen. The convergence of IT and OT systems will lead to a hyperconnected environment. Operational and back-office processes will become even more integrated and automated. Cognitive AI-based technology will take over decision-making processes.

The COO’s team has always been tasked with ensuring that the company’s capabilities keep pace with technology trends. In a successful operation, the ability to react to changing external and internal environments is incorporated into the team’s DNA.

With the new levels of resiliency required during the crisis and beyond, the COO team must transform — old roles and responsibilities must be reconsidered and new roles will need to be created. The emerging importance of digital engineers is a perfect example of how a COO team reflects the current trend of IT and OT convergence.

The initial step should be creating a strategy for digital skills development. An evaluation of current resources should span (at least) domain expertise, IT skills, and digital skills. Depending on the evaluation, the COO may recommend upskilling or reskilling of the workforce, or make a case for new hires.

Once operational goals are defined and the requisite technology is deployed to achieve those goals, the strategy to reconfigure the COO’s workforce can be enacted.

This integration of operational processes, people, and technology is a winning approach for both the COO team and the company as a whole.

DAE: A Platform Connecting Technology Providers and Manufacturing Executives

To encourage dialog between manufacturing companies and technology providers on how to tackle this next normal, IDC is launching Digital Accelerate Events (DAE) as a content marketing platform to support relationship building and lead generation.

IDC’s Digital Executive Manufacturing Forum, to be held on November 24 on the DAE platform, will provide a great opportunity for manufacturing executives to discuss key issues such as defining new partnerships and building the pipelines for their future businesses.

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