- What was the impact of the pandemic on your business, operations, and business model?
At the onset of the pandemic, there was a slowdown in business operations as organizations grappled to understand this new phenomenon. By the time COVID became full-blown, this slowdown deepened.
At this point, organizations focused on “survival” since they were collectively recording the lowest sales performance ever. The lockdown essentially led to zero face-to-face operations and engagement, meaning that businesses were simply unavailable. The catchphrase I adopted to describe the situation was VUCA, short for; volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, which was the operating environment at the time.
Shortly after this downward trend, and as people began to embrace remote work, we saw a rapid upward tick in sales performance. The IT industry (our industry) was at the forefront of keeping this world working, learning, entertaining and communicating remotely. People began to migrate from single device use to multiple devices use at home. Previously one device per household was a norm. The pandemic changed this setup, and every family member required his/her own device to stay productive. Our vision to get one device into every household pivoted to multiple devices because households demanded more PCs, especially computers with increased capabilities for teleconferencing like Zoom, WebEx, etc. that entry-level laptops could not provide. This meant upgrades from entry to mid-high-level devices within the period, essentially increasing our mid to high-end segment sales performance (in a previously, largely entry level market).
This accelerated growth came with its challenges, it exposed the fragility of current supply chains as demand outstripped supply and sales projections due to the prevailing global production shortfalls and logistics standstill.
- How did you reorganize your supply/sourcing process to plug the gaps and meet customer demand?
The reality is that a lot of collaborations and alliances go into making a single laptop. Third-party suppliers were also hit by the pandemic, causing shortages. Wuhan that hosts a key part of our supply chain was severely impacted by Covid (Covid first appeared in Wuhan as a matter of fact). It became evident that we needed to invest in optimizing our supply chain capabilities, increasing supplier visibility, and integrating technology to improve transparency, tracking and forecasting.
Typical supply chains are built for efficiency thus giving minimal room for buffers. When the system is hit as it did during the pandemic, businesses then realize their vulnerabilities and have nothing to fall back on. Our response has been to explore a diversified sourcing strategy that will enable us to effectively serve our customers while balancing cost efficiencies.
Supply transparency has also become a key strategy for us, we are building capacity to improve the visibility of transit locations by leveraging digital capabilities, and predictive Artificial Intelligence “AI”, as well as having robust conversations with all our suppliers and supply chain experts to ensure that we design an efficient process. Contingency planning has also become a key concern. We are in a change process that is enabling us to fulfil backlogs while rolling out a resilient supply chain system. AI holds a lot of promises, but to what degree artificial intelligence will deliver, I think the next couple of years will tell us.
- Did your operational model shift during the pandemic?
Yes, we moved remotely and then eventually to hybrid. That was a fundamental shift for us, it was uncharted waters, even though we had begun to experiment with the model in small bits. We enabled people to work comfortably from home; we invested in ergonomic chairs, desktops, and accessories. It was relatively easy to pivot because remote work and working in transit had already been part of our company culture. Recently, we have adopted a ‘flex’ hybrid working policy, and this has improved productivity, especially in Sub Saharan Africa, where electricity, fuel scarcity and road congestions are a problem. This means we allow employees the flexibility to blend work from home and work from the office, in a way where we encourage strategy, collaboration and social connection in the office while still leaving open the option to complete individual work that requires focus and privacy, remotely from home.
- How is HP building supplier capacities within its value chains?
Part of our transformation focus is to deepen supplier/partner collaboration and data sharing through our partner program which we launched recently called AMPLIFY. The primary pillar of this program is collaboration and data sharing because for AI to work, true and clean data is required, and that’s an imperative we’re expecting from our partners and collaborators which will in turn create positive outcomes for all players across our supply value chain.
Is the African workforce equipped for a digitized supply chain?
Unfortunately, across every sector, it seems Africa only has small pockets of experts on the continent so my answer will be not yet. Another challenge in the supply chain sector is how to scale the supply sector. How do we grow that workforce? Because a lot of people are in survival mode and lack access to proper information, most Africans still want their children to be in typical careers, i.e. doctors and lawyers.
Regulations and policy are major factors as well. In an era of digital transformation, African governments should be enthusiastic about bridging the gap in digital access and skills through policies that encourage people to take part in the digital economy. Component manufacturing in Africa for example will solve a huge supply chain problem for many sectors if businesses and governments build the capacity to do so.