Evolving traditional industries beyond the pandemic

COVID-19 has changed the way most organisations function. The past 20 months have been a revelation for many industries as they were forced to rethink their operations and find ingenious ways to survive.

Fortunately, many of the organisations in our region are digitally sophisticated. They could rapidly pivot their operations using cloud technology when the pandemic first struck, limiting the damage to their operations and even improving services with innovative solutions driven by necessity.

However, traditional industries like construction, manufacturing, and agriculture were more severely impacted by COVID-19 as they struggled to maintain their productivity amid labour shortages and relied on industrial processes that were not obvious candidates for digital, technology-driven improvements.

Going cloud first past the pandemic

The pandemic is lingering, with supply chains yet to recover their pre-pandemic efficiency, and the disruptions to many sectors remain significant. While the end of this historic period appears to be in sight as more people are vaccinated and disease outcomes improve, traditional industries need to look to the future, to find ways to reinvent themselves, restructure their business models, and prepare for long-term growth with a cloud-first technology posture.

The pandemic forced businesses across the board to act quickly to adapt. Developed Asia saw the equivalent of ten years of digitisation progress during the pandemic’s first year Those that could embrace digitisation saw results almost immediately, and the benefits were clear as the power that cloud computing presents became apparent. Having evolved to survive the disruption, these companies should now consider how digitisation can help them thrive in a post-pandemic market that a relatively open world will hopefully soon allow.

While the pandemic has shone a light on the need for digitisation and agile operating models, some traditional industries need to be coaxed into adopting technology-based solutions. The reluctance many sectors face is due to perceived cost, the complexity of changing current practices, and the fear of what – for many decision-makers – is the unknown.

Improving safety and beyond

Traditional industries, which are typically more labour-intensive than most sectors, largely focused on using digital technology to boost the safety of employees. This is an obvious and tangible benefit. But some companies are taking things further.

Vietnam’s first unicorn VNG is using cloud technology to help multinationals manage and supervise construction sites remotely. Using machine learning and Internet of Things (IoT) technology, VNG Cloud’s solution automates site camera monitoring to help identify dangerous situations, detect and prevent accidents, and automatically alert management of incidents that require assistance. This service is aimed at countries across Southeast Asia that manufacture or build in Vietnam, allowing them to automate much of the monitoring of sites and factories across the country.

In Singapore, construction and manufacturing companies also use IoT and machine learning to help track worker safety and prevent COVID-19 transmission by keeping workers socially distanced.

Building tech

Digitisation efforts during the pandemic will change the construction industry for years to come with automated processes and improved efficiencies. For example, the sector has long been encumbered by processes like the need for the physical signing and submission of building permits at different phases of a building project. This is time-consuming, and in the early stages of the pandemic, social distancing laws and the resulting reduction in human contact saw paperwork delaying projects. Myanmar came up with an innovative solution to this with digital construction permits that cut the wait times for approvals in half and helped thousands of sites start projects without delays.

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is at the forefront of driving transformation in construction. There is increasing adoption of new technologies like autonomous drones and IoT sensors deployed to survey and analyse development sites as well as 3D printing in pre-development phases to help speed up the building process.

BIM software enables the designing, editing, and sharing of digital models and renderings of buildings. This helps the industry do much of the pre-construction preparation and identify gaps in construction phases, greatly reducing waste and accelerating the completion of projects.

Hyundai Construction is using IoT technology to closely monitor construction equipment and detect – as well as predict – machine failures at sites across South Korea.

In Japan, construction equipment maker Komatsu is helping customers globally connect and visualise data generated from IoT sensors throughout the entire construction process, enabling safe, highly productive, smart, and sustainable construction sites of the future.  

Intelligent, more sustainable manufacturing

Manufacturing quickly realised the early benefits of Industry 4.0, with industry visionaries rapidly pivoting their supply chains and ramping up production. In addition, some companies were able to review their existing processes to identify improvement opportunities to gain further efficiencies.

Manufacturing companies that produce Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), the majority of which are based in Asia, could project supply and demand for equipment using the cloud, which was critical in helping healthcare workers protect themselves as they responded to rising COVID-19 cases.

South Korean smart factory specialist Miracom has developed a cloud-based manufacturing execution system that uses sensors to give customers deeper visibility into factory operations. With this solution, companies can boost factory productivity and improve product quality while reducing operational costs and increasing agility with scalable cloud computing.

The cloud can help companies become more sustainable too. Manufacturers like Coca Cola Icecek (or CCI, one of the key bottlers in the Coca-Cola system that produces, distributes, and sells beverages in 10 countries across Central Asia and the Middle East) used digital technology to analyse and reduce waste on the production line. This led to CCI seeing annual savings of 20% on electricity and 9% on water, helping to manage costs during the economic slowdown.

So far, the gains from digitisation in these traditional industries have been step changes to survive the pandemic. There are still greater opportunities that digitisation can bring. These will involve traditional industries making greater use of the vast amounts of data they are generating to provide additional insights that further streamline processes and uncover new ways to transform practices in their industry. 

Smarter farming

While the agriculture sector has used digital technologies for precision farming for years, the next evolution of digitisation is in linking different systems with IoT and expanding the analysis of data in farming with new data sets. The industry is already familiar with using weather pattern predictions to improve crop yield, but the next step is focusing on sustainable farming practices, from exploring traceability to helping farmers better understand how to protect the cultivation of crops, livestock, and marine production. New data, new tools, and technologies are empowering farmers to make better and smarter decisions.

And as demand for food continues to rise and land resources dwindle, farmers have started to transition their operations to precision agriculture, where data is collected from fields to better monitor crops and production at a micro level. Japan’s Yanmar is making their greenhouse operations smarter by automatically detecting and recognising the main growth stages of vegetables using IoT cameras to adjust nutrition, care, and environment to maximise yields.

Applying cloud technology to traditional industries requires more consideration and creativity than typical digital transformation stories. The inventive ways many companies in construction, agriculture, and manufacturing are adapting and innovating on the cloud are clear signals to all industries that digitisation can help them not just survive, but flourish.