As we wind down 2021 and look forward to 2022, it is safe to say that 2021 was another year full of change. From ever-changing supply chain challenges to early retirements and “The Great Resignation,” there are many pandemic aftershocks continuing to drive change in the way we live and work. But I don’t believe what we are experiencing now is “the new normal.” At ACE, there is hardly a month, or even a management meeting, that goes by that does not include a discussion on how we will handle the items in the latest news cycle. ACE made several strategic shifts in our business this year to position ourselves to better handle the disruptions of 2021 and prepare for what we think 2022 will bring.
Being Flexible to Handle Disruptive Forces
It is no secret that the supply chain, from semiconductor chip shortages to logistical challenges with shipping and ground transportation, is one of the biggest pandemic aftershocks currently impacting every industry. So far, we have been able to mitigate many of the delays with shifts in the specified materials by making substitutions to use a different processor in the same family or using high-temperature rated equipment instead of the standard components. But we know we are not the only company using these less common components now, which means shortages of these parts may be looming as well.
If these supply chain issues continue too far into 2022, we believe communication with our customers will be the key to success. We also anticipate some of our business may shift to getting more out what our customers already have – whether that be supporting an obsolete hardware platform or squeezing more functionality out of aging control system.
Another disruptive force many companies are experiencing this year is the mass exodus from the workplace. Although this really started pre-pandemic as many Baby Boomers were reaching retirement age, the pandemic has accelerated retirement for many people with more than 30 years’ experience. This represents a big loss of tribal knowledge built over decades of equipment operation. On top of accelerated retirement, employers are also dealing with attrition through what has become known as “The Great Resignation” as many people are changing jobs in search of higher wages, more flexibility, and better benefits.
We know it is challenging to lose staff, especially senior operators, but this also presents an excellent opportunity for many manufacturers to modernize systems and codify or automate processes or information so that this knowledge is not lost now or in the future. While working with customers to perform modernizations is a cornerstone of our business, a challenge we are facing as an integrator is that some customers have such a severe lack of staffing, they are having a hard time getting these much-needed projects started. We are working to help customers overcome this issue by continuing to strategically grow our staff so that we can provide these customers even more resources, including project managers to coordinate automation projects or additional onsite engineers.
Adapting Our Business to Meet Current and Future Customer Needs
ACE also made some very positive changes in 2021 that we expect to help promote future growth and position ACE as a leader in the post-pandemic environment. We started several initiatives in 2020 centered around upgrading our CRM to improve the communication between our sales and marketing units. We also completed a long overdue overhaul of our website that we believe better represents our position in the market and advances the conversations our customers want to have about their systems.
Through a combination of necessity born out of the 2020 stay-at-home orders and the right technology evolving at the right time, this year, we also quickly developed a workable collaboration solution for allocating our staff and resources across the company even more effectively. While we will continue to have a local presence on our projects, geography no longer needs to be the key driver when assembling our project teams. This means we can supplement our local team’s abilities and better leverage the expertise we have across offices based on project needs. As part of these efforts, we also strengthened our project management office (PMO) so that we are in an even better position to effectively serve customers, increase cooperation across offices, and ensure scalability as we grow.
As a result of these efforts, we not only retained employees, but we are also strategically hiring new staff and not just backfilling positions. I believe ACE is growing and thriving in a way that positions us well to take on the business needs we foresee in 2022.
A Look Ahead to 2022
If 2020 and 2021 taught us anything, it is that we need to be agile and adapt to the unexpected, and we are taking this lesson seriously as we head into 2022. Beyond the labor shortages and supply chain issues stemming from the pandemic, another area where I think we will see some new, and potentially unexpected challenges, in 2022 will be related to OT cybersecurity. In 2021, we saw several high-profile cyberattacks launched against companies such as Colonial Pipeline and municipal operations such as the City of Oldsmar, Florida. If there is one positive side effect from these public attacks, it is that many organizations are now realizing it is OK to acknowledge security vulnerabilities in their systems and that it is time to invest in addressing those issues.
For many manufacturers that have had the same OT equipment in place for decades, there is not a simple IT solution for their security needs. At ACE, we recognize this, and we are well positioned to take on these OT cybersecurity challenges with our cross-domain skills in control systems, networking, IT systems, and integration. Beyond modernization efforts required to address cybersecurity challenges, we also see that the need for system modernization will grow in 2022 as many organizations have employees return to the workplace and the demand for cap ex projects that were put on hold during the pandemic returns.
We look forward to 2022 with a cautious hope and a mindset for growth that will help us handle any additional pandemic aftershocks that may be on the horizon.
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