The end of 2020 marked the passing of one of the most challenging years in human history. The advent of COVID-19 caused an ongoing crisis never seen before in modern times. The world as we know it completely changed, leading to an unprecedented era of uncertainty and changes.
Numerous businesses all over the world have had to close down or completely change how they operate. The first few months of the pandemic were particularly chaotic as no one really understood the extent of the problem, and how long it would prevail. Sectors such as dining, malls, and cinemas were hit the hardest, but every industry was affected adversely.
The hardware industry was not exempt from any of this adversity, and had to undergo some major adjustments. It's workflow processes, use-case scenarios, and communication methods had to be overhauled in many cases, with companies focusing on innovation and adaptation performing as well as any company can in such a scenario.
As a unique sector, the hardware industry comes with its own set of challenges. These challenges extend across numerous stakeholders, from designers and engineers to manufacturers and suppliers. However, companies which were proactive and worked out solutions to these are well on the path to recovery.
What challenges did the COVID-19 pandemic bring to the hardware industry?
One of the major issues in the hardware industry is that manufacturing is a intrinsically physical process. It often requires the presence of manpower to oversee the whole procedure. No matter how automated manufacturing processes may have become, we are not yet at that point where there is zero human presence. After all, machines need to be maintained, and if there are any issues, someone needs to be there to fix them.
Additionally, communication is one of the major hurdles which the pandemic brought to the forefront. A large part of the workforce has been relegated to working from home, and in many cases, different stakeholders are in different countries. In COVID times, travel has become a major luxury, so people can't go back and forth for work purposes either. This means that there are numerous communication gaps which need to be filled. Conference calls, emails, and other conventional communication methods do not fit the bill, as they leave a lot of space for misunderstandings. There is a dire need for more transparent and comprehensive communication methods.
In common with almost all other industries, hardware also faced a financial crunch during the pandemic. This meant that they had to reallocate their budgets and also refocus their priorities. Any IT company's strength is its ability to conduct research and innovation, but with limited budgets, this became quite difficult. After all, in any company, paying overheads such as vendor dues and salaries is a must, so the money has to be cut from somewhere.
Leading on from the other issues faced by other industries, the simple fact is that people all over the world saw a sharp decrease in their buying power. Many hardware products are not absolute necessities and are also pricey. Therefore, their demand fell significantly.
How did hardware companies cope with these problems?
Let's take the abovementioned problems one by one and see how companies tackled them. When it comes to manufacturing facilities, the solution is simple enough. As with most sectors, these facilities were required to work with all social distancing protocols in place, with only a certain number of employees allowed on the premises. As an industry with already low manpower, hardware manufacturing was well-equipped for this eventuality and functioned with just a few adjustments for safety. Simply, only the people who were absolutely needed on the manufacturing line were called in.
As for communication, conventional methods just won't cut it. There are a number of effective collaborative tools out there, with some of them specifically tailored for the hardware industry. These tools offer everything from efficient communication methods to excellent change management and version control. To top it off, these tools can be used by all stakeholders, so that everyone is on the same page about where things stand.
The financial issue was the most difficult to tackle due to the major decisions involved/ Some companies cut back on all costs, and even laid off employees. However, what was surprising and encouraging to see was the method that actually worked. Organizations which stayed on the path to progress and did not cut significant amounts from their R&D budgets survived the pandemic well, and many of them have even managed to profit from this steely resolve. Many also shifted towards the Hardware-as-a-Service (HaaS) model to accommodate decreasing buying power and changing needs.
This next solution was probably a result of this commitment to innovation. As the world changed due to the pandemic, its needs also shifted. Companies looked into different use-case scenarios to create products for. A drone start-up, EagleHawk, decided to repurpose its drones by using them to spray disinfectants across large areas. Similarly, contact tracing devices and other such technologies also became de rigueur. Adapting to different use-case scenarios is what saved these companies from falling into oblivion during the pandemic.
In conclusion, the hardware industry, even though it was hit quite adversely at first, is navigating through the pandemic in a relatively safer way, and is faring a bit better than most other industries.