Ever since the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit, the supply chain has been a top concern for integration companies. Integrators are battling to make the most of their projects, but product-availability challenges can jeopardize profitability.
Back in March 2020, NSCA launched a “Business Continuity” series of content and resources to help the leaders of integration companies manage the pandemic. One of the first business continuity pieces was a continually updated supply chain status log provided by NSCA member manufacturers. It was much used by members—especially at the beginning— and it underscored just how focused integrators were on the supply chain.
Although the market is on the road to recovery, savvy integration companies are still aware that supply-chain challenges can make or break projects. Meanwhile, they don’t want to sit back and rely on their manufacturer partners to keep products moving. Integration companies are looking to take control of the supply chain situation—and, from the standpoint of operations and project implementation, there are steps they can take to mitigate product-availability obstacles.
Rethink How You Start Projects
The goal, obviously, is for projects to be completed on time and profitably, even amid product-availability challenges. This starts with a successful project kickoff meeting internally, according to Michael Castiglione, COO of Automated Systems Design, Inc. (ASD). He said, “Dust off your checklist. Determine which products need to be ordered early in the project timeline or which will need substitutions. Making this a priority gives you time to pivot and find alternatives.”
Castiglione also recommends openly discussing with customers the obstacles that integrators are navigating. He said, “Be transparent about any struggles you have around materials. Be confident. There are issues across the supply chain, and you are likely not the only trade on a project with similar struggles. As you prepare alternate solutions, make sure to carefully review your project contract to follow the rules of engagement on substitutions.”
If nothing else, those steps will help to mitigate surprises during the project. There might still be curveballs, but it helps if you can anticipate them.
Prepare For Learning Curves
Of course, preparing alternative solutions means selling and installing products that are new to the team.
The operations team is accustomed to being hit with the latest and greatest tech that the sales team sells. Typically, sales sell something new…something that sales think will solve a customer’s problem. That, of course, entails a learning curve, which costs the operations team more time, whether testing in the shop or onsite.
Patrick Whipkey, Director of USAV Group, said the goal is to align with the sales team before they sell something completely new, creating time and space to research the product. He said, “Bring in a demo/eval unit and put it through its paces. This will not only save time and money in the field but also set the entire team up for success.”
If the operations team is quick and efficient, then the sales team typically makes more money—it’s a win-win. “It’s the age-old battle between sales and ops, but more upfront questions and constant communication between both teams will represent a higher gross profit when the project closes,” Whipkey said.
Indeed, product-availability challenges can actually represent a “glass-half-full” opportunity, according to Castiglione. Integrators can leverage creativity to discover new and exciting products. Those products might have additional functionality at a lower cost, thus improving profitability.
Meanwhile, digitizing work orders, processes, and communication tools have never made more sense, according to Bob Wise, Founder, and CEO of Notiphy Corp. He said, “Paper documents are fixed. Changed circumstances affect individual work orders or companywide policies, and those documents are instantly out of date. Digital documents are living things. When circumstances change, documents are instantly updated and sent out to every employee and department that needs to have the updated information.”
The overwhelming advice for dealing with supply-chain challenges during the pandemic recovery is to strive for effective and constant communication. That means not only throughout the project but also at all levels of the channel. Delays in key products and pricing fluctuations are likely to continue throughout the year. Be prepared and add steps to your process—from sales to commissioning of a project.