Covid-19 aftermath: what matters now

Avnet Electronics’ VP communications, Georg Steinberger

Avnet Electronics’ VP communications, Georg Steinberger argues that if Covid-19 taught us anything, it’s that we master it together or we fail together.

The Covid-19 Pandemic is about to subside in many countries across Europe, Asia and presumably North America. Less cases of infection, less casualties, less lockdowns. The corporate world is slowly coming back to a new normal: a different mix of mobile and office working; stricter hygiene rules in plants, warehouses and offices; return to a different world of meetings with less physical and more virtual encounters.

What we will find coming back is—among other challenges—a significantly disrupted supply chain. Early on, manufacturing stops and travel/transportation restrictions in Asia hit our industry (most components are manufactured in Asia), only to be followed by production stops of European customers.

Recent quarter results were double-digit declines in orders and booking, shifts in backlog and a total lack of visibility on both ends of the supply chains. Component manufacturers don’t see what customers need in a few months, customers wonder who will buy their finished products later this year. This is an unprecedented economic downturn happening across the globe: GDP, industry production, take your pick. Never was the mood so low.

Before the crisis, many industry leaders were already convinced our economic system needed an overhaul to ensure more sustainability. Many industries, including ours, need to change from a mountain of throwaway goods to higher value production. We can only hope this conviction remains and we have become smarter.

Why? Because it matters more than ever. Resources are finite, the planet does not grow and we need to operate better with what we have. Innovation is the key. Covid-19 has shown what we really need and what matters most: a faster way to establish health for everyone; better communication to allow more flexibility in work and society; better, sustainable products; a more innovative production landscape and an intelligent, sustainable supply chain with better information and less waste.

The electronics industry is complex regarding its overall production structure and not really sustainable in moving goods around. Often, when a disruption occurs, we become blind. We are supposed to drive innovation for the rest of the world, but cannot really solve our own backyard problems? Also, a lot of electronic products have a short half-life and end up in African or Asian landfills once disposed. Raw materials are often mined with giant collateral damage. Seriously?

Globalization has problems but ultimately it is the only way. We have to change some rules so everyone benefits, not just a few. Maybe the Covid-19 crisis can teach us something fundamental: we master it together or we fail together. Solidarity among people, companies, states is needed; what is not needed is opportunism and war-profiteering.