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December 1, 2021

Historic challenges and unequaled pride: Managing through a global pandemic

Written by Kevin Riley | COVID-19, Coronavirus, Innovation

As we approach our second consecutive holiday season under the threat of COVID, I can’t help but reflect on how much has changed during these unprecedented times. Changes to our industries, our work environments, and our personal and professional lives came all at once, with little advance warning. 

It reminds me of what happens during a natural disaster, but with one huge difference. No matter how disruptive a hurricane or earthquake might be, it has a defined beginning and end. After it’s over and we determine the damage, we know things will get back to normal once we make the necessary repairs.

But COVID remains open-ended. In the early days, I thought we would be back to business as usual in no more than 120 days. But it soon became clear that it would persist, and in fact, take on global dimensions.

Suddenly, we had a bundle of new challenges to deal with: the safety of our employees; the continuity of the food service and healthcare industries that were given supply chain disruptions and a labor shortage; and the ability to serve our customers with the same focus despite a 100% remote team.

There was no playbook we could use to deal with the pandemic. So, the first question I asked myself was: what exactly is this emergency situation? And second, what can we do to innovate our business model and use digital technologies to survive and thrive in a crisis environment?


Refocusing, Stabilizing, and Inspiring

To move forward amid impending chaos, I bolstered our business model to withstand the stresses of COVID. I made sure our employees and their families were safe from the virus and could handle the strain of new social restrictions and remote work processes. I quickly recognized how so many disruptions occurring simultaneously at work and at home could make it difficult for the team to stay focused on our mission.

To add stability to our work process, I put in place new protocols that provided more predictability. For instance, I formalized our business review meetings so the team could count on an opportunity to see everyone regularly, even if virtually, and to stay on top of the most pressing business needs.

On Monday morning we would plan our objectives for the week ahead. Then, on Friday afternoon, we would review how well we met those objectives and make the necessary adjustments. These regular meetings gave our team the inspiration to work even harder and faster to find new ways to achieve a sense of normalcy for our company and for our customers.


Innovating Opportunities to Meet New Challenges 

As the pandemic played out, I looked for new ways SmartSense could play a vital role in meeting the challenges faced by our customers in both healthcare and food service. I admit it was a challenge. But we put our heads together and brainstormed some new innovations for both the pharmacy and grocery sectors.


Healthcare: Keeping Employees and Vaccines Safe

While vaccine approvals were months away, our customers meanwhile had started testing the public for the virus in pharmacy locations and drive-through centers. How could we help keep these frontline employees safe while they performed this invaluable service?

The answer? Safetemps, a new product we created in six weeks that verified key COVID symptoms among our customers’ employees. Management now had objective evidence to decide who could safely work in an onsite environment. Not only did Safetemps benefit our customers, but it was also a positive rallying cry for our team to come together and focus on bringing this new product to market.

Later, as vaccines started to emerge, we rapidly received requests from customers needing our temperature monitoring system to meet federal requirements for distribution. We knew they counted on having systems in place that would effectively monitor the safety and efficacy of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine doses at whatever sites they would be administered.

For that reason, unlike so many other businesses struggling to keep inventories moving in a blocked-up supply chain, it was imperative that we always had our products in stock. We worked really hard to fast-forward our process, anticipating there would be high demand nationwide for the manufacture and calibration of our devices.

Up to this point, our solution had a North American geographic footprint. But the global nature of the pandemic made it clear that we needed to alter our product maps to include global gateway development. The result is that it will be delivered a year and a half earlier than anticipated.


Food Service: Better Using Labor to Serve Customers

COVID accelerated the digital transformation of our customers who, following these leaders, viewed the pandemic as a real opportunity to “tune-up”.

For the grocery sector, we helped management see how our solution could redirect labor from the time-consuming duties of manual temperature monitoring to providing attentive customer service and resolving urgent supply chain issues. Ensuring customer satisfaction and loyalty became a higher priority than hours spent probing food in refrigerators and freezers in every department several times a day.

It soon became obvious that digital, continuous, remote monitoring was the most efficient answer to their labor question. Fortunately, we already had customers in the grocery space who have been using our technologies for a number of years. They demonstrated by example that SmartSense was a proven solution.

COVID accelerated the digital transformation of our customers who, following these leaders, viewed the pandemic as a real opportunity to “tune-up,” so to speak, and get savvier about the Internet of Things. Here was their chance to use digital systems to help them raise their game in an even more intensely competitive market.


A Time for Gratitude

With Thanksgiving having just passed, a holiday all about gratitude for the blessings of abundance, I’ve been reflecting on how SmartSense employees and customers have worked so diligently to ensure that Americans still get together to enjoy a meal with family and friends, despite supply chain problems and a life-threatening virus.

It’s been so important to me that our company has continued to fulfill our mission of food and vaccine safety despite unprecedented challenges and perplexing obstacles. COVID only served to magnify the importance of that mission. I am forever grateful to my team, not only for meeting every challenge but in fact, delivering a record year of success.

All of us here at SmartSense knew our customers were counting on us to have our product, training, and implementation ready to go so they could successfully meet both their normal business objectives and the new challenges brought on by the pandemic. I am filled with pride for the team’s achievement.

My hope is that by this time next year, Thanksgiving will be free of COVID restrictions and supply chain problems, thanks to the hard work and dedication of our customers and the SmartSense team. Have a safe and happy holiday season.

kevin-riley-bogKevin Riley is President of SmartSense by Digi. Kevin worked his way up through the ranks after joining Digi in January of 2013 as Senior Vice President of Global Sales. He was promoted to SVP & COO in January of 2016. Digi launched Cold Chain Solutions, and Kevin had principal responsibility for strategy development and M&A integration of the acquired companies. Four acquisitions later, the division was rebranded SmartSense by Digi.

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