When the world tipped on its axis earlier this year as a result of the global pandemic, individuals scrambled to stock up on necessities in preparation for the uncertainty to come, and the ensuing quarantines changed life on the planet as we know it. But, as doors were closing, many consumers’ eyes were opened to the workings of the supply chain for the first time. The sudden economic jolt that COVID-19 triggered also helped many supply chain organizations see just how much more visibility they needed into their operations. The imbalance of supply and demand led many to question how this could happen and, more importantly, what could be done to correct course and prevent a future recurrence.
That’s when everyone’s attention turned to technology – and particularly the Internet of Things (IoT).
How could the many different mobility, scanning, printing, RFID, sensor, computer vision and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in the market today be utilized to deliver visibility into healthcare supplies, warehouse and store shelf inventory and the raw materials available to support a manufacturing uptick? Was there a way to leverage prescriptive analytics, intelligent automation and real-time location systems to keep every link of the supply chain well-oiled and well-connected – without further straining financial or labor resources – so that businesses could quickly adapt and recover to the benefit of consumers and the world as a whole? These were the questions that Zebra’s innovators, customers and even their customers spent all day, every day, contemplating – and answering.
Of course, we knew that within Zebra’s broad portfolio there are a number of technology solutions that could inject greater efficiency into workflows and keep businesses in close touch with their customers’ needs and wants even as social distancing increased. But the lockdowns made it challenging to share these insights and tools with those who needed them urgently. So, we found a creative way to stay close and relevant to our own customers to help them overcome the immediate challenges they were facing.
As Buildings Closed, We Worked to Maintain “Business as Usual” (as Much as Possible) for Our Customers
When Zebra employees and our customers started to work from home and all travel ceased in March 2020, Zebra’s North America Experience Centers in Lincolnshire, Illinois, and Holtsville, New York, went dark. That was a bit heartbreaking at first because the Executive Briefing Program is a proud institution at Zebra, and the Zebra Experience Centers (ZEC) are where our executives, product managers, subject matter experts, futurists and strategic thought-leaders who create Zebra products and solutions meet face-to-face with hundreds of customers annually.
These executive briefings are the forums through which our customers share their strategic plans and Zebra articulates its technology vision. It’s where we align mutual goals, help our customers solve for the task at hand and ensure they have the right technology solutions and processes in place to meet their challenges that may arise long into the future.
The last thing we wanted to do was cancel the several executive briefings scheduled for March and beyond. Our customers were responding to the same challenges of a distributed workforce with many employees remaining on the front lines and the rest working virtually. So, the ZEC staff investigated ways we could still meet “face-to-face” even if it couldn’t be in person.
It immediately became evident that virtual platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams were the right technologies for these times. One customer who had planned a full-day visit with Zebra, insisted we move forward with our meeting and worked with us to revise the agenda into a 5-hour virtual briefing facilitated over Zoom. To say it was a challenge is fair, but to say it was a success is also true. This gave us the opportunities to once again “open the doors” to an experience for our customers.
Zebra officially launched our Virtual Briefing Program in April after our staff quickly researched best practices for virtual presentations, online annotation capabilities, and the more simplistic tasks of aligning the webcam and perfecting the lighting. We wanted to make the delivery of these executive briefings as pleasant and professional as possible for everyone. Few of us were accustomed to video conferencing in the volume and frequency which has now become commonplace. Using all the virtual tools at our fingertips, the first several virtual briefings sometimes consisted of finding the mute button, then finding the unmute button, dealing with background noise or simply trying to connect. It took everyone – Zebras and customers – a little while to get used to the technology in a home office setting and get over the self-consciousness of being on camera, which was another first for many people. But once we were past the technical hurdles, we found the virtual conversation still allows for effective communication, observance of body language and the ability to be relevant and highly engaging.
This was a relief to both us and our customers, as we were equally eager to maintain our collaborative relationships. Zebra wanted to be there for our customers, even when we couldn’t be on the front lines, and they wanted to know we would continue to have their backs during this crisis. The fast introduction of the Virtual Briefing Program bridged the physical gap and allowed us to pave a path toward success, no matter how much or how often the definition of success would change in the coming months.
What You Will Experience When You Take Part in an Executive Briefing with Zebra Right Now
Each executive briefing is designed to meet the unique objectives of individual customers and includes a range of Zebra participants, each of whom is selected for his or her unique expertise and experience relative to the customer’s expressed goal. Thanks to the accessibility of the virtual briefing model, we are now seeing a number of individual attendees from the customer actively participate in a way that wasn’t possible before. Where a face-to-face briefing may have previously included 5-6 key executives and stakeholders from the customer’s organization, we often see extended teams log in from their home offices, including line managers, IT, security, and support team members. It’s not uncommon for a customer to have 12-30 individuals join at some point in the agenda.