How to "recession-proof" your battery program and retool for the recovery

The COVID-19 pandemic and recession will separate winners from losers. Make sure your company is among the leaders that make progress through the downturn and thrive afterwards 

The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing recession have imposed tremendous upheaval and uncertainty on all of our lives, our communities, and our businesses. Organizations across the globe find themselves navigating shelter-in-place orders, shutdown of nonessential businesses, furloughs and layoffs, delayed product launches, and massively downgraded revenue forecasts. No industry is unaffected, and leaders everywhere have been working furiously to shepherd their businesses through the largest economic disruption in a century.

Lessons from the past: recession as opportunity

However difficult the current cycle is, the fact is that it will eventually end. History has shown that a period of economic downturn can ultimately separate the winners from the losers in the recovery that inevitably follows. Success will depend on how well an organization can adapt to a new reality where working from home is the norm, lean budgets are the baseline, and companies will have to do more with fewer resources. In the current climate, survival is front-of-mind for most business leaders. Some, however, recognize the recession as an opportunity to make significant progress on key initiatives while their competitors languish, and to build resilient businesses that can actually thrive through the downturn and grow into the recovery.

In a 2010 Harvard Business Review article analyzing multiple global recessions and recoveries, the authors found that “9% of the companies didn’t simply recover in the three years after a recession—they flourished, outperforming competitors."

For the customers and industries Voltaiq serves, it is more vital than ever to maintain momentum around key battery development initiatives and product launches. For automotive OEMs, launching a new electric vehicle involves a multi-year battery development program—with global competition heating up and hundreds of new EV launches planned in the next few years, OEMs simply cannot afford to be slowed by COVID-19. Similarly, consumer electronics OEMs are on tight product release schedules that have not slowed due to the pandemic. Ultimately, OEMs cannot afford significant product launch delays even under the current circumstances; a delay would mean falling further behind the competition as the winners and losers emerge from the downturn.

While the overall outlook is bleak, there are notable opportunities for automakers, consumer electronics OEMs, cell suppliers, and the broader battery ecosystem to adopt new tools and processes to survive the recession and come out on top. In a 2010 Harvard Business Review article analyzing multiple global recessions and recoveries, the authors found that “9% of the companies didn’t simply recover in the three years after a recession—they flourished, outperforming competitors.” Three key success factors identified in a follow-up Harvard Business Review article in 2019 by Walter Frick are 1) digital transformation, 2) decision making, and 3) workforce management. Companies that address these three areas will enable their battery teams to make progress on key initiatives even during the harshest economic times.

The battery ecosystem has lagged in digital transformation, with notable exceptions

Over the last few decades the battery ecosystem has lagged behind adjacent sectors in digital transformation efforts (semiconductors, biotech, pharmaceuticals, to name a few). Take the electrification of the automotive industry, the largest disruption in the industry’s history, as an example. After a century of building expertise around combustion-based powertrains, automakers are being asked to build this expertise for batteries and electric vehicles in a fraction of that time. The stakes could not be higher, as Tesla continues to post profits and gain market share, even through the recession. Even so, most industry players are using the same set of tools and processes they have historically used to develop and build combustion engines. The battery is the most expensive, complex, and failure-prone component of an electric vehicle. Developing an EV battery requires years of time- and data-intensive testing and analysis, where delays can quickly add up to missed product launches and lost revenue. In this age of big data platforms and advanced analytical software, continuing to rely on outdated analysis tools (Excel, Matlab) that hinder collaboration, visualization, communication and transparency, represents a major lost opportunity. 

COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on those who have been unable to adapt. For the more forward-thinking organizations, digital transformation is now enabling them to maintain continuity in their daily operations. Social distancing and working from home are the new norm as states extend the shelter-in-place deadline. Those with school-age children are being asked to work from home, babysit, and run a home school day after day. Even when the current restrictions are lifted, many schools and businesses will remain closed, necessitating more flexible working arrangements to enable employees to balance work and their personal lives. Digital transformation enables workers to be productive from home, empowers distributed decision making, and creates the organizational transparency leaders need to uncover and address issues. These efforts result in resilient organizations that can actually thrive during a recession.

“The ability for my engineers to see the tester data and respond to it remotely has proven very useful and valuable during this time of stay in place (work from home). This has made our lives a little easier in this time.  Our lab operations are continuing as usual.”

- Jeff Bruce, Director of Battery Technology, Microsoft

For the greater battery ecosystem, Voltaiq is the market leader in Battery Intelligence software, helping companies adapt to the new normal for remote work, streamlined decision making, and organizational efficiency. According to Jeff Bruce, Director of Battery Technology at Microsoft, “The ability for my engineers to see the tester data and respond to it remotely has proven very useful and valuable during this time of stay in place (work from home). This has made our lives a little easier in this time. Our lab operations are continuing as usual.” In fact Microsoft recently announced the newest lineup of Surface products including the new Surface Book, Surface Go, Surface Headphones and Surface Earbuds. Despite COVID-19, they were able to make their product launch and avoid any battery-related delays. In another COVID-19 success story, Nanoramic CEO Eric Kish recently published an article highlighting how their company has been able to navigate COVID-19 through the use of applications that support distributed work, including Voltaiq. Customers trust Voltaiq to provide a secure, cloud-based platform that enables progress and facilitates collaboration even under these difficult circumstances.

Advancing through the downturn with Voltaiq

Across multiple industry sectors, companies are finding ways to continue to advance their battery programs amid the current crisis through a combination of operational adjustments and remote monitoring and analysis tools like the Voltaiq Battery Intelligence platform. For example, several of our customers have implemented timed shifts across their organizations, severely restricting the amount of time battery teams can spend in the lab. With Voltaiq in place, employees can maximize the value of limited lab time by putting cells on test and performing other tasks that cannot be done remotely, knowing they can view and analyze their battery tests from the safety of their homes. In a recent conversation, we heard from a Battery System Engineering Manager at another Fortune 20 Voltaiq customer, “No one is in the lab right now, we are having to use Voltaiq a lot. It’s a good thing that we have it, otherwise we would not be able to do anything.”

Voltaiq has also been working to provide functionality that creates transparency and facilitates distributed decision making for stakeholders beyond the team of front-line battery engineers. The goal of this initiative is to provide our customers with a truly comprehensive view of their battery program. One example of this is the Voltaiq Lab Management Dashboard. The Lab Management Dashboard helps to maximize testing throughput and equipment utilization across your entire test operation and to quickly identify and troubleshoot any issues that arise at the channel-, tester-, or even lab-level. In the current environment, the Lab Management Dashboard offers director-level stakeholders a snapshot overview of test status across their entire organization, enabling them to gauge progress and plan for the future.

Now is the time to invest in new tools and processes

During a recession, a company executive’s primary focus is to manage the financial health of their organization, which boils down to two key imperatives: increasing revenue and cutting costs. However when economic activity has slowed and there are significant headwinds to increasing revenue, leaders are tasked with focusing on their core products and projects to maintain baseline revenue and plan for the future. To gain a leg up on the competition, companies can invest strategically in tools to enhance operational efficiency and productivity. Now is the time to invest in these tools, especially as opportunity costs are lower during a recession. These improvements will enhance cash flow and pay dividends in the long term. Technology platform tools are already showing their value in helping companies survive COVID-19. Companies are trusting Voltaiq to ensure continuity in their battery programs and have deemed Voltaiq mission critical to their daily operations. In fact, a leading specialty battery manufacturer noted that not using Voltaiq would be like “going back to the brick phone and learning how to send text messages.”

Beyond helping to ensure continuity of core business operations during COVID-19, the Voltaiq Battery Intelligence platform empowers customers with data-driven insights to solve the most difficult and pressing problems with their battery technology. Nanoramic, for example, uses Voltaiq for end-of-line quality assurance testing for their energy storage devices and has highlighted how Voltaiq is helping their company to maximize production revenue. In this specific use case, Voltaiq helps to pinpoint critical production issues and troubleshoot problems within minutes on the Voltaiq platform, without requiring a full production shutdown. The results accrue directly to the bottom line: continued operation and throughput rather than lost production time and lost revenue. 

Now is the time to invest in a cloud-based Battery Intelligence platform to ensure continuity of your battery program. As highlighted above, companies that seek to maintain a market leader position in the battery field cannot afford to stand still. The HBR article places specific emphasis here: “the first reason to prioritize digital transformation ahead of or during a downturn is that improved analytics can help management better understand the business, how the recession is affecting it, and where there’s potential for operational improvements.” So while the competition  waits for the recession clouds to clear, forward-thinking organizations can get ahead by investing in a comprehensive cloud-based battery analytics platform designed to accelerate product development and ensure quality and traceability in manufactured, shipped product. That’s Battery Intelligence.


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