For software company, modernizing marketing and supply chain management go hand in hand
Picture a cement mixer pouring concrete into wood or steel molds at a neighborhood construction site. That process—and most other heavy construction industry practices—have changed little over the decades. Buyers and suppliers still manually create and share error-filled documents that lead to confusion and delays. It’s as old school as it gets and, until the pandemic, there was little urgency to modernize.
Since the onset of the pandemic, Ed Rusch, CMO of Command Alkon, has managed the dual goals of modernizing his own company's company marketing while helping to digitally transform supply chain management in the heavy construction industry. Rusch discusses how the sudden need to be able to work from anywhere has been a blessing in disguise for his team, his company and his customers.
How has your industry experience influenced your COVID-19 response?
I've been focused in the supply chain world for 15 years now, so I’ve learned what high-performing supply chains do and used those same principles to be successful from a marketing perspective. It's important that supply chains are rapidly adaptable, can respond to new information quickly and can give everyone trustworthy information to work from simultaneously. We all want those same capabilities within our marketing function—to be able to learn from new information and adapt quickly. How do you get the correct information into the hands of all the people so they can all act in unison, whether we're all in the same office or working out of campers and apartments and libraries hundreds of miles away? That's really what I'm learning—marrying marketing and my supply chain knowledge together.
How difficult was the shift to a remote workforce?
My marketing team used Slack and had been using Zoom for interoffice meetings. It was great that we were at least that far along since we had to rapidly scale from 12 offices to 500 individual users. How could we scale across the organization? How would we make sure data and information remained secure? It was hugely exciting to see the collaboration that happened on how to rapidly deploy these best practices throughout the organization and the system. So far, we’re doing really well, without too many challenges or disruptions to the business.
Are you surprised with how smoothly the transition has gone so far?
Everyone is really starting to see the need to be resilient and adaptable, to be able to make smarter decisions faster as news breaks. “Expect the unexpected” is cliché, but it’s only becoming more and more true. One of the things that was fortuitous for us as an organization was the pace of our industry. In the particular space of construction that we're in, things have a shelf life—concrete can only be pliable in the drum of a truck for up to 90 minutes once it's left the plant. Asphalt needs to be cadenced out as the roadway gets resurfaced. There’s a mindset within the industry that ended up being really beneficial concerning pacing, staging and being able to pivot on the fly.
What are you doing to keep communications open?
I’ve implemented a daily virtual stand-up for my team. We're getting together and touching base at the beginning and the end of the day, asking fundamental questions to make sure everyone is on track and address any issues. The stand-ups aren't necessarily 30 or 60 minutes. If it's six minutes across my nine people and everyone's good, then everyone's good. So it's not particularly onerous if you're thinking about it in those terms. But I will say, to combat the isolation, you do have to reach out to one another, whether it's me to my folks or them amongst themselves, and to be really intentional about doing that.
Are there advantages to going fully remote?
I love those co-creation collaborative sessions that you have face-to-face with people, the ideation that takes place at a whiteboard in a room with coffee and snacks. We're not going to be able to have those for the foreseeable future, but it does help us build up the different muscles within our business repertoire to not be solely reliant on those types of environments to be successful. In some ways it’s telling, not only within our organization, but at a macro business level. Do we really need these millions of square feet of office space? Do we really need to sit in traffic for hours a week to come to the traditional office?
What will this will mean for the future?
We've gone from one side of the equation where everyone’s in the office, and now the pendulum has gone all the way to everyone untethered and working remotely. The reality is that the healthy balance is somewhere in the middle. Do I think we should go all the way back to every day, 8-5 office environments after this is done? No. Should we have more intentional get-togethers with the team so that people aren't isolated, keep those whiteboard collaborative opportunities going? Definitely. Should managers and other leaders embrace extended work times, flexible schedules and people working from different locations? Absolutely. I'm really encouraged because I think, at the end of this, most everybody will be in a better spot in regard to a healthy work configuration.