By Mark Anderson, IT director, Accora

When the severity of COVID-19 became clear, we recognised a need to respond. As a manufacturer of assistive care equipment serving public and private sector organisations, and with bed capacity in NHS hospitals becoming overstretched, we had a social responsibility to tackle the issue.But with many limiting factors in play, we knew our response would be tested. The manufacturing sector has been particularly impacted by COVID-19. Although 90% of UK manufacturers continued to conduct essential operations during lockdown, more than four fifths suffered a fall in demand and experienced considerable supply chain issues.Here’s how we tackled these operational issues – and how software has helped streamline our operations to support front line efforts.Assess & respondAs a specialist in assistive care products, we knew we had the capability to manufacture special emergency beds that would meet the requirements laid out by NHS England’s critical care temporary hospitals. But with our workforce going remote, we had to overcome logistical challenges first.Having completed the rollout of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony across the organisation in 2020, our teams were well-equipped to transition to virtual working environments with relatively little disruption, enabling us to collectively and collaboratively focus on the challenges ahead. Despite being on critical alert, this made it very straightforward for someone working, for example, in the design workshop to connect with someone operating remotely at home.As a management team, we conducted a Business Assessment Plan to assess the viability of creating a ‘COVID bed’. With disrupted supply chains, accessing raw materials and components was a particular area of concern to meeting this goal. Thanks to strong industry relationships, we were able to secure priority on UK steel production and determined the viability of sourcing parts from local suppliers to achieve an expedited production process.Another contributing factor was the relatively simple requirement of the bed. To comply with hospital standards the units require detachable headrests for access in case of cardiac arrest, and removable ends, as well as sidebars. Crucially, they would also need to be non-electric and provide easy assembly capability, to install within field hospitals in a very short time span. Our design team drew up the designs in 3D CAD, and we began to put in place logistical plans for production, in the space of around 36 hours.Cloud for executionWith a significant amount of processes and procedures needed to support the sourcing, production and distribution of the COVID bed project, our cloud-based management platform has been key to binding different parts of the organisation. In our case, we relied on Oracle NetSuite for functionality from finance to managing supplies and distribution with our third-party logistics (3PL) partners, who received the finished goods from the suppliers and shipped out the final product. The majority of our business-critical information is connected to the system and has been key to helping us deliver the 5,000+ COVID bed units we produced.Another key factor here was supplier management. Due to the speed and efficiency necessitated by the COVID bed project, and the need to work with new local vendors, the supplier management capabilities were crucial to overcoming possible delays. Adding new items and suppliers is easy, and has come a long way from the clunky, manual system in place before that would have made quick response to front-line demand far more difficult.The same goes for most areas of the business that were previously governed by separate, fragmented systems that didn’t communicate with one another. Having one single ‘point of truth’ has overcome challenges we previously had with scalability due to our reliance on people resource to make basic processes happen.With the COVID bed project, we were able to assimilate data across each location and section of the business, automating workflows and expediting new project creation.Maintaining standardsCrucially, given the need to comply with the strict compliance demands of delivering products for the health sector, we built our standard operating procedures (SOP) into NetSuite, allowing us to complete the complex routines and workflows that the project demanded. SOPs aim to achieve efficiency, quality output and uniformity of performance, and we built our quality control checklist into the system, ensuring each unit was compliant and ready for dispatch.Creating custom records in the system has allowed us to manage processes and inventory specific to our business. They are easy to format and configure and allow us to spot patterns and potential issues before they arise, such as a potential shortage of certain parts. We can load any changes to our standard engineering process into the system, cross check parts and manage stock accurately.Our 3PL – Europa Logistics – worked effortlessly to use this information to fulfil the orders. This data, and the synergies between the teams, allowed deliveries to be made on time. Europa held our stock, fulfilled orders and arranged delivery and installation alongside the army in the Nightingale hospitals.Looking forwardAs an IT director, I’m a firm believer that you’re only as good as your systems allow you to be. Alongside hard work and tireless effort, our systems and processes have allowed us to do one crucial thing: execute quickly.You don’t know how good your investment in technology is going to be until you rely on it for something critical, and you don’t spend all your time firefighting. It’s only because we were able to work so flexibly that we were able to pull it off. Everyone came together – another important benefit when they are no barriers to engaging with the system that helps you run your business.With a cloud foundation, knowledge of the industry, good relationships with suppliers and hard work, Accora has been able to meet its social responsibility and help respond to the national care bed shortage.