A personal perspective by Augury CEO Saar Yoskovitz on his most important takeaways for manufacturers from the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos last month.
This year’s World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Annual Meeting at the Swiss resort of Davos was both intense and inspiring. Among the many attendees, world leaders in government, business, and social institutions were present. Speaking to them and hearing their thoughts is a unique opportunity as those conversations can shed light on global problems and innovative solutions. And since the previous WEF Annual Meeting last May, the mood has shifted.
Last year, during Davos 2022, the world was in the midst of a recession, the Russia-Ukraine War had just started, supply chains were at risk, and “de-globalization” was one of the most used words at the event. Any discussion about the environment or financial support for sustainability seemed hollow in those conditions.
This year, things appear to be considerably more stable: Ukraine is holding up, the energy crisis has been avoided in most countries, the world’s inflation appears to be under control, and supply networks are expanding. All these together made it possible to have a far more fruitful discussion on how to address the main problems manufacturers are currently facing.
In It Together
The first key takeaway was that manufacturers are increasingly coming together as the challenges smaller and mid-size companies are experiencing look very similar to those that some of the world’s largest companies are battling with at the moment. Everyone is looking for signs of economic certainty over the next couple of years. Leaders of all types of companies are trying to balance the need for expansion with wise resource management.
Simultaneously, global issues such as sustainability, workforce change, efficiency, and the effectiveness of a global industrial and manufacturing base are all being considered seriously by manufacturers big and small, with workforce and skills-related topics being top of mind. Businesses of all sizes now understand that progress and growth still depend on the fundamentals: people coming together to work out the details, agree on a course of action, and put in a genuine effort to bring about change.
Technology’s Coming of Age
Each annual meeting brings a rush of studies on a range of topics. This year these included how the circular transformation of industries is unlocking new value, how over a hundred WEF Lighthouse Factories are showing the way forward to a more sustainable future, and how various industrial clusters are using technology to move towards Net Zero. What’s good about these reports is how they’re starting to focus more on what’s actually happening, rather than what should be done.
The next stage of this involves scaling those world-leading Lighthouses, highlighting the unique cases of transformational success that shine brightly across manufacturing. In many ways, this represents the next step in building a global society in which the combined efforts of humans and machines improve the quality of life in all respects.
Enter Glocalization and Friendshoring
While “de-globalization” was last year’s big word, in 2023 it was replaced by “glocalization”. This captures the idea that while our supply chains are becoming more localized, they still need to be internationally connected. Glocalization strategies can help manufacturers become more resilient, a trend that is also happening naturally as part of the global energy transition. Alternative energy sources are typically closer to home and more difficult to move. For example, solar energy is produced during the day and wind energy during windy conditions in multiple locations but, at the moment, neither the bulk storage nor transportation methods exist for these two types of energy to be easily transferred any significant distance, which naturally leads to more decentralization. Factories will tend to be located where the cheapest and cleanest energy is available, as previously happened with data centres.
Friendshoring was another emerging term at the WEF this year. It is swiftly replacing the traditional strategy of offshoring and reflects how manufacturers are now turning towards countries that share similar values and have more compatible trading approaches. Friendshoring can also help reduce reliance on a single source. This is especially evident in the semiconductor sector where approaches like the US/EU IRA and CHIPS laws represent a significant step forward.
Circular Supply Chains
Larger organisations are also giving more sustainable and circular supply chains top priority as a result of impending regulations around carbon reporting, like Scope 3. This reporting looks at a product’s whole footprint by taking into account the upstream and downstream environmental impacts of its supply chain.
Some people have already called such developments “a nightmare.” It can definitely be hard. Many companies are doing their best to track supply chain emissions effectively, but there is a severe lack of the necessary frameworks or tools to do so. To make matters worse, Scope 3 also varies depending on the manufactured product. For example, Scope 3 only accounts for 6% of the emissions from a cement factory, but it might account for 80% of emissions in the automobile or food sectors. As a result, manufacturers need to come together as an industry to make the reductions needed to their overall carbon emissions.
Talent and Talent Again
Access to talent is still a hot topic, but with a new twist. Now, companies are shifting their focus from Labour Cost Arbitrage to Skills Arbitrage when making investments in new geographies. In other words, people are asking themselves about the locations of the best talent that can make better use of automation and digital tools to increase productivity. This shift towards skills is expanding the talent pool.
A Way Forward
In short, this year’s WEF leaves space for optimism. Manufacturers have more clarity on the challenges that lie ahead, they understand more about how to overcome them, and they have the right tools to do so. It certainly won’t be easy, but by working together, manufacturers, governments, and wider industries, have a better chance than ever to make a difference and chart a clearer path forward for the future.