Hannah Kain, President and CEO of ALOM, shares how women-owned businesses can survive in the wake of pandemic shifts — innovate or die.
Hannah Kain is the 2nd Vice Chair of the Women’s Enterprise Forum, a select group of WBENC-certified WBEs that are nominated by their Regional Partner Organization (RPO) and appointed by WBENC.
The pandemic shifts were significant. Maybe the most important shift was the sheer speed of innovation.
When life deals you lemons, produce and sell lemonade, according to an old adage. Women’s Business Enterprises (WBEs) throughout the network met the pandemic challenge to shift and adopt, leveraging core skills. My own company, ALOM, committed early on to a series of pandemic goals, including worker safety and being part of the solution to the pandemic. We leveraged our considerable expertise in the medical testing market to produce millions and millions of COVID-19 tests. Thanks to our tireless staff, test centers were well supplied, and home testing was made possible. Our procurement, production and fulfillment worked around the clock, supported by strong planning tools and technology. WBEs with medical supply chain experience supported vaccine distribution while other WBEs performed critical functions across additional verticals. It is frankly easy to feel proud of the contributions that WBEs made and continue to make overcoming the pandemic.
Innovation has always been key to survival. Yet, we are at a totally new level. As I listened to the speakers at the June WBENC Focus on the Future event, I was impressed by the commitment to innovation. The pandemic-driven necessity for sheer speed and willingness to change proved what is possible.
Some years back, ALOM started our digital transformation. This allowed us to function well in a virtual or – in our case – hybrid world. The transformation is ongoing with a commitment to Manufacturing 4.0, support of digital supply chains, strong business intelligence and visibility as well as conscious technology leadership in mission-critical areas. It seems like every day I am signing off on large technology purchases, and, Oh Girl!, am I happy I did so. Of course, supply chain technology is moving extra fast these days, but technology and innovation are more pervasive issues, impacting all WBEs.
The WBENC June event showed that WBENC Corporate and Government Members similarly have increased expectations to the speed of innovation.
The world is moving and innovating faster. WBEs must pay attention, or we will become irrelevant. One of the strong selling points for WBEs has always been our adaptability and ability to move fast.
How To Innovate and Stay Ahead
- Develop technology understanding and a written plan with a 1, 3 and 5 year road map. Are you a pioneer or a follower? How do you select new technology? What is the current role of technology in your company and how does it look in the future? What is the main driver – productivity, competitiveness, solving new issues?
- Which key technology developments do you see in your industry? I am a mentor to new supply chain technology companies such that I can follow the new developments, along with my CTO and other key technology staff. It also gives me the satisfaction of supporting women and minority started companies.
- Of course, you also need to understand current industry best-practices.
- Which governance do you have around technology? We have a steering committee with a set of criteria to ensure strong governance, security and ethics in technology.
- Which key problems could you solve with a stronger technology focus? Would your existing customers value the solution, or is it for a totally new customer base?
- Leverage your fellow WBEs with expertise in technology. We are also pulling on other resources, such as the Manufacturing Leadership Institute and DMSCA.
- As always, hire great staff, and remember that the skill set may change dramatically with the digital transformation.
Our Digital Transformation Plan drives innovation in each department with more visibility, accountability, improved tools, and less waste. I am excited.
We all made significant changes over the last couple of years, sometimes with daunting speed. When it comes to innovation, we all need to understand that innovation at this pace is the “new normal”. And, yes, it is both exciting and possible!
Hannah Kain is the 2nd Vice Chair of the WBENC Women’s Enterprise National Forum.
WOMEN’S ENTERPRISE FORUM
The Women’s Enterprise Forum (the Forum) is a select group of WBENC-Certified WBEs that are nominated by their Regional Partner Organization (RPO) and appointed by WBENC. Forum members serve on business-focused Teams where they share their expertise and knowledge with each other. Forum members are recognized as the voice of the WBEs within the WBENC network. All WBEs are invited to attend Forum sessions at our national events.