The turmoil caused by COVID-19 and subsequent restrictions have caused recycling business models to change instantly. Technology can provide assistance, but it is likely to do so profitably only if it is accompanied by a thorough assessment of the recycling company’s operations, says one vendor.
“You really need to review the entire process,” states Evan Schwartz, a vice president of solutions engineering at AMCS Group. Ireland-based AMCS provides technology and consulting services to the North American recycling industry from regional offices in Boston; Philadelphia; and Jacksonville, Florida.
Operating in the COVID-19 environment calls for not only investing in technology, but analyzing and digging into data to ensure those investments are helpful, Schwartz indicates in a presentation that was part of Recycling Today’s 2020 Virtual Trade Show.
Some assessments can be made instantly, said Schwartz, including identifying “touchpoints” that can be bypassed with digital alternatives. As recyclers in North America started shifting their office workers to at-home locations, Schwartz said one thing that caught many companies by surprise was “the dependency on paper.”
Companies, said Schwartz, bought tablets or laptops to replace desktop models “but overlooked the fact that they had these very dated paper processes that absolutely required an industrial-level printer to work.” Thus, he added, “Even though people working at home had the [tech] tools they needed, they couldn’t follow the process.”
Continued Schwartz, “All such dependencies must be looked at. If I’m dependent on a punch clock at a location, or a printer, how I am going to follow that process? Look at ways to decouple your workers from those physical peripherals they have to touch in a local business.”
Other considerations may have a much greater impact into allowing companies to survive not just COVID-19 restrictions but the economic slump. When a recycling business doesn’t survive, said Schwartz, “We need to ask, what happened?”
He said perhaps in some cases, the firm’s “pockets were not deep enough,” but in many other cases, it could be because the firm was “not positioned” for the new normal.
Recycling-specific software and digital systems can help collect data, but to draw conclusions from it, Schwartz said, the company’s executives must “drill down” into the numbers, and make sure they are not showing a bias toward existing business models.
He said he has seen key performance indicator (KPI) analyses “go wrong when people are solving for ‘x,’ and they’ll put the KPI up there that is telling them what they want to hear.” A genuine analysis might show “it could be you’ve got a lot resources focused in one area of the business that just isn’t performing well, and you need to shift gears,” added Schwartz.
Recycling companies “should look at analytics every day,” he continued. Sluggishness might be persistent in the auto and aluminum sectors, but there are other areas “where we might see growth opportunities,” said Schwartz. “Get ahead of that. Make sure your offering is first at the table.”
Another challenge that involves assessment before action is how to deploy a workforce likely to be reduced in numbers. Employees are learning new jobs and tasks, and those tasks “need to be as easy as possible,” stated Schwartz.
One of the metrics he said AMCS Group likes to use is “onboarding time,” or the time it takes an employee to learn a new task. “If it’s 90 days, that’s too long,” said Schwartz. Recyclers need to ask themselves and their vendors, “What can we do [via] automating the process, streamlining the process, adding intuitive tools and designs to make it easier to learn to accomplish that same task? It’s going to give you a lot more diversity,” he added.
Before COVID1-9 impacts, some recycling companies could afford to invest in experts who focused on one task. Now, he said, companies that have generalists who are good at a number of things “are thriving, and we need to fill the [training] gaps on the generalists with technology. Technology can take a generalist and make an expert out of him or her.”
The presentation by Schwartz and those from several other recycling industry vendors can be found on the Recycling Today Virtual Trade Show web page.