WHAT do companies still reeling from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic need to do in 2021 as the uncertainty from the global catastrophe lingers? 

Brainyard, a research and benchmarking website, asked experts on planning and budgeting; commerce; human resources; customer support and education; financial management; supply chain, warehouse and inventory management; and project management to find out.

The experts emphasized the need to fortify new ways of doing business that many companies pioneered in 2020. They also said companies should continue piloting new modes of communication for everyone, from employees to suppliers, and to automate any function that they can.

1. Planning and Budgeting

In 2021, the first step toward improving forecasting speed is adopting finance automation tools and moving toward the continuous close in which the task of closing the books is spread over the month. Automation has been on the to-do list for many finance teams, and this is the time to make it happen, the experts said.

Companies should also consider planning and budgeting tools that are integral to their cloud-based finance automation efforts so that their time goes into developing the needed projections and not into extracting and formatting the data required for each new forecast.


The experts suggest companies use data to personalize business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) transactions.

In 2021, companies can try providing exclusive web-store catalogs to various customer segments both in B2C and in B2B, where doing so is particularly useful since customers tend to re-buy similar items.

For wholesalers and distributors, which often have radically different types of buyers, personalized product catalogs help segment first-time buyers, repeat buyers and bulk buyers. By grouping each of these segments, merchants can provide discount pricing and incentives based on volume purchases or payment terms.

3Human Capital

Before the pandemic, about 4 percent of the workforce worked remotely at least half-time, and only about 7 percent of the total workforce had the option to work from home at all. Now, nearly 60 percent is working from home at least some of the time.

In 2021, companies are advised to focus on keeping their workforce engaged and productive as they work remotely. Setting formal, measurable goals is one way to motivate workers, especially if they are working remotely, experts said. A cloud-based human capital management system can help them analyze this data.

4Customer Support and Education

In 2021, software and other businesses with products that require lots of customer communication or training should refine the virtual ways of doing business that they pioneered in 2020. This especially applies to running or launching of customer success programs, which include teams of consultants who help customers fully use and get the most out of the product.

For companies without a customer success program, this is a good time to start one, experts said, because they save the customer time in training employees to use the software, and they help teams fix issues on their own versus needing to dial an expert.

5. Financial management

COVID-19 has pushed the need for electronic transactions and automated management of those transactions from the “nice-to-have” column into “must-have.” Experts recommended taking “a crawl, walk, run” approach to automation with implied intelligence. First, companies must get their transactions to come in electronically. Paper needs to be eliminated. They should keep human approvals part of the process until they’re convinced they have the right rules in place — then they can move to a notification of automated actions. Cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems with built-in intelligence will allow them to do that.

6. Supply Chain, Warehouse, Inventory and Order Management

Manufacturers, retailers and distributors should be focused on improving visibility into their supply chains in 2021. Running a global supply chain is complex — businesses struggle with how to deploy inventory in the right quantity, location and time, how to react to unplanned events, uncertainty around demand (which can create excess inventory), speculative ordering and more.

The common thread between all of these challenges is the lack of a clear understanding of inventory, which a cloud-based ERP system can provide. Without knowing inventory levels in detail, none of the other parts of the supply chain can operate at their fullest potential. It is central to the success of the entire supply chain, from demand planning to customer service, and everything in between.

7. Project Management

Professional service organizations, along with those in many other sectors, will need to improve their collaboration efforts in 2021 as teams continue to deliver projects anytime and anywhere.

The year could see a new, more collaborative breed of resource management — one that’s a mix between traditional resource management and “crowd sourcing.” Firms may increasingly allow employees to pick and choose which projects they work on, rather than managers assigning teams. There will also likely be more short-term projects rather than longer ones spread out over several years.

In 2020, professional service firms were laser-focused on project completion amid a remote, uncertain environment — and customers have too.

In 2021, companies need to find areas in which their clients immediately need help. That might be e-commerce and collaboration tools or improving digital marketing. And supply chain gurus will likely want to help clients diversify and strengthen their supplier sourcing. In all of this, companies need to keep time to value short, and come with examples of how their proposed technique is paying off for others.

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