Data in the Darkness

Our Locations -- This snapshot shows where COVID-19 cases align with TMNA facilities. Data on the pandemic is pulled from publicly available sources.

So many questions. Too few answers. That’s the muddled place where most of us find ourselves amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

That includes Toyota executives. When it comes to the business, they know charting the way forward depends on data — accurate, pertinent and gathered in as close to real time as possible.

Their light in the darkness? A digital dashboard of critical information now generated daily by a cross-functional ITx team that came together nearly a month ago when the scope of the threat to North America began to emerge.

“We started with a heat map of the region that used red spots to show where the virus was spreading — it looked like a bad case of chickenpox,” says Senior Manager Ryan Adkins, who along with Senior Consultant Tim Holman has been on the leading edge of this data-gathering effort. “At first, the questions were: ‘How close are these hotspots to Toyota’s facilities?’ And, ‘What’s the impact on communities?’ Then schools and stores started closing. That’s when the business questions started to come in. What does this mean for sales? What about the supply chain? Every time we responded with some data, people would go deeper and we’d get more nuanced questions. It was a bit like a snowball rolling down a hill getting bigger and bigger.”


Our People -- This screen tracks the impact of the virus on team members across North America. Proprietary data points have been blurred intentionally.

‘We Do Data’
Fortunately, Adkins and his fellow team members in Transformation Delivery are really good at this sort of thing. Prior to the current crisis, their mandate was to look for creative ways to help the organization operate more efficiently — in particular through the application of the latest innovations in information technology and processes. So the shift from improving business flow to collecting and sharing pandemic-related data was fairly seamless.
They also had plenty of upper management support. Group Vice President Sandy Lobenstein got the ball rolling. More recently, Group Vice President Randy Pflughaupt has led the charge.
And this team digs data, literally and figuratively. Adkins says they now routinely tap into publicly available data sets whenever possible, such as those shared by the World Health Organization and Johns Hopkins University. And they align that with data generated internally to track such core functions as the parts supply chain, manufacturing, sales, dealer operations, logistics and human resources.
“The responsiveness of the organization has been fantastic,” says Adkins. “The challenge for us is, ‘How do we make all of this data digestible?’ We can produce deep data grids with lots of numbers. But that might not be very meaningful. We need to distill it down and put it in a place that’s easily accessible.”
Our Dealers -- This screen gives executives a window on what's happening on the retail sales front. Again, proprietary data has been blurred intentionally.

A Single Window
The answer? A 3-4 page digital document that displays 4-5 key metrics per page. Currently, more than 20 key executives receive this information on a regular basis. It’s also become a must-read for an additional 140 so top managers, with the ability to go beyond the top-line numbers to the granular level as needed.
“Each business unit has its own metrics,” says Adkins. “Our goal is to bring them all together so the heads of those units can view the entire organization through a single window. That’s going to help them make better informed decisions for the entire company, not just their individual group.”
Given the fluid nature of the situation, the team’s work continues to evolve. The social distancing requirements, with most team members working from home, hasn’t made that any easier. But Adkins says they have just about every form of collaboration software imaginable at their disposal to overcome those challenges.
In the end, all of this work boils down to one fundamental question: When can we all get back to something resembling business as usual?
“The executives want to get the plants back up and running,” says Adkins. “But they also want to do it safely, so team members can not only return to the line but also go home at night. It’s not just about when, but how.”
The potential silver lining in all of this? The lessons learned will prove invaluable to the business, no matter what new challenges lie ahead.
“I do hope we can carry this forward after the crisis passes,” says Adkins. “It might help us better recognize how smaller disruptions can impact us. For example, if there’s a big snowstorm in Michigan, what does that mean to the rest of the business? Hopefully, though, we’ll never see anything on this scale again.”
By Dan Miller