If 2020 was the year that COVID-19 hit us like a tsunami wave, 2021 seems like it was the year we all tried to figure out how to respond to it. In the news, companies would roll out back-to-office plans only to have them postponed or modified. In-person events would get scheduled and then change to virtual or be cancelled, or in some cases, held in person but with restrictions or mitigations. If nothing else, the COVID-19 pandemic has at least improved our knowledge of the Greek alphabet.
At the federal level, we got a big infrastructure bill passed. I feel like every administration has promised an infrastructure bill for at least the length of my 20-year career, so I was a bit pessimistic about it happening before it finally did. Undoubtedly, our clients producing construction equipment are expecting this investment to help their businesses. We will certainly be training new operators for all this equipment, especially as the boomers continue retiring, yet it is quite likely we will use technology to mitigate the trained-operator shortfalls. DISTek is excited by the possibility of helping to make these vital machines even smarter and more sophisticated as we build and repair our country’s infrastructure.
I have spent a lot of time and blog space talking about AEF and ISOBUS over the years, and DISTek continues to be involved in these activities for the Ag equipment industry. As in 2020, both in-person Plugfests were cancelled due to COVID-19 and the challenges of international travel. However, the fall did feature a first-of-its-kind virtual Plugfest, which was broadly successful. Participants from four continents connected over the internet to each other’s equipment to test compatibility of ISOBUS features in a multi-day event. There were certainly a few hiccups along the way, but by and large it proved we can be resilient and flexible in the face of travel challenges as the technology beat marches on. As we enter 2022, AEF is planning to return to an in-person Plugfest in New Orleans in March where I hope to rekindle some relationships with folks who I have not seen for more than two years.
Travel continued to be down a lot in 2021 compared to pre-COVID, but we did get the opportunity to visit a few clients. In addition, the SAE Commercial Vehicle Congress (COMVEC) was held in-person again in Chicago. Attendees had to wear face coverings, some panelists had to join remotely due to travel restrictions, and in-person attendance was down from prior years. Regardless, we had good conversations at our booth and got to attend many good talks by industry experts. This show took on added importance to DISTek in 2021, as we made the decision to add commercial vehicles to our focus industries. We have focused on off-highway – mostly Ag and construction – equipment for a long time, and we felt it was the right time to branch into commercial vehicles. Be on the lookout for more about that effort in future content from DISTek.
I was also fortunate to attend the AEM annual meeting in November (and it was my only plane trip of the year). As always, they had great speakers, an opportunity to mingle with others in the industry, and plenty of new thoughts to consider for DISTek into the future. The AEM Futures Council had the opportunity to meet all together in person for the first time, and we had some activity sessions with broader AEM audience members to check our progress against their insights. The whitepapers from the Futures Council efforts about the Future of Food and the Future of Building will be coming in 2022 after a lot of work was done in 2021.
Overall, 2021 was a good year for DISTek with a lot of growth. Technology continues to accelerate in our industries, and we are helping our clients keep up and stay ahead of that curve. And 2022 looks to be another great year for us, including a big celebration in the summer as DISTek turns 30! I hope to see many of my coworkers there, many of whom I have never actually met in person. And I plan to be at several industry events, so if you will be there as well and want to talk about technology in commercial vehicles and off-highway equipment … look me up!