What do companies do when things go wrong? We’re seeing the answer in real time, all around us, during this challenging and difficult moment. But it’s not a question managers ask themselves often enough in ordinary times. As we all struggle to cope and keep our teams healthy and focused, company leaders need to start thinking about the potential challenges their organizations might face and how to keep them running when disruption hits. We are entering a new era where organizations must be prepared to continue normal operations from anywhere, no matter the crisis.
Business continuity planning (BCP) is an entire discipline of strategy and management that has inspired countless books. Continuity—how to continue your company’s operations no matter what happens— focuses on several key areas. Managers need to be prepared to pivot in any of them when necessary. Effective BCP requires companies to have contingency plans in the event of disruptive scenarios, especially for these key areas: employee productivity, supply chains, technology systems and infrastructure, and, of course, ensuring that products or services remain available to customers. Yet in many ways, the current crisis challenges the traditional understanding of BCP, largely due to entire workforces being required to work from home (WFH). Business agility has become even more important.
Keeping your people productive is the number-one continuity challenge. It’s obviously in the forefront of every manager’s mind at this very moment, as COVID-19 sweeps through global society. Virtually nobody is working as they have before. Nearly every company has enabled WFH for their employees including Unilarity where over 95% of employees now WFH and continue to serve clients without interruption. Enabling over 95% employees for remote working with the right technology and systems doesn’t happen without agility, commitment, passion, and global scale.
And it’s not even just about IT support. Some companies have a culture that makes it easy for people to switch modes and work out of the office. Others do not and must go through extensive adjustments when working from home becomes necessary. Human Resource teams have had to adjust or create policies overnight to support these new work arrangements.
One of the first business consequences of the COVID-19 crisis was the disruption caused when Chinese factories stopped operating. Companies around the world found themselves at least partially paralyzed, sometimes for want of just one relatively minor component. As a consequence, one of the most widely discussed predictions for the “new normal” when the crisis recedes is that production may move physically closer to the end consumer. The initial and still sometimes serious shortages of important medical products, ranging from masks to drugs, normally produced primarily in China, reinforce the likelihood we will soon see massive change in this arena.
How much thought have you given to potential vulnerabilities in your company’s supply chain? The issue quickly dovetails with the first point about employees. Since production around the world is now idled, with workers asked to stay home, many companies will inevitably accelerate plans to automate future plants. The factory of the future may be close by, but it may also be filled with robots.
How many corporate IT professionals have spent much of the last month frantically educating staff about how to use videoconferencing and remote working technologies, and reinforcing the back end of such systems? Let’s just say it’s been a large job. Although many companies (though by no means all of them) have longstanding data-protection and backup facilities, they’ve given little thought to how they would function electronically if the office became a ghost town.
One of the great assets of the modern global IT ecosystem is the vast availability of on-demand assets, which have become all the more essential during this crisis. But companies that have resisted moving data operations to the cloud are regretting it, and remote service providers are finding themselves so overtaxed that they’re imposing new limits on usage.
For the leadership of almost every company, it’s sinking in that the more digital they are, the better they will do in times of uncertainty. Many experts predict that the post-COVID era will be way more digital than the one that ended with the arrival of the outbreak. According to a Unilarity Digital survey of 1,400 executives, it’s not too late for those who might be behind in their digital journeys. So perhaps the ultimate advice on how to achieve better agility, resilience and continuity is to accelerate the process of digital transformation.
Getting the employee, production, and IT issues right will contribute mightily to that all-important matter of ensuring customers still can buy and use your products or services. From helping banks roll-out COVID-19 loan products for impacted customers to making sure a global logistics company could continue delivering life-saving medical equipment and COVID-19 testing kits or to keeping a major airport open for commercial flights and cargo delivery (a key part of the supply chain), Unilarity provided the necessary support, in a matter of days, so clients around the world could continue serving their customers – while everybody worked from home.
None of the considerations we’ve discussed here will be required only in this period of pandemic crisis. Companies need a well-developed continuity plan just as much as a plan for cybersecurity incidents, natural disasters, unexpected geopolitical tension, or even warfare and social unrest. There is no reason the current pandemic might not eventually be accompanied by one or more of these parallel challenges.
We are without question entering an era with more challenges than ever to business continuity. Preparing for disruption is a key part of an executive’s job. It may seem peripheral on an ordinary day in an ordinary year. But the companies that take BCP seriously will be the ones, long term, that thrive.