Why COVID-19 Means Business Continuity Transformation Is a Mandate, Not an Option

The seriousness of COVID-19 can be summed up in the tragic statistics we’ve all seen mounting over the weeks and months. There is, above all else, the human toll of this pandemic. There’s also the toll it’s taken on the economy, and on businesses and employers.

As of this writing, over 120 U.S. corporations had declared bankruptcy as a result of the outbreak. Some of them had been skating on thin ice before the pandemic but might have been able to survive except for its effects. A few of those names are chiseled into American business history: J.C. Penney, Hertz, Brooks Brothers.

How could at least some of these companies have done a better job of coping with the body blows inflicted by this disruption? In some cases, they lacked the resiliency and agility needed to make the adjustments necessary to respond to new realities. J.C. Penney may have been a victim, but Nordstrom, though bruised, is pivoting to meet the challenges. It’s no wonder that words like adaptability and flexibility are mentioned a lot when we talk about those who are weathering COVID-19.

Transforming business continuity strategies has to happen right now

“Business as usual,” as we once understood it? It’s a thing of the past for most companies.

The impacts of the virus aren’t over yet; anyone who’s followed the news and seen state and local governments having to reverse their closures policies to prevent the recent spikes in infection rates can see we’re still in for a rough ride. So contending with the current pandemic and its residual effects means businesses have to take measures right now to transform their strategies, tools, and even their business culture for sustaining business continuity. After COVID-19, can anyone claim to know what the next major disruption might be? Or when it might hit?

What are the factors they’ve got to consider as elements of that transformation?

Managing remote workforces

Companies have put forth huge efforts to contend with having staffers work from home or other shelter-in-place locations. Even the effort involved in recalling workers to a workplace that’s been (one hopes) redesigned to safeguard against another outbreak will be tremendous.

So, as we’ve seen, a lot of companies are going to shift to a model where a much larger proportion of their workers are remote. So, technologies that enable at-a-distance collaboration have become vital. Who could have foreseen there’d be so much rapid escalation in videoconferencing technology, as Zoon, MS Teams, Webex, Chime, and the rest all vie for their piece of the action.

This also means new management best practices have to be implemented for overseeing this newly distributed workforce. Including new policies and procedures for everything from data privacy to onboarding and offboarding during periods of rapid change. These will need new platforms and automation tools, too, since traditional methods for operationalizing change are never going to be quick or efficient enough to deliver the new speed and adaptability that’s required to sustain continuity.

The need for operational analytics

To deal with the current stresses and impact of an event like the pandemic, companies will need to rely on analytics as never before. In the case of my own clients, corporate legal departments, for instance? They’re charged with managing employee incidents, claims, and litigation, and must triage those using data to give management a better grasp of what legal work results from COVID-19; that provides a better handle on what the legal impact and costs of the pandemic have been for the organization.

That use of sophisticated analytics to understand the operational effects of the pandemic, or any other disruption, should be extended into every business unit and function within the enterprise. “You don’t know what you don’t know,” the saying goes, and that lack of visibility and insight can be fatal. It’s why my corporate legal clients are turning toward solutions that feature data collection and analytics capabilities allowing them to not only optimize their internal processes, but provide transparency and control over outside counsel and other service providers.

Vendor oversight is essential

I mentioned how legal departments want greater insight into their vendors; it’s crucial to know if an outside legal firm working on sensitive and potentially costly litigation, for instance, has the resources and resilience to successfully carry out that work even during a disruption.

The same holds for vendor networks of all kinds, for all business units within any company: The failure of an outside vendor, supplier, or partner, whether it’s just a matter of poor performance or an outright Chapter 7 or 11 filing, can leave your company exposed in many ways. Putting mechanisms and tools in place for monitoring the health and resilience of your vendor ecosystem, such as third party risk management software, is mandatory for maintaining your own business continuity.

Make it a cultural imperative

These are only a few of the components of a Business Continuity Transformation initiative. Another that may be the most important of all? Making that transformation an enterprise-wide cultural imperative: Everyone, from the C-suite on down, needs to champion the need to make the organization more agile and flexible on every front.

That transformation has to be about embracing a permanent state of change, too. Once a company stops adapting and evolving its continuity planning, and the technologies and resources to support it, it’s lost some measure of resilience. When the next disruption strikes, that resilience is an asset they’ll be sorry they let slip away.

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Author: Steven O’Donnell

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