Initial lessons from the COVID-19 business continuity response
- Published: Tuesday, 14 April 2020 08:37
Although the crisis is still unfolding, it’s already clear that building resilience into your organizational DNA is more important than ever. Michael Davies, CEO of ContinuitySA says this is one of the clear lessons from the COVID-19 response so far.
“COVID-19 has forced the world into a new reality. We have to self-isolate yet remain connected to our work and clients. COVID-19 has also graphically demonstrated how connected we are, and how that connectedness is a source of great vulnerability,” continues Mr. Davies. “To survive, our organizations (and governments) have to become truly agile, able to adjust or even change their business models with extreme rapidity. It has become apparent that digitalisation is critical in helping organizations to adapt at the necessary speed, and so is a primary driver of resilience in this new era.”
It’s early days yet, but Mr. Davies believes that there are clear lessons businesses should be taking note of already. These are:
Act swiftly, but have a plan that informs your decision-making. Countries like Mongolia and Taiwan responded quickly to the COVID-19 outbreak, doubtless because they have seen this movie before. They mandated the wearing of masks early on, and rigorous testing and contact tracing commenced rapidly. The point here is that they already had a plan for such an emergency which could be quickly adapted as needed. Companies should take the opportunity to look at their business continuity and crisis plans carefully, and build awareness across the organization.
Plan for the unexpected. It’s worth emphasising that planning should not be too focused on specific risks. Your plan must also be able to be adapted to cope with the unexpected. Nobody foresaw the extent of COVID-19 and the rapidity with which the global response escalated - but those who had a flexible plan have proved to be more resilient than others.
Put a crisis communications team in place and drill them regularly. At times of crisis, communication with all stakeholders—employees, business partners, regulators, customers, to name a few—is absolutely critical. Yet it’s seldom done well. In the age of social media, it is all too easy for messages to get muddled and to spread confusion. Clear roles and processes to follow need to be thrashed out now, and the key spokespeople thoroughly trained.
Keep up with testing and simulation. If you don’t know it will work, it probably won’t. A crisis is an incredibly stressful time, and the last thing you need is a response that has to be changed in mid-crisis. Regular real-life tests and simulations are the only way to ensure your company is battle-ready - and that your troops aren’t betrayed by their nerves.
Look carefully at your supply chain. Long, complex supply chains are a reality and this greatly increases your vulnerability. Disasters that impact any part of the chain impact every link, and the interdependencies need to be thoroughly understood and planned for.
Work with experts. Business continuity planning and implementation are really jobs for a specialist, so work with one. In addition, having a work-area recovery facility is also critical. It’s not only disasters that can make it necessary - many clients are using their work-area recovery contracts to provide extra office space to comply with social distancing requirements.
Get digitalised. The current crisis has shown just how big a role digitalisation and everything it implies plays in enabling agility and quick response to the unexpected. Digitalisation is more than just technology; it has to encompass a new process framework that enables rapid response to changing situations, be they disasters or opportunities. Putting a genuine digital strategy in place is now an imperative.
“Overall, the key message for companies should be the need to build resilience into their DNA. The ability to react quickly and decisively to change, and to be able to recover quickly from a disaster, is central to long-term sustainability,” Mr Davies concludes.