The COVID-19 experience has shown us that business continuity planning is not something to put on the shelf and practice once a year. Instead, it needs to become core to operational practices now. Often referred to as “spending money on something you hope you never need to use,” it is clear that there is an immediate need for businesses to invest in “always on” BCP.
Despite the significant disruptions to business due to the pandemic and resulting shutdowns, many companies were able to rapidly redeploy workers to safe, remote work locations, enabling them to continue to perform and produce. Rarely has a singular black swan event caused companies of every size to re-think answers to fundamental questions about where work is performed, how to keep teams working virtually and how to ensure the work itself is largely uninterrupted and consistent. As a company with a quarter million practitioners, we were able to rapidly deploy our own business continuity plan and had more than 95% of our global workforce working from home in under a week. We were able to do this because we regularly review our BCP plan each quarter, which is critical to ensure that we are prepared no matter the circumstance.
Now is exactly the time that companies of all sizes should be asking themselves how they could have handled BCP in a more effective way. The notion of “return to normal” has changed drastically, and we will never be able to work in the same way we did pre-COVID-19. Companies need to ensure that they can continue critical functions like supply chain operations even when employees can’t be there in person. The lessons from COVID-19 will shape the coming decades of how companies work. Similar to the lessons learned from the Spanish Flu in 1918, specifically the fundamental shift in how public health worked, we have just begun the start of a rapid transformation of how companies will work moving forward. Ensuring continuity of operations in the face of a variety of unforeseen disruptions needs to be a top priority going forward
Making BCP a standard practice
Re-assessing and updating your business continuity plan should happen on a yearly basis and should become both a strategic imperative and a standard practice moving forward. All organizations need a plan that addresses leadership, workforce, financial risk, security and technology, along with other essential functional areas specific to their business. If we have learned nothing else through the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, it is that we must have the ability to manage a crisis in the present without deferring planning for the future. Business continuity planning is critical to ensuring that businesses don’t have to turn a blind eye to the future ever again.
Companies that understand that employees are the greatest commodity are in a better position to succeed. Clients that had a plan to safeguard employees and keep operations “business as usual” were much more successful and experience less disruptive changes to their bottom line. Contrary to many beliefs, BCP doesn’t need to be a tech-heavy, savvy play. It can be as simple as looking at A&B testing of what worked versus what didn’t. For instance, the technology many are using at home is far from a new concept. WebX, virtual calls, etc. have been used for years. The important component as an IT leader is to assess how you are changing your technology to solve problems for workers at home.
Now is the time to understand what lessons you have learned over the recent months and apply them as part of a BCP strategy. To get started, I recommend asking yourself the following questions:
1. Do you have the right metrics in place to measure outcomes? What have we learned? Evaluating different remote working conditions and evaluating how your workforce best performs remotely will inform your BCP for the future. Be sure you have the right metrics in place to accurately evaluate remote work for your organization. You should be focused more on outcomes than employee tracking and productivity. Look at data workstreams, but keep in mind that data is less focused on overall activity and more so on the outcome -- high activity doesn’t always yield more results.
2. How are you handling prioritization? With so much change, it can sometimes be difficult to determine what to do first -- or what is mission critical and what can wait. Like a surgeon deciding what is triage versus elective surgery, come up with a short list of “nonnegotiable” items for your business. Chief among your list should be your people. Keeping them working, safe, productive and engaged should be a top priority.
3. Do you have the right systems in place to run an analysis of what worked and what didn’t work?The goal here is to see where you lacked systemic data (what broke and when). Having a 360-view and holistic understanding into the “why” someone couldn’t access something when they couldn’t and what user group was impacted will inform the technology part of your BCP strategy.
Evaluate what you’ve learned
We’ve now gone through a quarter of business disruption. What have we learned? It’s important to make time to formally evaluate key areas of the business on a regular basis, looking for change, comparing what’s happening currently to what was going on the last time you assessed it. Use these regular evaluations to inform and update your BCP. That plan can serve as your best tool for ensuring learnings are translated into actions. BCP has always been treated as a tabletop exercise and never truly tested. For many companies now, these theoretical plans are being tested and many are coming up short.
If there are silver linings to the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine, and there are several, I believe one is that we have now experienced a big wake-up call: Companies are gaining a much better understanding of their weaknesses and vulnerabilities and are fixing them. Secondly, we are understanding the importance of having a working BCP that isn’t just tested during mock exercises but is being used to benefit organizations every single day.
Seth Siegel is the North American leader of Infosys Consulting’s Artificial Intelligence & Automation practice. He is an internationally recognized Management Consultant, by Forbes Magazine as leading the #2 Digital Consultancy in North America in 2016. In his career he has advised dozens of the world’s leading CIO’s on innovation and transformation of the IT function to become a business partner.