Business continuity in times of disruption
” Imagine there’s a lockdown for one year, what steps would you need to take to ensure your business runs successfully? The ideas you come up with, that’s what you must do.”
Every challenge presents an opportunity to grow and evolve. COVID-19 has disrupted regular business operations in many industries from education to healthcare, hospitality, travel, and more; and lots of businesses are struggling to stay afloat and maintain some form of business continuity. Even in the midst of uncertainty, there are some winners. The organisations that have been more resilient and even thrived, are those that embraced digital transformation, or have been able to successfully pivot.
Depending on your industry, some losses are inevitable but you can find ways to minimize loss and target new opportunities. To pivot effectively, leaders should examine their current business components, particularly in four areas:
Business processes: all processes involved in developing your product or service such as product development, testing, marketing, accounting, HR, and operations.
Customer engagement: how does the customer access your product or service? Do they come into a store? Is there an App or an online shop?
Supply chain: how do you access the materials needed for production and how do you get your product to market?
Employee engagement: employee well-being, talent, and performance management.
In each of these areas, leaders should assess – based on the current trends, what needs to change and how to leverage technology to create more robustness. Imagine there’s a lockdown for one year, what steps would you need to take to ensure your business runs successfully? The ideas you come up with, that’s what you must do. This would require a phased approach as some activities can be done in the short to medium term, while others are more long term. Start with nimble solutions that can be deployed quickly. Here are some guidelines for the four components listed above.
Infuse technology into business processes: In many companies, business process activities revolve around people meeting physically, coming round the table to brainstorm and collaborate. Tendency was to bring all the talent and resources into the same location. The lockdown experience has taught us that people can still be effective working from home. It has forced companies to think of new models – how do we collaborate when we are not in the same room. Are your employees empowered to work from home? Can they log into your internal systems remotely? Have you invested in shared platforms that allow people to collaborate virtually such as Slack, Google Apps, etc? These tools were perceived as reserved for high tech collaborations but should actually be part of mainstream business processes. Ensure your business processes are dispersed and not concentrated.
Adapt to changing customer needs: Customer behaviour has changed. Customers are going online as they want to minimise physical interactions and stay safe. They also want convenience, reliability, and ease of performing transactions. Ensure you know where your customers are going, and be prepared to meet them there. Leverage technology to fill the gaps. Identify the parts of your business that you can move online. Supermarkets and restaurants that previously did not offer e-commerce options are now vigorously promoting and advertising online ordering and delivery services.
Whether through a website or on social media, businesses can take advantage and model new user behaviours around an ordering and delivery system. Owners in these industries can go a step further and provide resources such as recipes and guides on how to use what they’re buying at home. Coaches, counsellors, therapists are advertising free and paid group and individual sessions and promoting free resources to help their customers stay healthy mentally. Telehealth services are also being provided by doctors and other medical professionals. Fitness instructors are teaching yoga and other home workouts through YouTube, Zoom, Google Meets, and Instagram. DJs and musicians are also providing live entertainment for their fans through live streaming platforms. Fashion Designers can use technology tools to collect client measurements and model designs so that clients can see what it would look like on them, ensuring perfect fit.
Diversify your supply chain: Some supply chains broke down completely during the pandemic because different aspects were constrained. Perhaps you rely on imports from China and other parts of the world that got disrupted with travel bans. It is crucial to diversify your supply chain. Some typical supply chain issues in sectors like agriculture and manufacturing for example, are around inefficient matching of demand with supply (like moving goods to factory). Technology can be applied to create efficiencies as in the case of Uber and transportation, Kobo 360 in manufacturing, and Andela, Upworks in talent sourcing/development.
Invest in your people: It’s necessary to identify the skills needed to support your digital transformation journey and invest in upskilling/reskilling your staff. Learning Management Systems can be employed to build capacity quickly rather than waiting for people to be able to travel for a course. You may need to bring in experts but ensure there is adequate knowledge transfer to your internal teams. Re-purpose roles e.g your admin who was a master event planner (getting your event centre ready) may need to learn how to set up, record, and moderate video conferences. Performance management may also need to be reviewed. New ways of measuring performance when you can’t “see” people working need to be defined.
Even during disruptions, businesses must continue to do what they can to keep employees and customers engaged. The reality of services moving online also has competitive implications. For example, as a fitness instructor, physical proximity used to be a critical factor. With online fitness sessions, an instructor can be assessed from anywhere in the world. It is crucial to maintain positive employee and customer experience by embracing digital transformation and maximising targeted efforts. Businesses must identify opportunities to pivot so as to not just survive, but thrive, even in a pandemic. Don’t be caught unawares. Be prepared.
Juliet Ehimuan is Country Director at Google leading Google’s business strategy in W/Africa and Next Billion Users initiative in Africa