The full economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic – which has infected more than 175,000 people in the United States as of March 31 – remain to be seen. However, this type of rare and unpredictable ‘black swan’ event has occurred before, including the emergence of mad cow disease, the September 11 terrorist attacks, the severe acute respiratory virus (SARS) outbreak, and the Great Recession.
In the face of such disruptions, an organization’s first priority is to sustain business continuity and critical functions. Now is the time to pivot business operations to lessen the pandemic’s impact.
The New York Times (March 15) quotes Grant Thornton chief economist Diane Swonk as saying that implementing social distancing measures “hits the heart of the economy, and it hits the economy on all sides. It’s not just that we’re slowing down things. We’re actually hitting the pause button, and there is no precedent, there is no mold for that.” The effects are being felt even in places that the outbreak itself has not yet reached, notes the NYT.
Some 78% of manufacturing companies expect COVID-19 to have an impact on financials, according to a survey of 558 manufacturing companies by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), carried out between February 28 and March 9, 2020. Among the respondents, 36% were already feeling supply chain disruptions, and 53% were anticipating a change in operations. The survey found that 49% of respondents did not have an emergency plan in place.
Based on our extensive experience, Liberty Advisor Group proposes four critical best practices to help organizations of all sizes to weather COVID-19.
1. Look for ways to perform essential business processes remotely or automatically
In order to understand the potential impact your business can endure, first analyze the front and back-office processes that need to be maintained, either through automation or enabling employees to conduct their work from remote locations. Learn from the best practices of firms that are navigating through this crisis. Learn what they are doing to prepare. Thanks to new and innovative technologies such as process intelligence, companies can now confidently address the fundamental challenges that have long been associated with business process management.
2. Develop continuity plans
The impacts of this type of disruption will be felt across all areas of your business. Manage disruptions by outlining short- and long-term continuity plans. In a typical organization, revenue-generating front office roles are accustomed to mobility while the support and administrative functions are where the majority of repeatable processes reside. These repeatable processes, however, tend to be difficult to manage and operate remotely when routines are disrupted. Examples include accounting, finance, and HR. This is a concern because most organizations generally conduct repeatable functions with on-premises solutions and do not have remote workforce contingency plans to manage during crises. As the COVID-19 pandemic is showing us, this lack of preparedness can cause back-office operations to cease and, as a result, shut down the front office operations as well.
3. Address remote workforce challenges
Many of our clients are experiencing issues adapting to remote work at scale. Existing solutions were designed to support a subset of the total workforce (such as sales staff or IT) and are proving insufficient to fully support the current load. Overloaded VPN solutions are denying incoming connections, existing stocks of spare laptops are too few and too old for everyday use, on-premise file servers cannot be accessed, and some legacy client applications that were not designed to operate off the LAN refuse to cooperate with the changing landscape. In addition, travel and office restrictions, in particular, entail risks that could negatively affect business operations: employees and administrative resources may be unable to run production facilities, uncontracted hourly positions are more likely to experience layoffs, and third-party vendors and other suppliers may be less reliable than usual.
CIOs are uniquely positioned to help stakeholders view these disruptions to their business as a motivator for change. As companies encourage their employees to work from home, they need to ensure that adequate digital capabilities exist to support them. Business leaders will need to take immediate steps to size up their organization and assess how they can increase the volume of users that can work remotely without impacting the bandwidth of shared resources. Tools such as AWS Workspaces or other managed virtual desktop computing services can be viewed as short term solutions that would enable businesses to function with remote employees. This is an opportunity to realize critical risk areas that must be efficiently and securely addressed, such as virtual chat, cloud storage solutions like Box or OneDrive, improving SSO capabilities, remote conferencing solutions, and VPN capabilities to name a few.
4. Establish response teams
Establish response teams to maintain critical business functions in the face of potential disruptions due to the coronavirus. The goals of these teams are not just focused on reactive processes that address current pain points. They should also establish proactive, long-term solutions that ensure the business is better prepared for future disruptions. This includes everything from business continuity preparations to travel and office restriction planning.
Over the longer term, as organizations continue along the path of digital transformation, they will start to see increased resiliency to business disruptions. Concepts such as process automation aim to keep critical business functions running reliably and inexpensively by automating repeatable back-office tasks. While humans will always be the driving force behind your organization, there’s comfort in having a digital workforce as a safeguard to back you up when such situations inevitably arise. Also, by removing menial and tedious tasks from your staff, they will be freed up to focus on more important matters at hand. Therefore, business leaders who digitize standard processes are not only prepared for the next local, national, or global emergency but have also optimized procedures that improve bottom lines.
The coronavirus represents a global threat to businesses – and serves as a case study of the type of major disruption that companies need to be prepared to handle. As a result, business leaders should investigate which standard processes to automate while establishing remote workforce contingency plans to improve operations and to be prepared for the next crisis.
Liberty Advisor Group continues to tailor solutions that are designed for operational readiness and enable business continuity when faced with local, national, or global emergencies. Reach out to us to learn more.
ABOUT LIBERTY ADVISOR GROUP
Liberty Advisor Group is a goal-oriented, client-focused and results-driven consulting firm. We are a lean, handpicked team of strategists, technologists, and entrepreneurs – battle-tested experts with a steadfast, start-up attitude. Our team, with an average of 15+ years of experience, has delivered over $1 billion in operating income improvement and over 300 M&A deals for our clients. We collaborate, integrate and ideate in real-time with our clients to deliver situation-specific solutions that work. Liberty Advisor Group has the experience to realize our clients’ highest ambitions. This year, Liberty has been named to the 2019 Best Places to Work in Chicago and to FORTUNE’s list of Best Workplaces in Consulting and Professional Services.