Are Your IT Systems Aligned with Your Crisis Response?
But in that rapid shift, some companies have failed to realign their IT systems to fit their new way of doing business. This has created bottlenecks and other unexpected challenges that put even more strain on business systems, ultimately creating new vulnerabilities, hurting employee productivity and the organizations themselves.
How businesses have adapted
In a previous post, we looked at the business impact of COVID-19 and how U.S. companies realigned their operations to protect their workforces and stay in adherence with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
By the end of March, consulting firm McKinsey & Company found that companies had already dramatically changed their way of business. They categorized the response into 5 categories:
- Workforce protection
- Supply-chain stabilization
- Customer engagement
- Stress testing
- Nerve-center integration
Together, these categories represent the myriad of actions businesses have taken in response to the coronavirus pandemic: everything from shifting to remote work to restructuring the entire organization.
But understandably, not all businesses had time to figure out how their IT systems would be affected (or compromised) by this massive operational alignment.
So, let’s look at each of these categories in greater detail to identify strategies for adapting your technologies accordingly.
One of the earliest and most vital questions businesses faced since the onset of the pandemic was: how will we keep our workers safe? And by extension, this meant also keeping customers and communities safe. Businesses needed to figure out how they would prevent employees from getting sick and spreading the virus, while also keeping the business open.
CDC guidelines and stay-at-home mandates helped to provide a framework for keeping people safe, but these orders also presented logistical challenges for maintaining continuity.
- Move to remote work / telecommuting
- Communication & collaboration between workers and essential teams
- Staggered work shifts for essential workers who need to work on-site
- Adherence to guidance from public health officials on social guidelines and site cleaning
How to align IT:
A sudden move to remote work can put a significant strain on IT resources and systems, unless the business is already prepared to implement that shift. No matter how small your remote workforce (1 employee or 1,000+), you need to be sure they have the technology they need to do their jobs effectively and securely. Workers should be provided with devices that can connect securely to your network, reducing the risk of cybersecurity problems on their own devices. Staggered rollouts and stress tests are recommended to minimize the risk of overload on systems and services. Streamlined conferencing, file sharing and collaboration tools like Datto Workplace are vital for keeping remote workforces productive.
On site, your essential workers need the right equipment and policies to keep them safe. Integrating better systems for policy management, business intelligence and management of protective gear can help to streamline these processes and allow for more intelligence.
Digital protection is also vital for desktop workers. Be sure that all devices and systems (remote or on-site) are protected with antimalware and backed up with a business-grade disaster recovery solution.
A dramatic shift in customer buying behavior, combined with declining workforce levels, quickly caused a seismic supply-chain disruption in several industries. From manufacturers to retail stores, the impact was felt at every point in the chain, forcing businesses to make drastic changes.
As the virus spread across the globe, many industries faced a shortage of workers. This led to a shortage of supplies in some sectors, at a time when demand for some goods skyrocketed. On the flipside, as some parts of the retail industry had to shut their doors, demand for other goods plummeted, leaving suppliers with an excess of product.
- More robust inventory management and demand forecasting
- Optimization to production capacity
- Realignment of suppliers and buying processes
- Logistics and transportation optimizations
How to align IT
Improving inventory management and production capacity is virtually impossible without robust business intelligence systems. In order to make actionable decisions based on a rapidly changing environment, you need greater insight into your data.
Business intelligence systems, powered by the right mix of hardware, software and AI, can help to remove uncertainty from decision-making during the pandemic and beyond. Organizations gain the insight they need to remove guesswork from demand forecasting and logistics.
To be clear, these systems won’t resolve the supply-chain issues that are completely beyond your control. However, they can help you to adapt to those situations faster and minimize the impact of those disruptions.
Did you notice how quickly your inbox became flooded with COVID-19 emails in March? As businesses shifted their operations, they needed to make sure customers knew about it. Stores were closing; processes were evolving; services were being discontinued. Businesses needed to update their customers on the numerous changes and policies being implemented to keep them safe and healthy.
Also, as the economy fell, many businesses simply needed a way to remind their customers: “Hey, we’re still here!” Without this communication, the fallout could be even worse. But this situation also presented the challenge of how to effectively communicate those messages.
- Communicating timely updates and transparency to customers and third parties
- Expanded customer outreach and support
- Sharing new guidance from public health agencies as soon as it becomes available
How to align IT:
Businesses that did not already have scalable multi-channel communication platforms in place prior to the pandemic struggled to get their messages to customers when it mattered most. Organizations of any size can significantly streamline these communications with a digital strategy that leverages email marketing platforms, social media and customer relationship management systems.
There’s no shortage of services and software suites available to help businesses manage and simplify this communication across numerous channels. For businesses relying on their own email servers and in-house technologies to blast those communications, it’s also imperative that all systems are adequately secured and tested to ensure messages actually reach inboxes and are not at risk of being compromised (by hackers or ESP blacklisting).
Automated texting and calling technologies are another effective means of communicating your most critical messages to the customers who need priority updates.
Rapid changes have pushed businesses to the brink. Added stress on IT systems, combined with a bleak economic outlook, have forced businesses to evaluate how much they can withstand disruptions at all ends of the business.
In ideal circumstances, businesses would use stress testing and scenario modeling to project risks based on numerous factors: epidemiological, economic and operational. In other words, businesses need to calculate exactly how they would feel the impact of a worsening pandemic, a shrinking economy and/or greater operational stress. The challenge, however, is that many small businesses are not adequately equipped to do this modeling.
- Testing IT systems to anticipate bottlenecks and outages before they arise
- Forecasting future financial impact of the pandemic to determine business needs
- Modeling based on both economic and public health factors
- Updated business impact analyses for disaster recovery planning
How to align IT:
Now is the time to be relentlessly testing IT systems to ensure they can handle the changes to your business processes. Ideally, systems should be tested prior to scaling out deployments or making drastic changes to infrastructure or services.
The same goes for your financials. Again, organizations should leverage the latest business intelligence systems to model scenarios based on the latest epidemiological and economic forecasts.
As McKinsey writes: “Experts using analytics can define the values for the critical variables that will affect revenue and cost. Companies should model their financials (cash flow, profit and loss, and balance sheet) in each scenario and identify triggers that might significantly impair liquidity. For each trigger in each scenario, companies should define moves to stabilize the organization. Such moves could include optimizing accounts payable and receivable, cost-reduction measures, and divestment or M&A actions.”
McKinsey defines the integrated nerve center as “an efficient means of coordinating an organization’s active response to a major crisis [that is] endowed with enterprise-wide authority and enables leaders and experts to test approaches quickly, preserve and deepen the most effective solutions, and move on ahead of the changing environment.”
In essence, this means rapidly designating a new leadership team to better understand and respond to the crisis. In many ways, it’s a lot like a conventional disaster recovery team, but specific to the urgency and far-ranging brunt of the pandemic.
- Shift to a more agile decision-making process
- Leadership alignment
- Trigger-based portfolios of crisis-response actions
How to align IT:
Empowering a nerve-center integration team is unworkable without the support of powerful IT systems. From communication to crisis response, the right technologies can help decision-makers get ahead of events, rather than reacting to them.
We’ve mentioned the importance of business intelligence systems, which can provide your leadership team with the insight they need to make informed decisions. But equally important is the underlying IT infrastructure to support constant communication, deep analysis and operational agility. Business intelligence software, for example, is only as good as the hardware it runs on, whether on-premise or in the cloud.
Similarly, turning swift decisions into executable actions, across an entire organization, is extremely challenging without agile IT systems, whether during a pandemic or not. To put these plans into action, your IT must be aligned accordingly.
Need help with crisis response? Our experts are here for you.
If you’re evaluating business continuity systems or other IT solutions, Invenio IT can provide a customized roadmap for your business. Request a free demo or contact our experts by calling (646) 395-1170 or emailing success@invenioIT.com.