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3 May 2020

What Coronavirus has taught us about preparing for future business continuity 

We’ve all heard the phrase, ‘hindsight is 20/20. When COVID-19 unexpectedly arrived, it suddenly and unwittingly exposed the weaknesses in our soft commercial underbellyThat is, our inability to maintain business continuity during immediate and shocking economic and social change.  

If only we had the 20/20 hindsight to predict what COVID-19 would do to 2020. The global pandemic surprised and exposed weaknesses in global operations and supply chains.  More than anything, it’s shown that we weren’t ready to weather the economic and social change and maintain business continuity. 

Most businesses and boards have planned for and thought they were prepared with business continuity planning strategies to protect their business. While many didit is clear that no one had prepared planning to the extent of today’s current pandemic. Except maybe Wimbledon. If there’s one less to be learned (besides being more like Wimbledon), we all need to be better prepared when it comes to business continuity planning.   

What is business continuity planning 

Business continuity planning, or BCP as an acronym is a process for creating systems of prevention and recovery to deal with potential threats to a company. It is essential to enable businesses to operate during a crisis or disaster. 

Basically, it means a type of scenario plans/options fall-back process or internal co-ordination by organisations in order to endure or adapt when a crisis like COVID happens.  

The types of crises, issues or disasters could include: 

Like with COVID-19, many issues may overlap or may have a knock-on effect with one leading into anotherFor example, a natural disaster such as an earthquake can domino into tech outages, contaminated workplaces, economic crises and employee and supply chain shutdowns. 

How you can start planning for business continuity in three steps 

Here are the three things we can all do right now for better future business continuity. 

1. Start planning for the next case now

For many business owners, large and small, its important to have and update Business Continuity Plans. It’s fine if you didn’t have any or, you had ones, but they didn’t account for a viral outbreak contingency that may possibly decimate our entire global economy. This doesn’t mean you can’t start planning for them right now. As SARs in the early 2000s and 2009’s swine flu (H1N1) proved, outbreaks are likely to be a reoccurring threat. We can get ahead of them by thinking about how they will affect us now, after recovery, and well into the future. 

While we can acknowledge there are major differences between Corona and the swine flu, there are still significant predictors you can draw on from current and past conditions to tell you how these kinds of outbreaks may impact you next timeIn the last decade, we can easily see that global conditions have changed considerably due to significant advances in transportation, communication and supply chain management  

Let’s say a similar outbreak were to happen in the future. COVID-19 travelled from China to everywhere else in less than 3 months, bringing the world to its knees in the process. If global conditions were to continue to accelerate alongside technological advances in the next decade, a similar outbreak (without better preparedness from our governments and health organisations) could pose even more dire consequences on your business, as well as the global economy. How can you, as a business, start doing now to better protect yourself when this inevitably happens again? 

WE RECOMMENDMonitor how local operating and global conditions surrounding your business change year-on-year. What may look like a positive implication for your business like more affordable offshore operations, may be a negative in a pandemic outbreak.  

Take this into account and build into your business continuity planning. For example, should a pandemic happen – does it become a priority that these operations cease first? This can help in mitigating future business disruption for your organisation. 

2. Get your internal plans in order 

Once you’ve started preparing, you need to set out exactly what will happen to your people, operations and presence should a a state of emergency be called.  Start to ask yourself: 

What’s our risk management plan? 

 Many businesses already have a risk team whose job it is to monitor potential issues, assess them and put together strategies in order to manage them should they arise to impact your operationsIf not, this should be outsourced or undertaken by management. These issues should be reviewed regularly by your leadership team and integrated into any current and future business continuity planning. 

What core services do we need to keep to running? 

 Core services are ones that will help you to maintain the bare minimum when it comes to meeting stakeholder needs. For example, imagine you’re a retailer with a supply chain that sources most of its products from overseas. You will need to plan for supply chain disruption by ensuring you have back-up stock in case demand supersedes supply, or you will need to find local suppliers who can assist you should your supply chain suddenly halt operations.  

WE RECOMMEND: Talking to your suppliers, stakeholders and employees about these issues. Make sure they’re as across them as you are, and that they understand the implications for your business as well as theirs in the case of disruption, outages or otherwise. Build their concerns, ideas and issues into your planning, and work with them to develop alternate means to resolve these issues.  

 Currently, we are seeing many hospitality businesses struggle with closure due to COVID-19, with their only means of continuity being food delivery or takeaway. If this was your business, how would you work with your suppliers, staff and customers to ensure your business can continue? It may mean making fast adjustments to your business like using new means to organise and implement these servicesLuckily, many software and service providers are offering a free helping hand.  

CALL OUT: MessageMedia is currently offering food and beverage businesses a free SMS ‘text-in’ takeaway and delivery service to help them thrive.    

How will our staff cope and work in different conditions?  

Not all issues or crises will require staff to pause work to the extent of COVID-19However, if there’s anything we’ve learned from this public health situation, it’s the importance of flexible work arrangements. As we’ve seen predominantly in the healthcare industry, many practitioners and clinics are being forced to take on new work arrangements, procedures and technology services in order to continue serving patients. There has been a steady rise in the use of telemedicine and telehealth – seeing and consulting to patients via video call or supporting patients between multiple clinicians. 

CALL OUT: Watch our webinar ‘New ways healthcare is adapting to COVID-19’ where we discuss how healthcare is pivoting to telehealth with Genie Solutions consultant and former NSW Chief Clinical Information Officer Dr John Lambert. 

While it may not seem practical or easy to consider new working arrangements for staff, it may be vital to future business continuity planning. It’s likely that these changes, while difficult at first, may be beneficial to your business and customers in the long-term, exactly like we’re seeing with healthcare. 

WE RECOMMEND: You’ve identified critical business functions in our previous question. Now it’s time to identify essential employees. If your business was reduced to its leanest possible capacity to maintain business function, who would this include?  

Now consider what would happen if these essential workers were unable to work. Consider setting up back-up teams to cover for those who may need to be on 24/7. For example, if you have a customer service team, do you have another remote team able to take over in case there is an outage, or a team member is diagnosed with COVID-19?  

To further ensure business continuity, test trial-at-home days just as we did here at MessageMedia well before quarantine happened or cross-train workers across regions, countries or states to make sure that there is always somebody able to cover. 

CALL OUT: Find out how MessageMedia responded to COVID-19, and what we did to help protect our staff and customers as it developed., 

How do we maintain the safety and health of our employees? 

With most businesses, you have a legal obligation to look after your staff in the event of a crisis or natural disaster that may impair and restrict their ability to continue workingAs your most valuable assets, its up to you to make sure that you have the most up to date information, and health initiatives in place in order to guarantee their well-being. As we’ve seen with COVID-19, much of this comes from government directives or from authorities such as the World Health Organisation. 

WE RECOMMEND: If it’s a pandemic or similar disaster, ensure you have a team set up to understand and implement public health response measures. With COVID-19, many businesses immediately set up new OHS guidelines within their workplaces around hand washing, surface cleaning and the more frequent use of hand sanitiser. Others immediately sent high-risk staff, such as those who had recently returned from overseas, home to seek medical help and to isolate for the requisite 14 days. 

We also recommend making sure that you follow up with staff, especially when working from home, where you conduct frequent check-ins either from an HR rep, or with their direct reports. Hear their concerns, and issues, and also communicate with them about how seriously you are taking precautions around their healthcare.  

What are the possible financial implications to our business? 

Top of mind for many business owners and decision-makers will be the potential financial issues that will arise because of this time. While many will not want to deal with this head-on, its important you consider worst-case-scenarios, and what can be done now to prevent thisWith the amount of businesses put on hold because of new measures by the government to slow the spread of COVID-19, those still operating are putting friezes on non-essential work, projects and expenses. This can be easily identified when you examine what are your essential operational functions, and what are not. 

With regards to worst-case-scenarios, this will be variable businesstobusiness. However, it’s likely that you will know what this could look like for you. What you may not have identified are the grey steps in between, such as what will your business look like if it loses 20% of its supply chain in one week? What if you lose 45% of revenue within one monthWhat if all creditors suddenly call in their debts?  

WE RECOMMEND: When experts suggest scenario planning for business continuity, they don’t just mean the trigger event that sets off implementation of business continuity planning strategies. They mean for every possible financial scenario of your business too. How much do you need to survive on a 50% revenue loss? Who can you see to get an injection of cash if you can’t delay payments to service providers or creditors? What other avenues can you seek for new revenue so that you can last an additional two months before a government-sanctioned economic stimulus package rolls out? These hard questions will need to be answered if you truly want your business to continue. 

3. Get going! 

The most important step. Planning can only get you so far. Business continuity planning generally works because it mostly assumes you have time to plan out many different scenarios and their potential impact on your business.  

WE RECOMMEND: Your business continuity plan should also have an action plan that not only prioritises what steps should be taken first and foremost, but also how those actions will be measured in terms of their success. We also advise setting up a team, if possible, to monitor other evolving COVID-19 risks and to develop measures to tackle those should they become a threat to your business. Also, if energy and resources remain, to plan for post-pandemic recovery. 

COVID-19 has happened, and for many, so have the severe productivity, economic and health ramifications. If you’re starting now, work through these considerations and start moving onto next steps. The sooner you get started, the sooner you can start planning for recovery. 

With many governments across the world offering economic support packages to those affected, this may supply you with temporary relief but do not rely on it as long-term sustenance. The more you do now to safeguard your business, the more protected it will be in the future. 

Further COVID-19 customer resources   

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