Business Continuity During Uncertain Times

Years of Incremental Process Efficiency Improvements Challenged by Coronavirus | COVID-19


Typical rhetoric at budget review times sees global leaders looking at individual and consolidated financial statements for revenues up, costs down and planned resourcing levels that show some gains in productivity improvement. However being pragmatic all realize that both positive as well as negative surprises will be experienced in any one year and as the latter materializes, or is likely to do so, management will go into overdrive to minimize any possible downsides as far as is possible.


This decade will see the same pattern, but no one expected such a short sharp shock that would lead to such deep operational challenges so soon into 2020, or indeed so early into the decade, and that would go on to test business continuity to the levels being experienced at this time in certain geographies.


In essence we are all experiencing an operational shock that will in fact lay bare all of our current process inefficiencies despite prior work on digital modifications, but over time we will ultimately emerge digitally stronger and more agile from the hard lessons learned, as we prioritize areas to sort that have been causing us the most pain.


For all organizations there are a unique set of challenges playing out globally with COVID-19 (Coronavirus) that although experienced to some degree before in some geographies, like with SARS in Hong Kong in 2003, have never been seen at the scale being seen today, particularly as supply chain dependencies involving China have so vastly increased since 2003.


Fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) is still forefront in our mindsets as no one is yet fully sure as to when the impact of the virus will max out, or whether deeper challenges will need to be tackled by us all as process execution becomes frustrated, especially if it actually spreads far more readily than first thought.


Out of an abundance of caution, to avoid potential virus spreads, workers in some geographies are being physically separated from others, aptly referred to now as Social Distancing, and forcibly pushed to immerse themselves into a digital world run from home, which has its own risks from a cybersecurity viewpoint.


Particularly vulnerable to sudden operational change will be those specialist functional areas undertaken by a few and this would include revenue recognition contract reviews, process level authorizations, human resources management and payroll processing, BPO including other broad service level execution from a corporates’ regional or global service center, signatures & multi factor validation codes by individuals for payment processing, treasury related cash movements, mandatory shareholder reporting deadlines etc.


Corporations in 2020 do have improved systems to a degree compared with the SARS period in Hong Kong, and as a general statement benefit from having access to improved communications infrastructures facilitated through the web, which is at least some good news. The objective of these often only incremental system improvements, e.g. online enterprise resources planning system (ERP) has been to free up valuable staff time for them to tackle other key resource intensive change management areas like digital, that are in need of attention in what has become a vicious cycle of chicken and egg.


Operational friction within processes are still very much there today and within financial management for example are anecdotally taking 50% of valuable finance function time that should be on management. In other areas like customer relationship management (CRM), which are more autonomously operating functions by nature and not so dependent at least initially on multiple departmental relationships and process flows, digital will continue to benefit outcomes even for remote workers.


Consistently stretched resources is still the norm for most in financial management and other functional operational areas today as tasks are so intertwined with the repetitive reporting cycles that seem to come around more quickly than ever. This will continue to be the case for many years until we all catch up with having more automation, not to mention full digital accessibility to underlying supporting documentation.


Impacts from COVID-19 will in the overall scheme of things be relatively short lived, although it certainly does not seem like that at the moment, but for sure it will have a profound impact on business continuity preparation + operational process redundancy as digital approaches to work will certainly see an increased and more pervasive emphasis, and will likely result in changes at a much faster pace than envisaged in 2019 for those areas that have proved particularly challenging to handle during this period.


Digital initiatives within corporations have been made in the past, but depending on industry the focal point of these investments has in fact been quite narrow. By way of example and firstly looking inwardly within a corporation, marketing has been at the digital forefront for some time, as have some human resources management processes with many corporates being at various differing stages of rolling out a more comprehensive and extended functionality based employee self service applications etc. Secondly, looking at outwardly focused initiatives would see #FinTech and retail highlighted from innovation and simplicity viewpoints of user experience (UX) to showcase what is now possible, but for many organizations real process streamlining will continue to remain a pipe dream, due to the lack of project organization.


Digital is a mega enabler and can also provide access to alternative parallel process flows or the leverage of existing staff experience levels. Taking human resources management process as an example, digital enables more senior experienced staff to be utilized across smaller operations in different geographies for both the sharing of expertise, and for the creation of more transparency across entities, which is achieved through the use of actionable contextual workflows. It will help to highlight operational issues like current team members who are fully billable to clients, but are not able to take their typical holidays, that would be a warning sign for potential future staff losses or alternatively to give transparency to delays in hiring to broader management that would signal trouble ahead.


Globally the practical realities relating to business continuity are being tested more than ever before in real time due to the COVID-19 virus impact. From a digital roll out perspective all corporates are where they are, and all will have to navigate through the current situation mostly as is, but there are opportunities, both in the immediate or longer term, to tackle those identifiable process deficiencies that have caused or are continuing to cause real ongoing business friction. This can be done through the leverage of today’s technologies that solve the two fundamental frictional causing issues, these being speed of execution combined with the capability of executing deep transformational data flows. These together are the two root causes of deep pain for a corporation for the execution of both qualitative and quantitative workflows, and solving these will free time for management as processes flow throughout the enterprise, as well as providing a means to execute alternative parallel process flows in different locations. A game changer and enabler in so many ways!!

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