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Covid-19: Three digital areas business leaders should prioritise

(Image credit: Image Credit: Coffee / Pixabay)

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused many organisations to re-visit their plans. Sadly, it’s highly likely that we’ll see many businesses around the globe fold under the pressure of what could perhaps be considered a ‘force majeure’ or ‘act of God’. There is some great advice already available, including official responses from the WHO, and more strategic opinions from Harvard Business Review and McKinsey. These, along with government advice, should be essential reading for any business leader. In addition, it’s important to understand digital preparedness for the impact of Covid-19, and there are three digital areas CIOs and business leaders should focus on to do this: 1) Protecting employees, 2) Managing steady-state operations, 3) Achieving growth in uncertain times.

1.)           Protecting employees

Protecting employees is first priority. From a digital perspective this means ensuring the right information is getting to the right people at the right time. Senior leaders should review:

  • Master Data Management (MDM) – Leaders must make sure employee information is current and they know where employees are located and how to contact them? In conjunction with employees, now is the time to check information is updated and to gauge how hard it actually is for an employee to keep their details up to date. If employees must login to multiple systems only from certain devices, for instance, to make sure their details are current, then you should consider easier alternate solutions.
  • Communication channels – Feedback is needed so organisational responses can be changed to better suit staff. Email is just one method, but a multi-channel approach including virtual information, social media, Q&A channels, and mobile alerts, will work far better. Digital channels are a powerful way to interact with employees when travel and social gatherings are limited, and give the opportunity for to receive feedback as well as disseminate information.
  • Workplace and Learning and Development – Leaders need to assess roadblocks in the way of virtual employees and make sure tools are easy to use. This means reviewing infrastructure to make sure it can handle increased traffic from audio/video-conference tools, and that policies for managing sensitive data from outside the workplace are in place. Finally, leaders should consider what learning and development opportunities there are for remote or quarantined workers – through self-paced, online learning, boosting staff both personally and professionally, and improving morale.

2.)           Managing steady-state operations

Keeping operations running as the situation evolves will be tough – whether from a downturn in revenue, increased operating costs, or new types of risks such as supplier unavailability emerging. Here, leaders should consider:

  • Business Continuity Plans (BCP) – Most BCP plans rely on restoring critical systems, but with Covid-19, the issue is access to systems from remote locations. Moreover, it’s clear the pandemic is not a short-term problem – plans must there be sustainable, and not merely stop-gaps. Organisations may need to look at short term cost cutting measures, and beyond this, at outsourced Business Process Services (BPS) to ensure a contingency is in place should a large number of employees be unable to work.
  • Understanding value chain impacts – It’s easy to be focussed on internal operations but leaders must analyse the product/service value chain in both directions (i.e. back toward suppliers and forward towards customers). This offers insights into supply and demand and helps to make tactical decisions. This may lead to considering supply chain contingencies, streamlining of processes, or changes in production schedules. Another question is whether your business is insured from a situation like Covid-19 (it’s likely most are not covered). Contracts in place must be analysed with both customers and suppliers, to understand the risk to the business and the service levels provided.
  • Automation – There are a range of tasks in most workplaces that could benefit from software-based automation – such as order processing, payroll processes, and email query management. It’s an opportune time to look determine which workflows could be automated to allow employees to focus on higher value work. Exploring Robotic Process Automation (RPA) solutions that can be managed and scaled easily is a good starting point.

3.)           Achieving growth in uncertain times

Some will focus on how to can grow now or immediately post Covid-19, but it makes strategic sense to look further beyond the crisis for new opportunities. Leaders should be thinking about:

  • A better understand of data – It’s a perfect time to get insights into many areas of business, from a cost-saving and a revenue generating viewpoint. There are many opportunities, and leaders should prioritise those most important to their organisation – for example, supply chain, customer buying habits, order to cash, procurement, marketing penetration. New information informs new investment areas; organisations can look ahead at potential permanent market changes after Covid-19, and apply this to new data models.
  • Alternate revenue streams – Doing exactly what you do now may not be viable after Covid-19, so it’s a good time to assess opportunities for new revenue streams in complementary or parallel markets. This means thinking about how can existing data, assets, and human capital can be used to quickly launch new platforms to supplement existing revenue.
  • Safe experimentation – Though some operations may not be restricted or even perhaps not required at all during the worst of the impacts of Covid-19, history shows us that many innovations are born in uncertain times. Giving employees the flexibility to experiment safely now may lead to significant business opportunities and revenue growth in areas that were not previously expected.

A compelling reason for transformation

In any organisational response to Covid-19, digital solutions will play a vital role – leaders must study, consider, and then take actions in conjunction with regular business continuity management. Partners with organisations that have strong relationships, proven experience, and can scale solutions quickly and effectively should also be a key consideration. Ultimately, it’s important to also be realistic about what can be achieved during this time, and business leaders must determine what the ROI or risk mitigation of taking action or not taking any action will be.

Michael Billimoria, Digital General Manager, DXC Technology