Covid-19 Crisis Forcing Re-Thinking Business Processes

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing employees and employers alike to work from home – and all phases of the business process to go online.

 The coronavirus crisis is accelerating the transformation of business processes – creating a “fierce urgency of now” in the wake of an unpredictable wave of infection for a virus that has no cure – yet.  With the sharp rise in the number of people infected, hospitalized and, sadly, the extraordinary number of deaths, we are witnessing a new “wave of change.” While some of the changes will be transitory, there are a number of business process changes that will be long-term and possibly permanent. Business owners and IT executives need to plan and act quickly so that they can stay ahead of the curve.

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing employees and employers alike to work from home – and all phases of the business process to go online. The timescale has been weeks – not months or years. Almost overnight, many businesses went “virtual” – with employees using groupware to access teleconferences and enterprise applications from home. Many of these businesses were already online before the pandemic was discovered – but they now realize that they need to add VPN lines to boost the number of end-users supported.

The essential problem for business planners is this: the time horizons are not clear – we don’t know when it is safe to return to work as normal across all industries or if we need to worry about a resurgence in the fall and/or winter. Each day brings a new set of conditions, making it harder to plan for business actions. Many things remain out of our control: Government (federal, state or local) is requiring millions of employees to work-from-home and are dictating the phased rates of return by supposedly relying on the data.

Unfortunately, in an inexorable move to face the economics of rapidly declining demand for products and services, many businesses were forced to lay people off – temporarily or permanently – until the economy starts to “wake up” from the government-ordered lockdowns. Governmental units are providing directions but the only thing that is clear is that we won’t be really back to normal until sometime in 2021 at best.

The Waves of Change, Applied to Business

What we’re witnessing is an accelerated “wave of change” with things moving a lot faster than previous technology shifts. Two prime examples: the “waves of change” that moved businesses to the Internet in the mid-1990s – and to the Cloud in the late 2000s. Those shifts seemed fast, but adoption took place over years, not weeks.

Innovation and disruption are directly linked to “waves of change” – and the process usually appears at the edges of other trends. But this time the “wave of change” for remote working and virtual offices began rising in February and the uptick in March was seismic. This time, the coronavirus has pushed change and adoption of innovation for business processes in a matter of weeks – and not decades.

Discontinuity – and What It means for Business

We view this rapid change as a discontinuity with the world of work and workflow that had been evolving to online and remote access for many years.

The basic parameters of doing business are changing on a daily basis, as new restrictions on travel and workplace rules are announced or revised. Companies had to provide enough bandwidth to remote workers for easy and reliable access to business applications. Most required swift networking upgrades, and activation of more VPN or VDI links to enterprise systems. In some cases, compliance, privacy and security restrictions were relaxed.

However, these items cannot be ignored as it is a highly important issue in this crisis-planning situation. Organizations must protect corporate data, respect the privacy for end-user email, and comply with governmental regulations (e.g., GDPR, the California’s Consumer Privacy Act [CCPA], HIPAA health regulations, and Personally Identifiable Information[PII] – such as Social security numbers and passport numbers that are unique to an individual).

VPN usage has more than doubled since the crisis began. Like a holiday usage spike, which only peaks for a short time and then drops to a level that is higher than pre-holiday levels, the business shift to remote work will have a similar long-lasting impact. This paradigm shift is the result of companies realizing that they can adjust to a higher number of remote staff (and consultants) performing tasks that previously were thought to require personnel to be onsite. For many this may be the New Normal.

Timelines have been compressed and the need for real-time information is demanded by vast swaths of the populace. People want to know Now what mitigations and medicines can be used to lessen the impact of COVID-19. In coming months, therapies will be developed, likely including antibodies-based therapy and vaccines, as they are developed.

This pandemic is forcing businesses to make operational decisions in double-time. Businesses must rapidly determine what applications need to be developed, moved to the cloud using a lift and shift methodology, re-platformed on SaaS, outsourced to a managed service provider, shifted to an in-house cloud, or left untouched or slightly modified to support the new interfaces.

Process changes like this normally take months as a business impact analysis (BIA) is performed, business and technical requirements are reviewed, applications assessed, hardware acquired, new policies and procedures developed, contracts negotiated, and users trained.

Now, instead of doing this in a measured, limited risk environment, businesses are effectively “changing the tires on a bus doing 90 miles per hour down the highway.” Any failures that occur will be major and very visible – and could potentially cost one or more executives their jobs – or drive the enterprise out of business.

Business Processes in the New Normal

Business processes cannot – and will not – resume as they were before this crisis. Too many things have changed – and will continue to change – throughout the crisis. Remote work-from-home; reduced workforces (e.g., airline and transportation layoffs); and reduced mobility throughout cities and between cities – all will contribute to a need to “Think Different” as Apple co-founder Steve Jobs said.

Our new situation also represents an opportunity to change business processes that have been in place for a long time – but need to be updated to meet the new conditions. Too many established corporations rely upon batch processing. This must rapidly shift to online, real-time updates so that all parties working with the data all have current information from a single source of the truth.

In the next blog we will discuss what we see as a set of impacts to the business processes that business and IT executives will have to address.

Summary

The coronavirus crisis is creating a major permanent change in our world – and business managers must transform our working environment. Businesses no longer have as much time to evaluate new technologies as we once would have before adopting them, even as recently as a few months ago, when the year 2020 began.

Business owners will be pushed by outside events, and inside decision-making, to adopt-and-go as they support their organizations with a range of technical solutions. Adopt-and-go is a proven approach to crisis management, when planning cycles are short – and consequences of bad decisions are long. Business owners and IT executives should partner to create the new business models and supporting IT operations so that they can drive speed to market — and eliminate internal roadblocks.

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