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COVID-19 has brought business continuity under scrutiny, with the opportunity to enhance resilience into the future. Padma Naidoo looks at what worked and how this will influence business continuity in the future…

The COVID-19 crisis has certainly put the spotlight on business continuity. While lockdowns and other imposed restrictions forced certain sectors to cease operating, a number of organizations continued to service customers and deliver products, with varying levels of success. For the latter, one may ask - did having a business continuity plan actually assist during this crisis?

The simple answer is ‘yes’. Although the plans may not have considered a pandemic of this magnitude, organizations with a well-established business continuity capability have largely applauded it for enabling a swifter activation of remote work and other contingencies required to continue operating. 

What worked?

Here are some of the business continuity planning aspects that assisted:

Business priorities – having a business-analysed view of the critical functions that needed to be resumed versus those that could stand for longer. With less than a week between the announcement and activation of lockdown in South Africa, this helped direct the effective use of available resources and efforts.

 Resource requirements – organizations that completed a business impact analysis had a clear understanding of existing capabilities and additional requirements, such as:

  • The number of staff required to meet minimum acceptable levels of service and product delivery;
  • Employees equipped to work remotely versus those that would require laptops / 3G cards; 
  • The IT / network limitations regarding remote work numbers; 
  • Functions that could not take place remotely and why; etc.

Having this information readily available, assisted organizations mobilise additional resources required quickly, at a time when companies were competing for available stock.

Response structures – having a clear and tested framework for incident management and decision-making. Even though a pandemic of this scale may not have been catered for, the entrenched principles of incident management were certainly useful

Established teams – having established teams at different levels within an organization, with trained and rehearsed individuals to implement the response 

Implemented continuity strategies – although identified contingencies may not have worked as intended, they did offer some advantages, for example:

  • Work area recovery facilities were used to achieve social distancing and split an organization’s risk;
  • Critical staff were already equipped for remote work;
  • Identified manual workarounds were utilised while additional staff were being equipped for remote work;
  • In some instances, supply chain diversification assisted with supply delays.

Looking to the future

While existing business continuity frameworks did offer benefit, it is evident that they can be improved based on the lessons learnt over the past few months. COVID-19 marks a turning point for business, social and other spheres. The extent to which change occurs remains to be seen, with several predictions being made by analysts and futurists. 

So, how should the face of business continuity change to meet emerging needs? A strategic focus now needs to be placed on resilience. As organizations ponder long term changes to their business and operating models, either for enhancement or as a response to macro environment developments, resilience needs to underpin their thought process, with continuity principles built into all changes. For example – if an organization is looking to increase remote work, mechanisms should be put in place to ensure that cross-skilling and succession planning takes place to avoid key skill vulnerabilities. With increased cyber security risk, it’s time to re-evaluate the approach to and measures for information security. If an organization seeks to diversify / localise its supply chain, due consideration should be given to second and third tier suppliers, as well as driving resilience through collaboration. Taking it a step further, why not use the automation of big data analytics to detect, inform and assess continuity threats and responses? The opportunities are endless.

We live in a volatile time, and the decisions made now will impact the course of organizations in the future. This is the time for business continuity and risk practitioners to step up and ensure that new world that emerges post COVID-19 is a resilient one.

The author

Padma Naidoo is General Manager: Advisory, ContinuitySA.

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Business continuity can be defined as 'the processes, procedures, decisions and activities to ensure that an organization can continue to function through an operational interruption'. Read more about the basics of business continuity here.

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