The COVID-19 lessons businesses must learn

  • 14 Apr 2020
  • Michael

Although the crisis is still unfolding, it’s already clear that building resilience into your organisational DNA is more important than ever. 

“COVID-19 has forced the world into a new reality. We have to self-isolate yet remain connected to our work and clients. COVID-19 has also graphically demonstrated how connected we are, and how that connectedness is a source of great vulnerability,” argues Michael Davies, CEO of ContinuitySA, part of the Dimension Data group.

 “To survive, our organisations (and governments) have to become truly agile, able to adjust or even change their business models with extreme rapidity. It has become apparent that digitalisation is critical in helping organisations to adapt at the necessary speed, and so is a primary driver of resilience in this new era.”

It’s early days yet, but he believes that there are clear lessons businesses should be taking note of already:

Act swiftly, but have a plan that informs your decision-making. Countries like Mongolia and Taiwan responded quickly to the COVID-19 outbreak, doubtless because they have seen this movie before. They mandated the wearing of masks early on, and rigorous testing and contact tracing commenced rapidly. The point here is that they already had a plan for such an emergency which could be quickly adapted as needed. Companies should take the opportunity to look at their business continuity and crisis plans carefully, and build awareness across the organisation.

Plan for the unexpected. It’s worth emphasising that planning should not be too focused on specific risks. Your plan must also be able to be adapted to cope with the unexpected. Nobody foresaw the extent of COVID-19 and the rapidity with which the global response escalated—but those who had a flexible plan have proved to be more resilient than others.

Put a crisis communications team in place and drill them regularly. At times of crisis, communication with all stakeholders—employees, business partners, regulators, customers, to name a few—is absolutely critical. Yet it’s seldom done well. In the age of social media, it is all too easy for messages to get muddled and to spread confusion. Clear roles and processes to follow need to be thrashed out now, and the key spokespeople thoroughly trained.

Keep up with testing and simulation. If you don’t know it will work, it probably won’t. A crisis is an incredibly stressful time, and the last thing you need is a response that has to be changed in mid-crisis. Regular real-life tests and simulations are the only way to ensure your company is battle-ready—and that your troops aren’t betrayed by their nerves.

Look carefully at your supply chain. Long, complex supply chains are a reality and this greatly increases your vulnerability. Disasters that impact any part of the chain impact every link, and the interdependencies need to be thoroughly understood and planned for.

Work with experts. Business continuity planning and implementation are really jobs for a specialist, so work with one. In addition, having a work-area recovery facility is also critical. It’s not only disasters that can make it necessary—many clients are using their work-area recovery contracts to provide extra office space to comply with social distancing requirements.

Get digitalised. The current crisis has shown just how big a role digitalisation and everything it implies plays in enabling agility and quick response to the unexpected. Digitalisation is more than just technology; it has to encompass a new process framework that enables rapid response to changing situations, be they disasters or opportunities. Putting a genuine digital strategy in place is now an imperative.

“Overall, the key message for companies should be the need to build resilience into their DNA. The ability to react quickly and decisively to change, and to be able to recover quickly from a disaster, is central to long-term sustainability,” Mr Davies concludes. “Spurring that on could just be the unexpected COVID-19 dividend.”

More on
About the author

Michael Davies

Chief Executive Officer, Dimension Data

Michael is passionate about providing effective risk, resilience and recovery solutions for organisations and has been involved in the Resilience & Business Continuity Industry for 20 years after having spent several years in the IT Industry. Michael has assisted clients across various industries not only during disruptions caused by extreme weather conditions, political protest, social unrest and cyber ransomware and breaches, but also has been integral to bolstering their resilience capabilities. Furthermore, Michael has had the privilege to speak about Resilience and Business Continuity Management (BCM) at various conferences in Africa and been the author of many articles on leading edge concepts in risk, resilience and recovery.

Michael was CEO of ContinuitySA, the leading BCM service provider in Africa, and left the company in March 2021, having spent 18 years with the company. Whilst at the helm of the company it won numerous prestigious awards including being inducted into the Global Business Continuity Institute Hall of Fame. This was after winning the Continuity and Resilience Provider award for Africa for 3 consecutive years. Michael’s current focus is to help organisations integrate strategy, risk and resilience for them to remain effective and sustainable in times of great uncertainty and accelerating change.