View: The litmus test that will matter will not be about a pandemic

For any organisation, the biggest differentiator vis-à-vis competition is talent. COVID-19 poses physical, financial, health and emotional risks to this essential core asset group. Though most companies have already implemented remote working, the...

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The questions that confronts us are – how do we face the economic dunkirk and continue to operate in a new and changing environment with renewed ways of working, resolve and patience?
By Sandip Patel

Humanity faces its greatest ever test as Coronavirus (COVID-19) unleashes a human and economic outbreak of unimaginable magnitude. Businesses, caught in the throes of the virus outbreak, are facing an unprecedented crisis. No living generation has seen a global economy face such counterproductive conditions that stem mainly from stalling activity in order to protect human health.

The questions that confronts us are – how do we face the economic dunkirk and continue to operate in a new and changing environment with renewed ways of working, resolve and patience? What are the ‘mindset’ requirements of this environment, one that is perhaps as daunting as the medical challenge that the pandemic poses ?


Insights from IBM’s recent COVID-19 Action Guide and our own experience and business continuity readiness helps provide a broad framework that businesses can adopt. Simply put, businesses can look at four key aspects that need attention during this crisis - employees, customers and partners, finance and operations and community. Let me delve a little into these four aspects.

Safeguard our employees - our people.
For any organisation, the biggest differentiator vis-à-vis competition is talent. COVID-19 poses physical, financial, health and emotional risks to this essential core asset group. Though most companies have already implemented remote working, there is a need for stringent measures for their overall well-being. The need of the hour is for every business to put a task force in place - a cross-functional leadership team to quickly assess and address the emerging challenges to employees. While employees work from home, they cannot work in isolation – there must be a regular cadence of outreach via sharing of business continuity plans, new data/policy shifts and business updates. The communication has to be dynamic - so there should be an employee feedback mechanism to evaluate and bolster the effectiveness of business continuity and to improve future contingency planning. More importantly, organisations should also be equipped with a system for emergency communications (texts, emails, IM messages, IVR).

Enhance our customers and partners trust
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Companies build relationships with their customers and partners on the foundation of trust. With COVID-19, unmet business commitments may diminish that trust while social distancing could come in the way of building stronger relationships. Organisations must reset their ‘business as usual’ communication models to avoid tone-deaf messaging to their customers and partners. They must provide clear information on the cleanliness of facilities and products, together with any changes to standard business practices. The outreach to this target audience must include a communication from the CEO and senior leadership team. There must be a multi-channel system for accessing and resolving questions, including consistent social media listening and appropriate response mechanism. Immediate feedback on the organisation’s communication, products and services will provide opportunities to improve and match expectations. Once the communication mechanism is in place, companies must assess the relative financial health and strength of both customers and partners for liquidity and resulting credit risks. From an technology standpoint, enterprises will also need to support to constantly test and fine-tune technology infrastructure, remote access capabilities, with focus on security, ease of use, and business continuity while planning for workforce management and the protection of important IT systems.

Finance and operations management
An organization’s operations are rife with interdependencies. Companies must become agile in the truest sense. They need to develop resilience, nurture optimism in the face of challenges, and always maintain a steely-eyed view of the ground realities, so they can balance opportunities and risks. This particularly applies to supply chains, production lines and distribution channels considering their dependence on each other and the larger economy.

To support business and internal operations like communications, employee and customer engagement, organisations should adopt a crisis-management control tower that brings together key leaders to ensure a single point of response and companywide messaging. They should also consider digital platforms that are optimised for an increase in volume with dependable order management and multi-touchpoint fulfilment while employing data to identify hyper-local demand patterns, to match resources and needs. There must be an ongoing system for constant assessment of inventories, supply chains and upstream ecosystem. This system should combine with an early-warning mechanism that expands to the second and third levels of both supply and demand. They must review their staffing models, identify the variable workforces that can be crowdsourced and opportunities to add new digital capabilities and automation tools.

A clear assessment of profit and loss and balance sheet ramifications along with short and mid-term plans to address any exposure is crucial. Most of all, it is important that businesses virtualise their operations with digital technologies as much as possible.
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Community Support
In difficult times, no organisation should be distant from its community. Local constituencies, investors, Governments and media are the biggest stakeholders. There is a need for robust communication followed by a collaboration with these stakeholders. There should be immediate and transparent sharing of any information that could assist in containing or understanding the disease and its trajectory and finding ways to battle it. Individuals and organisations must step in to help our community as we navigate the repercussions of the pandemic

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To conclude, there is no mistaking or downplaying the significance, the centrality, the existential and defining nature of this time. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc on social fabrics and economic activity, which, in turn, has a dire human cost. Hence, tied to the four key parts highlighted above, the key aspect to be built into the equation is flexibility and adaptability. And as organisations and individuals adapt to new realities, the litmus test that will matter will not be about a pandemic. It will be about how we handled ourselves during the crisis to permanently adapt and emerge stronger.

(The writer is Managing Director, IBM India, South Asia)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)
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