At Arben we help our customers to enhance their businesses by making the most of their business systems. To help you through these times as well, ITPNZ recently held a webinar to discuss ideas and present solutions. As one of the panel members, I have summarised some of the thinking and present it here to you. This article is aimed at medium-sized business, but the points can apply anywhere.
Be the Strategic Voice in the Tactical Mayhem
How will our businesses survive in lock down? Our businesses provide for our families, our staff, our communities and society in the goods and services we deliver. For most of us, whether operating remotely or face-to-face, Information Technology has suddenly become the main way we talk with our customers and do business. It may be that you take orders online, manage stock online, or conduct workshops online, to name a few.
Arben always recommends that customers look before taking the leap with new technology. Moving suddenly to a 100% remote workforce has meant many businesses have felt forced to make the leap to one of the many ways of working as a group online – let’s name Dropbox, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Trello as starters. Most of the pressure has been internal as staff sign up to free online services and suggest their colleagues do so too. Many organisations will consolidate, settling on one that strikes a balance between the functionality needed, budget and risk appetite of their business.
Purpose, People and Processes
It is tempting to see IT as a panacea to remote working and online business during the lockdown. IT systems are an essential component, but remember your purpose, people and processes – that is where your innovation and long-term survival will come from. IT enables this. Now is not the time to abdicate the responsibilities of running your business to a technology platform, it never was.
In the webinar, we talked about the measures you can take to keep your business afloat from an IT perspective, and how to keep the business functioning with staff working from remote locations.
Listen to the lessons your staff are learning daily about what works for them and your customers. Track this stuff, it’s a great opportunity to see what works and what does not, what can improve your business in the long term, and what will allow you to repeat the good stuff. Your business may well need to operate in a constrained environment again, and it could be sooner than you think.
The Plan is Dead, Long Live the Plan
You enacted your Business Continuity Plan and are still in business. Staff are working, your managers are managing.
Now, it’s time to start formulating your new Business Strategy. Think of your daily tactics for the moment as doing the minimum to make an old house liveable and your strategic goals as the final renovated result. What will New Zealand look like this week? In one month? In two months? In three? Getting your crystal ball out, what will your industry look like this time next year? What pivotal events occur? In government? Industry specific? How do you position your purpose, people and processes to keep afloat and even thrive?
Are You Viable?
Robust business management stays true in the good times and the bad, if your business was a bit wobbly before the lock down then this may be the time to sell up. Alternatively, this may be the time to get out there and get to know your customers and potential customers.
If your business is thriving then keep going, our economy needs you.
How Do You Stay Viable?
Stay visible and keep your customers happy. Scale down if you need to, but don’t hunker in a bunker. Most businesses that thrive will scale “differently”, not down. Make time to assess the situation and plan a bit further every day.
IT is an enabler it this situation, you can keep in touch with your staff and customers. You can change your offering to go online. More and more businesses are allowed to operate by courier now. Use IT to actively grow and analyse your business. Any other IT investment at this point is probably wasted.
Some tips to help you and your business during the lockdown:
Allow your customers a grief period and be there for them.
What is your customer experiencing? Do your staff understand the adjustments your customer has made? How does this affect your processes? Update you customer experience model and use it to make sure you are being supportive.
With the model updated what products and services do you need to focus on, or introduce, to meet your customer’s needs? Use these insights to prioritise changes to your production and delivery systems.
Think about how you are being more online and digital. Could this be an opportunity for you? Could you meet or anticipate a market gap by adjusting an existing service or introducing a new one?
Keep your Brand strong. Keep communicating with your customers. Even if your business is completely closed physically do something online like a virtual tour of your workplace on your website. Your Brand needs to remain strong if your business is going to bounce back after the lockdown.
Identify what your business will deliver to customers going forward. This may be iterative, or you may pause while you metamorphosise.
Optimise your use of people and processes before investing in IT change.
If you have Cloud systems, this is where they come into their own. A true Cloud system is scalable. Only doing 300 transactions a month now? No problem. Staff scattered all over town now? No problem. Can’t visit your head office anymore? No problem. Your costs reduce too. Need to scale up again in July? No problem. Negotiate with your SaaS (Software as a Service) providers to make sure you get the same flexibility from them too. A lot of SaaS providers are being really helpful and flexible with their usage and charging models, as well as adding in paid functionality for free.
Think about what information needs to flow where in your business to enable your critical and customer-based process. How can you make them work online? If so what are the roadblocks that you need to overcome? Quite often system integration is a bottleneck. Processes that feed from one system to another manually, or multiple sources of the truth are best streamlined before electing to move more of your business online. Think laterally about the systems you can virtually knit together, use process online automation if applicable like OpMS Flow, Automate.IO, Zappier, etc.
Now is also the time to simplify. Some simple process steps on Google Sheets is sometimes all it takes. The message here is, don’t over engineer and don’t embed bad process online.
This is not the time to be a Wallflower.
Keep your brand going. If you can’t actually operate, maintain your brand value so you have something to capitalise on when you can start to operate.
Make the most of free as well as paid services. Find an excuse for a press release. This is where the in-house marketing person comes into their own. Use digital channels, social media, posts and vlogs, etc. to keep visible.
Be upfront with your customers without becoming spam as they are busy solving their own problems. Offer solutions. Prove you know them. Only tell them about how you’re operating now once you’ve established that.
A big no-no for me is grief selling. Don’t be tempted to bring out a COVID-19 product or service unless it really is of value. Tenuously linking a pandemic to your product looks insensitive and manipulative no matter how genuine you might feel about it.
Grow your internal brand. Look after your staff as best you can. Your staff are your brands best advocates. Make things easy, don’t complicate their life. Keep your systems simple and the ones that support core functions and only add complexity as and when it’s really needed.
You have probably started to adapt and settle in to this new normal. This is the time to think strategically, what now and what after lockdown? How will my business re-integrate to Business as Usual and what is Business as Usual as lockdown starts to lift? Recognising that Business as Usual will morph overtime, the lockdown is not an on off switch.
Identify risks to your business and plan a response to each one, even if it is a “do nothing” response. Choose to be informed. How do your risks impact the decisions you are making at the moment?
Prioritise what adaptations you implement for your business based on risk, especially risks to customer delivery and brand damage. Temporary adaptations and solutions are fine as long as they don’t hinder operations after lockdown.
Consider merging any adaptations and temporary solutions back into the business once you return to the new business as usual. Could there be improvements that are worth keeping or integrating into a hybrid operating model. Look for the opportunity to be better.
You will need time to transition back to business as usual just as you needed time to work remotely, and business as usual will look different. Also try and build in system repeatability, you might have to do this again.
When it comes to cyber-attacks, COVID specific scams are on the rise with special COVID deals, infected COVID maps, phishing sites proposing to give you the latest health details if you sign up, and the list goes on. Healthy pessimism is a good attitude when is comes to cyber risk.
Minimise technical risk from remote working by keeping staff informed. Ask them to keep up good cyber practices e.g. not to click on links from unknown sources. Remain vigilant, your people are now operating from home networks and home devices which have more vulnerabilities. Compensate by:
Use whitelists on your firewall
Provide anti-virus software
If you have a VPN make people use it, and configure it properly
Wherever possible use multi factor authentication
Ensure computer patching is up to date
Backing up remote data (business data in the home)
Keep communication from the top concise and consistent. Keep regular meetings, daily routines and business updates. Check in with the team but keep it light, one contact per day for most should do it. Ensure they are certain who they report to.
Be realistic about working hours. Your or your staff’s productivity could be up or down given you home situation. Do you want them sitting at their desk when there is genuinely no work to do? What if a pet or their children need attention? If there is no work for the day then that’s fine, don’t make stuff up to fill the hours.
Being in IT, it is easy for me to forget that not everyone understands, wants to understand or needs to understand IT. With this in mind, make sure staff have good user guidance. A topical example is video conferencing. How many people know not to have a bright light behind them as it darkens their image out? May sound silly but I have personally mentioned it to 5 different people on videos calls in the last week, so don’t assume.
Start with familiar tools and processes that can they be adapted quickly or implemented easily.
Today is probably not the time to invest in new shiny IT toys without at least a business case on the back of a napkin. Consider current and potential revenue and debt loading. Would the new shiny IT toy deliver long term value?
As I mentioned earlier, it can be tempting for IT to over engineer new solutions. Go for just enough. Just enough security. Just enough monitoring. Just enough data. Is it intuitive? Does it integrate? Is it safe? What about people sharing a laptop with a teenager who is going back to school after Easter?
During the webinar there were some questions about national network capacity. The national network is holding up well so far. The real issue is others in your staff’s home and street competing for bandwidth. Zoom calls will drop if their teenager is gaming and your internet connection or even WiFi is swamped. There is also local competition for network bandwidth with neighbours in the street during worktime, and of course Netflix time!
Last up, consider your situation, your business and your staff in the decisions you make. Determine your own future as we are all different and refer to authoritative sources like CERT and NetSafe.