Crisis events are occurring with increasing frequency across the globe. Fires, floods, droughts, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis and of course pandemics. We need to be better prepared to respond to and recover from the resulting societal, health, environmental, economic and political turmoil produced by these crises.
In dealing with events that create such levels of uncertainty and impact, both public and private sector organisations are confronted by immediate, high-stake situations. Successful crisis management relies on trusted communications, agile and adaptive decision-making, joined-up working and smart resource utilisation. During the Covid-19 pandemic, virtually all organisations were forced to digitally-enable (although not necessarily digitally transform) their operations, so they could develop new ways of connecting, supporting and working with staff, customers, stakeholders and supply chains.
The scale and impact of this pandemic has sharply focused organisations on the need to use digital technology and data as key enablers to operational agility, adaptability and resilience.
The pandemic and resulting global crisis demonstrated to Main Boards that their organisations were not as adaptive and resilient as they needed to be, forcing them to accelerate their pre-pandemic Digital Transformation plans by a factor of between 6 and 10 (Forbes, November 2020). Organisations that succeed in digitally transforming, emerge with lasting benefits that make them more resilient, agile, adaptive and high performing. Digital Transformation makes organisations ‘smarter’ and more efficient during normal operations, better prepared to respond and manage crises, and more effective in benefiting from post-crisis insights and learnings.
Preparedness and Resilience in a Crisis
How do organisations better prepare for crisis events; build greater trust and confidence in their capabilities and decision-making; improve operational agility, adaptability, and responsiveness during times of great instability and uncertainty?Digital infrastructure powers ‘smart’ operations and enables them to be better prepared and resilient in times of crisis. Digital infrastructure is comprised of integrated and interoperable data, technology and cyber-security platforms. Digital data and analytics tools support crisis preparedness and operational resilience by improving situational awareness, scenario modelling, agile decision-making, continual learning and improvement.
Secure digital infrastructure enables systems interoperability and drives multi-stakeholder collaboration, facilitating the most effective use of available information and resources; joined-up communications; and optimised response planning, resource sharing and coordination efforts.
By way of an example that we will all recognise, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced entire workforces across the globe to work from home, where previously they were largely office based. This has resulted in unprecedented disruption and pressure on public services and private sector businesses. The pandemic highlighted how vulnerable organisations, society and people are. This is especially true when we cannot remain connected and continue to work or receive the services and support that we need during periods of crisis and significant disruption. Communicating, supporting, and collaborating with staff, customers, and supply chains to continue to deliver what is needed, proved extraordinarily challenging for many organisations. Large, stable, predictable operating models and a co-located workforce proved to be ineffective in a crisis, when what we needed was to be agile, adaptive, resilient organisations with people that could teamwork remotely from different locations.Smarter Working
When we speak of ‘smart’ organisations that are better prepared to manage crises and disruption, we are speaking of operations underpinned by interoperable digital technology and data platforms. These enable all parts of the operation to collaborate through better communications, responsive decision-making, efficient joined-up actions, performance monitoring, learning and continual improvements.
Embedding more advanced technological innovation into digital platforms delivers even ‘smarter’ operations. For example, IoT devices, geo-referencing and location intelligence, drone and earth observation data, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Chatbots and blockchain enable greater automation, operational cost savings and performance gains.
It is increasingly acknowledged that Main Boards need to be actively involved in shaping their organisations’ Digital Transformation strategy and outcomes. Digitalisation that transforms a business will frequently impact on most aspects of the operation, including how it works with staff, customers, stakeholders and supply chains.
Digital Transformation programmes require decisions that appear ‘technical’ in nature, such as data, technology, and cyber security requirements. This is where Main Boards need to lean in and learn!
A Digital Transformation blueprint that delivers ‘smart’, resilient operations, requires the Main Board to probe and understand how key areas of the business will be re-imagined and re-designed: including customer care; delivery channels; product and service development; business continuity and resilience; supply chain management; leadership development; capability development and workforce training; and culture change.
In the past, Main Boards often took the view “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’. This created entrenched legacy systems and operational silos which are formidable barriers to modernising operations and making them more joined-up, ‘smart’ and resilient. Many legacy systems are based on technologies which are desktop-centric, challenging to extract data from, increasingly difficult to upgrade, vulnerable to cyber-attacks, and disproportionately costly to maintain.
To create ‘smart’, resilient digital operations, Main Boards need to accept the need to migrate away from legacy systems; break down operational silos; commit to transformational business change; learn to adopt innovative technology and data solutions they may previously have considered ‘high risk’; and be as willing to invest in people (leadership, capability, and skills development) as in technology solutions.
Continual Learning and Development
The Covid-19 crisis has humanised organisations, helping leaders understand that organisations are enabled by their people and skills, as much as they are managed through business systems and processes. The organisation is at its core a collective of colleagues, customers and partners; each with valuable skills and a diversity of experiences, insights and capabilities.
When these skills, experiences and insights can be captured and analysed as digital knowledge, they are incredibly powerful. Institutional knowledge supports learning and capability development at whole-of-enterprise scale; improves decision-making and operational outcomes; and drives greater business performance through continual improvement.
Traditionally, it has been challenging, time consuming and costly for organisations to maintain and analyse institutional knowledge, as it frequently relied on capture, recovery and renewal processes managed across multiple (often legacy and siloed) data sources. Today, digital technology easily captures data in real-time. Data unification platforms rapidly search and analyse huge volumes and diversity of data sets from historical, emergent and real-time, as well as predictive sources. It has never been easier to build, maintain and leverage digital knowledge.
‘Smart’ operations harness digital knowledge to make faster, more accurate and better-informed decisions, strengthening and increasing business performance, personalising the customer experience, and improving front-line services. In times of crisis, quickly harnessing the power of digital knowledge improves operational preparedness, responsiveness, and resilience in challenging and highly pressured situations.Communications
The importance of timely, regular, clear, and supportive communications has been cited by many CEOs as central to successful crisis management (Harvard Business Review, July 2020).
During the early stages of a crisis, information is often unavailable, incomplete or inconsistent. The impact, disruption and lack of certainty experienced during a crisis can create high levels of anxiety, confusion and distrust. In a crisis, more than ever, people need reassurance, transparency, guidance and support to trust and have confidence in leaders and organisations.
Clear, timely communications, credible data and ‘smart’ digital operations instil greater trust in an organisation’s capabilities and demonstrate that it is well prepared, responsive, and resilient when managing a crisis.
Another dimension to communicating and engaging with people during times of crisis, is that in-person interactions may not be possible. A digital experience platform enables people and communities to stay connected, helping them to receive the support and services they need. A digital experience platform enables people to reach others through social media support groups; collaborate face-to-face via virtual meetings; find services through on-line channels; and facilitate community-wide conversations and consultations that improve decision-making for local people.
During times of crisis and disruption, it is especially important to find and communicate with vulnerable people and communities and respond quickly to high priority situations. Advanced digital technology and analytics - such as IoT devices, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and Chatbots - when integrated into digital operations, provide real-time situational awareness, insights and reporting dashboards that help identify and better serve the needs of the most vulnerable people and communities.