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PA OPINION

COVID-19 will change business as usual forever

The COVID-19 pandemic has organisations struggling to adapt, plan and deliver as it spreads rapidly around the world.

Leaders are in the throes of crisis management, trying to stabilise their operations, protect their workforce and communicate with customers. But the phrase ‘crisis management’ implies a return to normal within weeks. The reality is, businesses need to plan for a different future that accounts for impact from the virus and resulting business and societal change over many months.

In the coming months, we’ll see mandates, expediency and fear drive widespread consumer and business behavioural change. Consumer spending will shrink, disproportionately impacting some industries. People will focus on utilitarian spending and comfort (groceries, sanitation supplies and digital entertainment) rather than luxury purchases (travel, premium goods and new cars). Travel, tourism, arts and entertainment, sports, restaurants, bricks-and-mortar retail, real estate and automotive, among others, will all struggle. Organisations that have adopted digital, automation and AI will better weather the coming economic issues and faster adapt to the new normal.

Evolving beyond crisis management to driving transformation

We see four key themes that the C-suite must embrace as quickly as possible to build resilience and agility, and come out of the COVID-19 crisis stronger:

Fast-track IT virtualisation to improve support for remote working

Before COVID-19, many organisations had already adopted remote working policies and virtualised their IT infrastructure, driven by the desire to support mobile workforces and secure data and systems. These investments are now enabling the largest work at home experiment the world has ever seen.

Yet as the pandemic worsened, some organisations still had a culture of presenteeism (in offices or online), even if the work didn’t require it. This has had to change, and smart organisations will build on the lessons we are learning today, for the long-term. Doing so will naturally improve resilience, flexibility and employee engagement.

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Accelerate the adoption of automation and AI

Organisations that are already embracing automation can accelerate those initiatives to mitigate the risks associated with people-intensive parts of the value chain they can’t virtualise, such as manufacturing. For other organisations, they must review key processes, fix legacy practices and prioritise the introduction of automation.

Rentokil, a global pest control and hygiene company, sought to automate its business. We worked with them to quickly developed PestConnect, an IoT- and Google Cloud-based service that monitors traps 24/7. It also includes analytics and real-time alerts so staff can prioritise actions and be present only when and where they need to be. Integrated smartly, automation and AI replaces tasks, not jobs, improving productivity and making work more fulfilling.

Improve operational and supply chain agility

Companies have adopted agile working to drive digital transformation and speed-up decision-making. They are now finding this decentralisation is delivering additional benefits through improved resilience, as organisations respond to rapid changes and workforce flex.

Failure to build agility into supply chains is becoming especially significant. For example, some businesses may depend too much on one geography or supplier to access technical expertise, government and business investment, cost efficiencies and scale. That dependency brings significant risks when pandemics like COVID-19 force whole regions to shut down.

To mitigate this, organisations can:

  • accelerate digitising the supply chain to improve transparency, process speed and predictive capabilities
  • distribute supply operations across geographies and create rapid switchover capabilities
  • introduce redundancy into their supplier base to reduce the dependency on individual links in the chain.

Create a Transformation Management Office

Many organisations have already set up a COVID-19 cross-functional office to direct crisis management, and the benefits of the silo-busting nature of the work are becoming evident.

Leaders should plan to transition this into a Transformation Management Office (TMO) to lead and manage longer-term operational change that builds on the lessons of the COVID-19 crisis.

A TMO brings a rigorous focus on value delivery, coordinates activity across the organisation, provides an innovation hub to drive the adoption of best practices and promotes organisational agility. All helping to sustain long-term success. They can drive accelerated programmes across virtualisation, automation and agility to create more agile digital businesses that respond ever better to both challenges and opportunities.

Change will be difficult and will require investment, but it will pay dividends by enabling digital processes, changing the cost structure of operations and strengthening business continuity and resilience.

The C-suite needs to move beyond crisis management to drive a more transformative response. COVID-19 will change business as usual forever. We recommend you start planning for the new normal now.

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