Friday, 26th February 2021

Beyond business continuity; why operational resilience is dependent on agile transformation

By Gary Harrold, Chief Executive Officer at Swiss Post Solutions UK & Ireland.

  • 08 Nov 2020 Posted in

If you can remember as far back as 2019 (and it feels a stretch given just how much has happened in the last six months) you'd be forgiven for looking back with rose tinted glasses. We felt we were on a steady path of innovation. Businesses across the spectrum were exploring the exciting opportunities offered by digital transformation - the headline threat to that optimism being legacy system complexity and the underground machinations of cyber criminals, intent on digital disruption. Then came 2020, with the recent global crisis laying bare the extent to which operational resilience including access to systems and data from truly remote, unplanned locations had never been considered.

In fact, according to our joint research with NelsonHall, following the fallout of this crisis 96% of banking, insurance, and healthcare executives reported they had suffered from a lack of business continuity planning, with just 16% believing their operations to be highly resilient to another crisis. Contrast this to the 80% who said that they were broadly confident in the resilience of their cybersecurity efforts and the level of operational risk is stark.

One of the key issues underpinning low operational resilience has been that, despite our global economy, localised thinking still reigns. Business continuity plans are often city and centre focused rather than enterprise-wise. This doesn’t help when a crisis can’t be contained to one geography. We’re not just talking about outbreaks of disease - consider the wide-ranging impacts of climate change, not to mention the borderless and ever-present risk of cyberattack.

Where is operational resilience lacking?

Some of the challenges thrown up by the current crisis have been obvious; increases in remote working, health and safety of staff, issues with physical spaces. Others have grabbed fewer headlines but have been as impactful; a surge in demand for customer communication, shifting regulatory changes, maintaining workforce efficiency.

As we know, the ability to quickly transition to home working has been make or break in the last months. In the face of increased communications needs, what has been particularly worrying is the problems organisations have faced moving knowledge, data and associated operations between sites and personnel. When workers need to be quickly deployed to other sites not considered in any previous plan, or to work from home there needs to be an agile operational infrastructure to support it.

Over 70% of organisations reported to us that their ability to make this transition was severely hampered by a lack of remote access to data and documents. With workers unable to access the documents they needed, just 10% of executives were confident they had met SLAs, with the worst affected areas being customer communications, order fulfillment and sales support - it’s not hard to imagine the fall out of these dropped and cancelled services.

Resilience in an environment that requires homeworking or more flexible offices is built upon the ability to access and process documents securely and in compliance with regulatory requirements. Digitising document workflows services - both paper based and electronic - is no longer just a stop on the way to digital transformation, it is a foundation of operational resilience.

What steps should be taken to bolster operational resilience?

‘Extraordinary times’ has become the mantra within many recent discussions. However, in the world of business continuity, commentators have made the point that this is far from a ‘black swan’ - an unpredictable event with extreme consequences. SARs and H1N1 were recent signs that we would likely suffer a global outbreak sooner rather than later. However, now is not the time to wallow in mistakes but take stock and make decisions that will underpin operational resilience in readiness for the next crisis.

1) Take stock - inside and out

It goes without saying that organisations need a robust business continuity plan in place, but what many fail to do is ensure that these are end-to-end, encompassing suppliers and outsourced services.

Under 40% of organisations were satisfied with their outsourcing partners during this crisis. Now’s the time to rethink your partners and how you work with them. That might mean amending contractual terms or finding new partners. Whatever path you take you must ensure that partners are able and willing to support and deliver your continuity plans in the face of crisis.

2) Embrace location-independent services

We know that flexibility in relation to home working or different service locations is vital. Many organisations have already taken steps to rid themselves of large, central offices but this has obvious implications for secure and compliant access and processing of documents. Digitising documents in a secure, compliant manner enables agile movement of processes between service centers and home environments.

In light of this, document processing of electronic and physical documents is seen as vital to establishing operational resilience; 92% of organisations are looking to increase automation while 80% are looking to digitise mailrooms, with over 70% seeking to digitalise document processes.

As John Willmot, CEO of NelsonHall says, “The recent crisis has extensively exposed the limitations of existing center-focused business continuity planning. To increase their future operational resilience, enterprises now need their BCP [business continuity] plans to be location-independent and to support widespread work-from-home. This necessitates increasing the digitalisation of document processing and distribution and enhancing the ability to move agent knowledge between sites and personnel.”

3) Seek high-impact automation

IDC’s President, Crawford Del Prete recently described the process businesses will take to recover from this current crisis. He believes that having dealt with the initial shock of lockdown, we are soon to enter the stage of focus on business resilience, where organisations must look to digital transformation initiatives to recover and ready themselves for a coming recession. The investments made during this time will see them ready to enter a post-recession growth phase. Successful organisations that reach that growth phase will have used this current time to extend digital transformation initiatives focused on agility.

Operational resilience is becoming increasingly synonymous with digital transformation. For example, manual processing of physical documents clearly has a very low level of operational resilience whereas automated and electronic document processing enjoys higher levels of operational resilience. Increasing automation has a direct impact on the resilience of key service areas such as customer care; 92% of organisations plan to increase automation of processes following this crisis.

As Del Prete argues, the time is right for previously cautious, highly regulated industries to embrace such transformation. For example, insurers in the UK have responded to the current crisis by rapidly accelerated automation initiatives such as the use of digital mailrooms and automation to digitise document processing. This is a step that the crisis has made a necessity, but that will have transformational impact for the future.

From continuity to resilience

The British Standards Institution states that resilience is “…a strategic objective intended to help an organisation survive and prosper …the ability to anticipate, prepare, respond and adapt to minor everyday events to acute shocks and chronic or incremental change”. Becoming resilient is not the ability to action location-specific, tactical responses to seemingly ‘random’ shocks but about enterprise-wide planning for any ‘black swan’ event that might descend.

The next year will undoubtedly prove to be an uphill battle to counter the effects of the current crisis. However, this has also afforded the opportunity for organisations to focus on building operational resilience that will not only see them through future crisis’ but will ensure a foundation for first-rate digital transformation that will ultimately deliver growth.

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