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Business continuity plans are under a particularly bright spotlight during the current pandemic, as companies around the world cope with the crisis. Every organization should have a plan in place to ensure operations and core business functions are not severely impacted by a disaster or unplanned incident that takes critical systems offline. Yet only 12 percent of organizations are highly prepared for the impact of coronavirus, according to Gartner’s recent business continuity survey.
Clearly, few companies anticipated the unprecedented ramifications of COVID-19 — especially the need to support a remote workforce both in the near-term with social distancing and in the long-term with the advent of a “new normal.” Moving forward, surely, organizations will update their business continuity plans to consider remote work, but how can they prepare for the further unknown? Business continuity encompasses a wide variety of challenges and probabilities; it seems impossible to cover everything. While IT plays just one role in this landscape, it is an important one. Organizations need an IT infrastructure that is reliable, agile, and flexible, so they are equipped to handle whatever lies ahead.
IT leaders’ main concern is keeping the lights on throughout change. In the case of the current crisis, they must enable a remote workforce and keep IT systems and infrastructure in place amidst varied employee scheduling. To address this need, organizations must rethink business continuity. Historically, business continuity had been confused with (or equated to) disaster recovery. It focused on recovering from sudden challenges and restoring business to “normal” as soon as possible.
In today’s world, organizations need to be responsive to continuous, ongoing change. In the COVID-19 climate, especially, it’s difficult to know or anticipate what will happen next quarter, next month, or even next week. Most organizations did not factor such widespread and prolonged remote work and related disruptions into their continuity plan. Returning to normal as quickly as possible sounds great, but that normal is now constantly changing. Instead, companies must adapt and become responsive to constant change, including enabling remote work and variable scheduling, to the best of their abilities.
What does this mean for IT? The case for digital transformation just became clearer. Being responsive requires embracing digital for how companies manage and trust their information, enable their workforce, automate where possible, and improve their productivity. First, it starts with how firms manage information. Constant change and disruption put greater pressure to ensure all stakeholders work with and make decisions using trusted, governed information.
Next, companies must help employees to maintain and improve productivity in the face of constant change. Teams that relied on in-person interactions to coordinate and collaborate must be equipped with tools to compensate for not being able to pop out of their cubicle with a question. Accomplishing this requires more than managing data or automating systems, though. Successful business continuity means truly extending the office and the organization’s value streams virtually and remotely, which requires looking at the organization — its people, processes, information, and technology — holistically.
Achieving business continuity is much harder for organizations that have not embraced digital transformation. Unfortunately, many organizations waited to embrace digital transformation because they limited their view to simply improving customer experiences and engagement instead of envisioning how the transformation could help them become more responsive. They certainly did not realize that digital transformation directly relates to their business continuity plan.
Digital transformation allows organizations to prepare for the unknown. When a challenge or crisis arises, organizations don’t want an outdated IT infrastructure to be their biggest barrier. By modernizing or replacing systems, removing inefficiencies and vulnerabilities, and digitizing information for better access, IT can improve business continuity support. Organizations that embraced digital transformation more holistically have additional capability around automation, artificial intelligence, process management and orchestration, and information management. As a result, they are better positioned to equip stakeholders to respond to dramatic change.
Business continuity highlights something about digital transformation that forward-thinking IT leaders have long known: It’s not about glorified digital capabilities that impress customers but about laying a foundation for the digital future — one that equally benefits employees and internal stakeholders. As the world navigates a new way of life and work, organizations must consider what continuity looks like today and tomorrow and whether IT is the hero or the hindrance.