3 Lessons On Business Continuity From COVID-19 Pandemic

The suddenness of the pandemic caught us all unaware. The speed of escalation of mitigation measures pushed businesses, governments and individuals into chaos in trying to adapt and survive. We can learn three lessons from this epic event with respect to business continuity.

The early signs were there. In 2018, a snowstorm paralyzed he city of Ottawa. Workers were asked to work from home so that snow crews could clear the streets. On that day, some federal departments’ networks did not meet the instant demand required. Staff could not log into their VPN and work. It was a shock and steps were taken to improve network access.

Afterwards, Business Continuity Plans (BCP) were updated. The basic premise of a BCP is to identify critical services and plan for ways to keep them operational when a crisis hits. Specifically, to maintain the status quo so that service levels can be maintained.

When COVID-19 hit, the work from home order was issued. However, there was an unanticipated challenge to the BCP. The government’s reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic was to force self-isolation which led to emergency action plans. Urgent requests to purchase masks, ventilators, repatriate Canadians abroad, and issue more payments to Canadians were made.

The public service was not asked to maintain service levels, it was asked to respond to a surge in demand.  To name a few, to date, 69 Million masks have been purchased, 100’s of Canadian repatriated, and more cheques have been printed than ever before. An extra-ordinary effort in normal times from federal public offices. An even more extreme demand during this epic time in Canada.

There three lessons we can learn from this event:

  1. Network infrastructure is absolute critical to your survival. Business and enterprise applications today are dependent on users accessing them through the network. Financial systems, document repositories, customer relationship management applications are usually configured to only work when you are in the corporate network environment. This exposes the vulnerability that your network infrastructure must have capacity, security, and robustness. In the situation where there are now surges of demand on top of the regular business during a crisis, the need for alternate network strategies is commanding. Alternate strategies could include a increased urgency to migrate applications to the cloud or to source increase 3rd party network capacity on-demand.
  2. Communications increases in importance. With non-critical staff working off-site, the need for on-going communication increases. New ways of managing must be adopted. Internal video-conferencing tools such as Webex or Jabber may be of limited use because of the network priorities are dedicated to critical systems. Many organizations are seeking outside the network applications such as Zoom and Stack. Any solution must first be evaluated for their security capabilities. Even toll free number networks are overwhelmed which makes even teleconferencing challenging.
  3. Review your business plans. During a crisis, operational maintenance receives the focus of management attention. Meanwhile other components of your business are paused or slowed down. Development projects or launching of new programmes are on-hold. Now is the time to plan for their re-engagement. Are the projects delayed? Will they need more staff to meet timelines or can you re-negotiate an new timeline? What is the impact of delaying a programme launch and how can it be mitigated? With so many staff working at less than capacity, perhaps it is time to initiate a large scale training initiative. Have staff take lessons in key skill areas from online sources that are not dependent on the corporate network.

There is a growing consensus that we are in an extra-ordinary time. The impact of this crisis will be felt for years to come. It may change the way we current operate and initiate new business models and practices. The three points raised in this post are certain to be central to discussion about the future.



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