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Around the globe, life is beginning to return to normal following coronavirus pandemic quarantines and stay-at-home orders that disrupted personal lives and businesses for several months.

But what does this new “normal” look like—both short- and long-term—after the virus forced organizations of all sizes to adjust how they do business?

As seen in the Business Continuity Institute’s (BCI’s) latest report, “Coronavirus: A Pandemic Response,” the answer is: The full impact of the pandemic isn’t likely to be measured in weeks or months, but years.

The BCI Report

ClearView and Assurance joined BCI for its latest look into the impact of the pandemic for business continuity professionals and operations, starting with preparedness, response, and now the move into recovery.

Almost 800 people from more than 90 countries representing 19 sectors participated. The results are what we might expect—organizations with a tested pandemic plan in place fared better than those without, saying they were able to quickly and competently respond to challenges faced.

Other organizations were taken by surprise by the speed and scale of the outbreak. Some realized what they thought was an effective pandemic plan was more closely aligned with an epidemic (regionalized or nationalized impact planning), and missed preparing for the scope of a pandemic that disrupted operations, travel, supply chains, and more on a global scale.

Horizon Scanning and Early Reactions

According to the BCI Report, business continuity professionals who used horizon scanning capabilities were able to detect signs of an impending disruption while the virus was emerging in Wuhan, China in late 2019.

These early warning signs allowed business continuity teams to communicate with executive leadership about potential implications and get a head-start on response.

Organizations without horizon scanning began response plans later, primarily in the first three months of 2020.

Responding to COVID-19

A pandemic is, in theory, a perfect time for business continuity teams to shine.

For about 30% of organizations, pandemic response was led by business continuity professionals, but most response, about 47%, was led by executive leadership, crisis management professionals, risk management professionals, and boards of directors.

Why? Because in many cases, executives and boards needed to address strategic challenges before dealing with operational strategies often directed by business continuity teams.

Only about 40% of respondents in the report had a pandemic plan ready, but even without one, business continuity team members played critical roles in response, including:

  •     Helped organizations implement operational alternatives like remote work
  •     Helped identify potential disruptions with horizon scanning
  •     Helped adjust existing and generic business continuity plans to fit a pandemic
  •     Managed organizational response
  •     Supported individual departments with plan implementation

For organizations with an existing pandemic plan, about two-thirds say they responded to disruptions successfully, and more than half said looking back on the past few months, they were well-prepared or extremely well-prepared for the pandemic.

Information and Resources

While responding to disruptions, many organizations relied on the industry best practice of using trusted, verified resources for COVID-19 news and information. That includes government agencies, as well as global sources like the World Health Organization (WHO). Others got their pandemic information from trusted news sources, industry peers, company advisors, and industry associations.

Response Challenges

During the outbreak, business continuity professionals routinely referenced their own business continuity recovery plans, with a majority, almost 39%, reviewing them every week, and more than 24% reviewing them daily.

But even with business continuity plans, organizations noted they faced challenges, especially far-reaching impacts of supply chain disruptions and how social distancing at this scale affected operations.

Here are some of the other key challenges COVID-19 created for business continuity professionals:

  •     Global lockdown effect not considered in plans
  •     Plans didn’t take into account organizations wouldn’t return to the “old way” of doing business
  •     Planning didn’t include or underestimated the financial impact of a pandemic or major incident
  •     A pandemic plan hadn’t been rehearsed or exercised before the event

It’s worth noting here that organizations who had business continuity plans and had tested them—regardless if they were pandemic specific or not—said they felt prepared because they essentially established muscle memory to respond based on crisis management exercises.

For many organizations, this reinforces just how important business continuity exercises, training, and awareness is for success.

“This is significant in delivery preparedness and to help the organization be ready for anything,” Claire Powles, Clearview head of customer operations, [MOU2] pointed out.

Adapting to New Operational Circumstances

COVID-19 is a lesson-learned for many organizations and, for some, there will never be going back to the “old way” of business.

In the BCI report, more than 54% of respondents said they’re not going back to their old business model and more than 21% are unsure. Only about 25% say they will go back to their old model.

With the “new normal,” here are anticipated organizational changes:

  •     More remote work opportunities
  •     More operational events within virtual environments
  •     Leaner operational models, for example smaller staff
  •     Business continuity and resiliency will get more attention from boards and teams
  •     Process improvements will be made to react to grey swan events
  •     Improved tech resources
  •     Better communication within the organization, externally, and with key stakeholders

Challenges Ahead

Even with lessons learned, there are still uncertainties for organizations of all sizes post-pandemic.

  •     Financial uncertainties
  •     Decreased staff morale
  •     Less demand for products
  •     Talent loss
  •     Loss of customers

These challenges mean, moving forward in the “new” normal, business continuity professionals will have to write new plans, assess new risks and build documentation for these new ways of doing business. If your team needs help, reach out to an Assurance advisor today.

Want to take a deeper dive into BCI’s coronavirus report? You can download a complimentary copy and access other coronavirus related business continuity support tools from Assurance’s Pandemic Response Center.

Topics: Business Continuity| Pandemic Preparedness

Assurance Software

Written by Assurance Software

Assurance Software takes your company’s enterprise-wide business continuity and resiliency program to the next level. With Assurance as your go-to partner for continuity and resilience, you can confidently mitigate risk, manage recovery, and safeguard your employees, customers, operations and brands.

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