How Australian Businesses Can Pass the Next Pandemic Preparedness Test
Don’t let macro-strength mask micro-weakness
From one vantage, it looks like Australia managed the coronavirus crisis relatively well. We controlled community transmission and limited the numbers of lives lost, compared to peer nations. Our macroeconomic numbers aren’t too bad, either. The IMF upgraded its forecast for the Australian economy, predicting a slighter contraction this year before 3 percent growth in the next.i
But this rosy picture can’t hide its thorns. The RBA warned of a wave of business closures. A sharp fall in revenue last financial year could waterfall, causing an extra 5,000-plus firms to fail.ii
And, of course, COVID-19 isn’t the last of its kind. Even before the crisis hit, public health researchers were sounding the alarm about increased risk.iii The question to ask now, is how Australian businesses can do a better job of preparing for the inevitable next pandemic?
Business continuity preparedness gaps by the numbers
Upon reflection, the preparedness and execution gaps are there to see. Take remote working: an estimated 88 percent of local businesses encouraged or required employees to work from home.iv Pre-crisis, the baseline was around six percent of organisations that had regular teleworking arrangements.v
Even without proper planning, this rapid transition to remote work worked for some. It didn’t, however, work for all. Some estimates show that fewer than 15 percent of Australians were actually able to work fulltime from home.vi
Besides productivity loss, there were other unintended consequences, like the rise in cyberattacks. Opportunistic hackers took advantage of overwhelmed IT offices, preying on poorly trained remote workers.vii The question going forward is what can be done, not just to ensure a safe, smooth transition back to the office but also to ensure future pandemic resilience?
Treat recovery as a distinct stage
Tackling the first question first, Noggin, a leader in safety, security, and crisis management technology, recommends investing strategically in crisis recovery as a distinct phase of the crisis and business continuity lifecycle, which includes the most efficient methods (usually oriented around digital technology) to be adopted after the disaster occurs. The uniqueness of the COVID-19 experience calls for tailoring the typical recovery plan for the post-pandemic moment. How to get that process started? We suggest:
Get a dedicated team involved, could be an offshoot of your COVID-19 response team
Lay out clear goals and objectives on how to restore, rebuild, reemploy, and repair
Understand your new legal compliance regime, especially in public health
Plan frequent employee, customer, and supplier communications
Decide who will return to the office and when
Protect people coming back to work, with enhanced cleaning, sanitation, and ventilation, as well as monitoring, reporting, and case management should anyone fall ill
While important in the short term, business recovery alone won’t translate into long-term pandemic resilience. The latter only comes from running after action reviews (AARs) of what went wrong with your COVID-19 response, then operationalising those findings in a regularly tested, pandemic scenario plan.
Indeed, preliminary research suggests that many companies had business continuity plans going into the crisis. Those plans, however, proved inadequate to the protracted duration of the crisisviii. Most failed to cover the specifics of the pandemic scenarioix and were rarely (if ever) tested beforehand.
Embrace digitisation for future pandemic resilience
Moving forward, that must change. Fortunately, a plethora of best-practice knowledge about how to respond to pandemics is already available. Libraries of this content could and should supplement what individual businesses have learned via AARs.
Operationalising that knowledge is a lot easier than you would think. The key to long-term success is embracing crisis and business continuity management software platforms that have digitised plans, guidelines, and checklists. That way best-practice content is available to crisis and business continuity professionals (via secure mobile apps) even if a pandemic prevents those teams from meeting in person.
Beyond plans and checklists, these platforms also digitise strategies, considerations, roles and responsibilities, communications, and collaboration. The result? Teams are ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. They are also able to test and review procedures and implement valuable lessons learned, so as to improve from exercises and incidents.
Finally, Australian businesses weren’t as digitally prepared for the pandemic as they could have been. But there’s good reason to believe that’s changing. Seventy-nine percent of SMBs are looking into increasing their digital software investments in the future.x To strengthen pandemic resilience, specifically, businesses (large and small) will need to invest in digital crisis and business continuity management solutions, to protect staff, operations, and communities from virus threats well into the future.
Author: James Boddam-Whetham is the CEO of Noggin, a world-class software company that provides innovative incident management solutions for managing emergencies, risk, crisis, compliance, operational security, business continuity, work safety, and more. Noggin offers a dedicated Business Continuity software solution to help organisations effectively respond to all critical incidents and ensure their operations continue seamlessly.
More information: www.noggin.io/
Connect with James: https://www.linkedin.com/in/james-bw/
i Shane Wright, The Sydney Morning Herald: Australia to escape worst of recession but faces debt mountain: IMF. https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/australia-to-escape-worst-of-recession-but-faces-debt-mountain-imf-20201013-p564la.html.
ii John Kehoe, The Australian Financial Review: RBA expects thousands of extra business bankruptcies. Available at https://www.afr.com/policy/economy/rba-sees-rising-business-bankruptcies-20201009-p563ky.
iii Meera Senthilingam, CNN: Seven reasons we're at more risk than ever of a global pandemic. Available at https://www.cnn.com/2017/04/03/health/pandemic-risk-virus-bacteria/index.html.
iv Vanessa Mitchell, CMO: Report: Most Australian employees to work from home. Available at https://www.cmo.com.au/article/672072/report-most-australian-employees-work-from-home/.
v Hania Syed, Training.com.au: Does Australia Have the Infrastructure to Work from Home? Available at https://www.training.com.au/ed/does-australia-have-the-infrastructure-to-work-from-home/?utm_referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F.
vi Ben Knight, ABC News: Coronavirus pandemic shakes up Australian workplaces, as businesses prepare for the other side. Available at https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-05-04/coronavirus-working-from-home-jobs-divide-women-men/12207694.
vii Noggin, The Noggin Blog: Discussing the Business Continuity Implications of the Australian Cyber Attacks with Noggin CTO Owen Prime. Available at https://www.noggin.io/blog/discussing-the-business-continuity-implications-of-the-australian-cyber-attacks-with-noggin-cto-owen-prime.
Todd R. Weiss, Tech Republic: Business continuity plans and tech are lacking during the coronavirus pandemic. Available at https://www.techrepublic.com/article/business-continuity-plans-and-tech-are-lacking-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic/.
ix Blank Rome: COVID-19 Employer Trends Survey. Available at https://www.blankrome.com/sites/default/files/2020-03/blank-rome-coronavirus-employer-trends-survey-results.pdf.
x Samira Sarraf, Computer World: Australian small businesses advance their digitalisation, thanks to COVID-19. Available at https://www.computerworld.com/article/3562701/australian-small-businesses-advance-their-digitalisation-thanks-to-covid-19.html.