It took a pandemic to convince everyone that the best contingency plans often come up woefully short. Businesses need to think beyond conventional ways to ensure continuity. Image for illustration purposes only. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

The pandemic spread of Covid-19 has brought almost two-thirds of the world to a standstill. Governments, global organisations and businesses are all jostling for solutions on how to manage the outbreak. Its spread has put everyone in exigency mode.

Governments and international bodies such as WHO are devising strategies to minimise its impact. Likewise, businesses are in crisis management too, but they seem ill-prepared to deal with this emergency. Most seem to be awestruck and with no contingency plan.

They are reading between media headlines to plan their responses. While containment is a priority, its overall impact assessment is also needed. An outbreak of this colossal level has highlighted the many risks that have opened up.

However, this crisis has also unleashed new opportunities. Business leaders must act diligently to transcend these situations. They have to move into a transformative mode with definitive action for business continuity.

Being the CEO of a company, I am in deep waters managing this crisis. And I see how other businesses are responding. We continue to see most in panic mode with knee-jerk reactions, resorting to defensive posturings rather than proactive risk mitigation.

Think beyond conventional ways

People tend to have a reactive approach whenever faced with an unforeseen crisis, and this pandemic has again exposed this anomaly. It is panic that rules minds than rationale. They are waiting for governments to step in to assume their responsibility to protect them.

Governments indeed have the extensive infrastructure to safeguard with adequate disaster management resources. However, the contrary is the case in business preparedness. In general, most businesses are not prepared for risks arising out of unforeseen natural disasters.

Specifically, most threats are either not insured due to complexities or not factored into routine business planning. Most of their contingency plans are built on limited eventualities, confined to conventional disaster management. In the case of Covid-19, we are appalled to see reactive responses and muted actions.

It is time for proactive thinking on how to safeguard the overall business sustainability itself, considering the risks and the opportunities mentioned earlier.

Business needs continuity

I continue to see managements gripped in cost-cutting exercises and uncalled deliberations than seeking resolutions. In such solutions, the cost-cutting syndrome is counterproductive. Staff are already in fear and this is indeed dampening spirits.

These actions mostly put the business in a logjam and make a recovery more difficult. Whist cost rationalising in times of austerity helps, it is also essential to map the opportunities evolving during this crisis.

Besides disaster management and safeguarding against risks, it is critical for business leaders to build new revenue streams as a result of market disruption.

People must not resort to being opportunistic mode by inflating prices and hoarding items needed for mass consumption. Businesses need to reinvent themselves based on transformative ideas such as online platforms for education, alternate transactional platforms for public convenience, or innovations in hygiene.

For instance, digital learning got a shot in the arm with the closure of schools in countries affected by Covid-19. There are umpteen avenues to look at arising from its aftermath. Businesses can now look at building innovative online work interfaces to promote work from home that shall limit business travel and cut high costs.

On growth, there are specific opportunities that have caught the eye during this crisis, and each business should look to transform their model to capture these opportunities further.

It is time for businesses to factor such calamities as part of contingency planning. They need to move from limiting its scope from conventional disaster management to putting the entire business sustainability.

Business continuity planning should expand to cover necessary insurance coverage, support infrastructure, and online platforms for collaboration. Market risks must factor in such calamities from a macro perspective to apply the learnings from this crisis.

— Tariq Chauhan is Group CEO at EFS.