Sunil Paul Image Credit: Supplied

Sunil Paul, Co-founder of Finesse, a global provider of digital transformation solutions, outlines a business continuity plan during the coronavirus pandemic

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. From its epicentre in Wuhan, China in December last year, COVID-19 has spread to 210 countries, infecting over 2.5 million people and killing more than 170,000 people.

There’s no doubt that global businesses are getting a hit on all fronts as countries shut down, supply chains splinter, travel restrictions and quarantines affect people and cargo movements, and employees get exposed to the risk of infections.

More than half of companies — 51 per cent — globally have no business continuity plan (BCP) or protocols in place to combat the coronavirus outbreak, according to a recent study by global consultancy Mercer.

Traditionally, business continuity plans have focused on threats like natural disasters, technical disasters and malicious acts that affect a specific geographic area, facility or system. They also assume that once the event has occurred, it is over and, while the effects may linger, recovery can begin.

However, a pandemic is fundamentally different from traditional business continuity threats in that it is worldwide in scope, of indefinite duration and can be a moving target that companies may need to adjust as things change. Most importantly, it is not the infrastructure but mainly the people who become unavailable due to absenteeism.

In the case of COVID-19, people are unable to report to work due to government-mandated public health measures, city lockdowns, travel restrictions, social distancing and quarantine norms.

While actual estimates vary, the cycle from disruption to recovery from a pandemic is expected to last anywhere between six and 12 months or even up to 18 months. Gartner analysis has noted that companies should factor in staff absenteeism exceeding 40 per cent for extended and sequential periods. Therefore, the focus of BCP should be on ensuring that companies can maintain core business activities for several weeks or months with limited staff.

The COVID-19 outbreak has seen many companies shut down their principal and satellite offices, asking their employees to work from home. A virtual workspace concept can make the transition to work from home a smooth, hassle-free affair.

At its core, a virtual workspace includes many of the same elements as a physical one — places to collaborate, share ideas and get work done. Companies need to provide secure remote access to their internal network/intranet; ensure stable and reliable internet access and VPN; and access to corporate emails and sharing larger files. In other words, organisations need to ensure that employees have basic technology as well as access to the right collaboration and communication tools to be effective in a virtual environment.

How it works

A virtual space workstation can replicate the physical office environment through the integration of various software and systems, enabling the organisation to conduct their daily activities in a hassle-free environment.

Today, major private automatic branch exchange (PABX) systems provide application programming interfaces (APIs) and plug-ins to integrate with all customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems for routing calls and generating reports. These can be coupled with robotic process automation (RPA) applications; server and database virtualisation; and remote management tools enabling document management, employee monitoring, video conferencing, digital authorisation through APIs and modules to achieve a complete solution.

At the same time, remote workforces are also susceptible to cyberattacks. Therefore, a virtual workspace solution should also facilitate measures such as multi-level validation and login options; digital authorisations and permissions; integration with active directory and prevention of data loss and secure data migration.

A traditional BCP requires management to follow a cyclical process of planning, preparing, responding, and recovering. However, pandemic planning requires additional actions to identify and prioritise essential functions, employees and resources within the institution and across other business sectors. Providing the capabilities to work remotely would be critical to a company’s capacity to survive a pandemic.

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