The last few months have dramatically transformed life as we understand it. An invisible half-alive organism, dismissed as a threat by leaders and populations alike, has affected over 95% of the world’s population and stalled global economic activity. It is believed that this crisis will permanently reshape multiple aspects of our life, society, and business. This article seeks to outline the nature of this change for businesses and how a response led by enterprise technology can help them become more resilient.


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Drawing on Innate Resilience
Given the unprecedented nature of the pandemic and uncertainty around effective remedies and the likelihood of follow-on viral waves, it would be foolhardy to predict the timelines or the nature of recovery. While recognizing the scale of impact, it should however be emphasized that humans have endured past tragedies, including the Black Plague, Spanish flu, multiple continental and world wars, and a variety of financial panics. Although the current crisis will cause painful adjustments for individuals, societies, governments, and enterprises, history guides us to the new dawn comprising renewed societies, enhanced business models, and greater resilience.
As the leading financial investor, Ben Carlson, reflects on the crisis in a broader context on his blog, A Wealth of Common Sense1,

“…they all come to an end. Stocks recover. Economies continue to grow. People still get up every day looking to improve their station in life. If you’re betting against the human spirit, I’ll take the other side of that bet 10 times out of 10.”

History Teaches Us That Deep Crises Drive Radical Change
Like modern societies and enterprises, complex organizational structures tend to have a built-in equilibrium-seeking mechanism that guides them towards stability. This has been studied in evolutionary biology, with organisms adapting to unfamiliar environments through gradual evolution. However, when the nature of change is dramatic, induced discontinuity can cause sudden structural change that is sustained in subsequent generations – a phenomenon defined by sociologists as punctuated equilibrium2.
As an example, women’s participation in the US workforce3 before World War II remained low, with their involvement limited to roles such as store clerks and receptionists. During World War II, workforce shortages inspired campaigns to draw greater women participation in non-traditional roles, including army support, manufacturing, and transport. As this proved effective, female workforce participation continued to increase even after the war concluded. Likewise, while Germany was progressing incrementally towards green energy, the nuclear incident at Fukushima in 20114 drove an outright ban of nuclear power and the further prioritization of renewable energy.
Finally, as a cautionary tale and to paraphrase Victor Hugo, acting against ‘ideas whose time has come’ can be crippling. Johannes Gutenberg’s movable type printing press triggered an information revolution, driving the European Renaissance in the 15th century. Blind to its value, the leadership and powerful clergy at the Ottoman empire5 aimed to keep traditional manuscripts in vogue. Their decision to ban innovation and resist change resulted in the permanent decline of Turkish power.

Taking Charge of Change
“When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters— one represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”
– John F. Kennedy, Former President, United States of America Given this historical context, it is pertinent to explore how economies are likely to emerge from the lockdown. Specific industry segments like tourism and travel will undergo a more fundamental churn, with many enterprises in these spaces not surviving the deep downturn.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)6 has indicated that 40% of small businesses may perish because of losses from disruptions.

It would be foolhardy to suggest that larger organizations are impervious to this threat. Companies across industry segments will experience a radical change in their operating models. The article categorizes this impact around three broad areas—customer acquisition, execution, and risk management.

With the extent of uncertainty and disruption wrought by the pandemic, establishing trust with buyers will be extremely critical. This trust will need to be built against the backdrop of fewer face-to-face interactions. New models of engagement between consumers and vendors will need to be established with traditional models of large conferences, seminars, and ‘wine-and-dine’ engagements becoming increasingly rare.
Another significant change will be the nature of contractual models. Given the uncertainty, there will also be a marked preference for flexibility and, consequently, an avoidance of long-term commitments. Currently, most enterprise purchase decisions are predicated on long-standing purchase constructs, built through intensive negotiations. This process will need to undergo transformation with an increased focus around flexible purchase models.
Over the last four decades, enterprises have invested in developing complex global supply chains that require the free flow of goods, services, and information across borders. The disruption has exposed the gaps and has driven both national governments and enterprises to reduce this extent of dependence—especially for critical components in pharmaceuticals and hi-tech. As a reaction, enterprises will seek to diversify their supply base and ensure that their supply chains are stress-tested for a variety of failures, including natural incidents, political events, and logistical accidents.
Likewise, organizations have experienced the model of a remote workforce and building the ability to coordinate operations. Even after the lockdowns wane, many enterprises are likely to build lessons from this and are unlikely to go back to the conventional work model. This shift reflects a dramatic change from the traditional office construct, built over the last century. The new model can go well beyond being an exercise in improved remote coordination through technology. Instead, it suggests a directional shift from vertically-integrated organizations towards ‘enterprise unbundling,’ at least in certain pockets. Another response could be creating flexibility through a core-organization and developing dynamic execution capability around it.

In the constant swing in business sentiment between risk and reward, the balance has shifted significantly towards risk aversion. Organizations will continue to seek to take measures that identify and reduce a variety of risks. The change in the execution model and flexible contracts will also create additional risks that must be mitigated proactively. Monitoring and managing risk across the organization with robust checks and control frameworks will be of paramount importance going forward. This approach will require a granular understanding of customers, vendors, business processes and systems being used, to appreciate possible failure points and remedial measures.
Given the above changes, many enterprises will need to question core assumptions around existing organizational structure, decision rights to balance between agility and control, and, finally, developing the next-generational skills required to make the transition. While these themes have been on the anvil for the last few years, responding adequately to the current crisis might drive considerable momentum to initiatives around them.

“As Rahm Immanuel, advisor to President Obama mentioned, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that, it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

Leveraging Technology to Drive Change
Given that organizations are aggregations of processes at varying levels of abstraction, the role of technology is central to deliver impact on processes along dimensions of speed, agility, intelligence, and compliance. Many of these capabilities are closely interlinked and are most effective when operating in concert.

A common business paradigm expressed across industries is the need to remain focused on customer needs with all process executions built around this. However, most business processes have been designed in silos, with division- level efficiency taking primacy. There is an opportunity now to bring down information barriers to bring together a single customer view and enable rapid handling of customer inquiries and fulfillment of needs. We can achieve this integration of data and processes through various automation tools, including data aggregation tools, API-based integration between systems, periodic batch scripts, and RPA-based rapid integration tools. Given the dynamic nature of business needs, organizations would bias their approach towards rapid experimentation and with a focus on short- term projects to achieve quick RoI. Typically, RPA platforms offer the ability to get the integration done quickly through replicating the user actions, avoiding the overhead of requirements gathering, or deep expertise required in API-based integration. A key outcome expected from simpler processes is a dramatic reduction in both cost and cycle time, which could currently be critical for business viability.

The ability to leverage data is fundamental to making better business decisions, and references are often made to data as the new oil with significant value unlocking once the data is effectively surfaced and ‘refined.’ We cannot understate the value of data in today’s environment to enable product development, drive execution efficiency, and manage risk better.

To further the analogy of data as a raw material in an information-driven economy, Machine Learning is the new combustion engine to harness its powers. Organizations will leverage this capability initially as an aide, and progress towards granting greater autonomy as they build confidence around the ability, along with a better appreciation of its limitations. While the technical capability is now easily available and expertise in machine learning is democratized, strategic differentiation can be achieved through creative leverage of these data- driven insights with process integration.

As mentioned earlier, enterprises are likely to re-evaluate their business model and revamp their products, processes, and execution model. The extent of churn might require a significant reinvention of processes and partners across the spectrum. This transition will require hyper-agility to support the needs for rapid experimentation and adapt based on response. It would also need integration with intelligence to be captured on a near-continuous basis.
Another aspect of agility entails an organizational process starting small and scale up rapidly without making long- term resource commitments. This idea is supported by the shift to cloud-based paradigms and building integration with SaaS-like constructs.

As enterprises drive a variety of changes in their business model and execution structure, organizations need to ensure that required controls are in place. These controls include monitoring solutions for remote working, a better appreciation of user access to systems, and identifying process dependencies. Traditional security and compliance paradigms add a layer of control—pitting compliance against cost and agility. New-age approaches in this regard suggest that there is no trade-off.

Through a combination of data-hooks for sniffing data across the process, and through analytics, enterprises can build the capability to eliminate most checkpoints while retaining the necessary controls and ability to prevent process deviation.

As they are driven by self-learning artificial intelligence, these controls constantly improve to reduce false positives while providing a safer playing ground for businesses to operate.

Tying It All Together
While articulating a variety of themes, I do not suggest a standardized response to all organizations. Enterprises must calibrate their response based on the impact on business, their current sophistication, and the state of their technology architecture. Adapting approaches to the culture within the organization is also critical for sustainable impact. Specific organizations can drive change through a centralized decision- making structure, while others operate in a more federated consensus-based model.

Likewise, the focus of deployment might vary between customer-facing and execution areas. As part of the change management programs, enterprises will increasingly need to factor in skilling, communication, and increased sensitivity towards those affected by the change. Organizations will need to balance reticence and responsiveness.

Data-driven development, process integration, efficiency, and proactive risk management will be the key growth levers in the new normal. Enterprises that adapt quickly, identify opportunities, and deliver at scale will build a foundation of resilience designed to withstand crises.

This combination of navigating turbulence and charting a new path will create a competitive advantage that defines future leaders. To learn more about how Automation and AI-driven solutions help enterprises navigate the worldwide crisis, visit EdgeVerve’s Stronger Together page7.

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