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Your business and COVID-19: China's response

Jamie Crossman-Smith Jamie Crossman-Smith

The current global climate has brought extraordinary challenges for business leaders, but it also offers opportunities to learn from the circumstances and strengthen your business resilience. Jamie Crossman-Smith explains how looking at how other countries have overcome COVID-19 can help you plan for the future.

In the past, we've recommended a three-stage process for dealing with the coronavirus situation:

  • Assess
  • Protect
  • Restore

A growing number of business leaders, however, are already turning their attention to the restore phase. The government has indicated that restrictions on social activity are likely to be in place for many months, and even years. So it’s evident that businesses will be operating in a very different context for some time. As Chinese businesses begin to emerge from lockdown, what are they finding? Does their experience give an indication of how UK companies might need to re-imagine their businesses for a world that is profoundly changed?

What will the world look like after COVID-19?

To find answers, understanding what the future might look like is vital. In this respect, the changed environment that Chinese businesses are encountering as their society starts to re-open might provide some clues.

According to Grant Thornton China, one month after the lockdown was lifted in Hubei province (and around two weeks later in the city of Wuhan), many business, including over 80% of SMEs, had opened again. The financial services sector was the fastest to resume operations, with auto services and restaurant take-out services also experiencing strong demand. Airlines, trains, subways, buses and taxis were also running again.

The lockdown delivered a massive boost for ecommerce. Online orders for fresh produce in Shanghai increased 80% during the lockdown, and express delivery service revenue grew. The requirement to work from home meant that more than 400 million people registered to use online office services during the lockdown, while online gaming experienced 20% new user growth and the number of people reading on digital devices increased by 10%.

Data as the enabler

The re-opening of society was driven, in part, by data. This is being used to establish a health code for each person:

  • green indicates that a person is not infected
  • amber that they are self-quarantining
  • red that they are under medical observation

Individuals must be able to show a green code on their personal devices to gain access to shopping malls and restaurants. They must also have their temperature checked before entry. In addition, a passenger-check app, which could be used by anyone taking a flight or travelling by train or bus, can identify if they have been in close contact with someone suspected of or diagnosed with the virus within the past 14 days.

Data is also helping the construction sector. Grant Thornton China is working with a construction company operating a workforce across 120+ sites to help the business develop solutions to monitor and receive timely updates on projects, employees and protective gear across the country.

Making the right decisions in a fast-changing world

It’s still unclear to what extent these arrangements in China will drive lasting change. If you’re part of a leadership team trying to anticipate the future environment, this uncertainty magnifies the challenge. But, as the Chinese experience shows, data can help. Particularly, data allows you to explore still-emerging scenarios, make well-informed decisions, adapt to changing circumstances and minimise risks in the following areas:

Workforce analytics

Workforce analytics can help optimise deployment of your greatest asset – your people. With the right data, your HR systems can help you:

  • contingency-plan when staff may not be available for some time
  • identify colleagues with the right skills and experience to provide continuity for vital business activities
  • manage scheduling plans or queued jobs so that staff are used appropriately and focused on key activities
  • understand the implications of shifting customers to online channels or alternative that require less staff input.

Control and process automation

Robotic process automation (RPA) can be used to automate routine and repetitive tasks. As long as your data is held digitally, in at least a semi-regular format, and the process outputs you want are rules-based, RPA can help.

Even automating some parts of the process can drive down processing costs. RPA reduces the number of full-time employees required, helping you maintain service levels when resources are stretched. As the business goes through rapid change, RPA can also help you implement new operational processes more quickly.

Finance and operation modelling

Cashflow will be a recurring concern for business leaders as the situation evolves and the new world begins to emerge. Creating a cross-functional leadership group can help you see where costs can be saved, assets liquidated or payments delayed. Here, again, data can provide essential insight. Use it to:

  • profile your cashflows over three, six and 12 months
  • identify underperforming products and services
  • pin-point underperforming assets that can be sold to free up cash if necessary

Restore and re-imagine

As China’s situation shows, companies are having to adapt their products and services, operating models, funding and resources to reflect a society where COVID-19 has had a deep impact on everyday life. For now, restaurants dependent on online orders to stay afloat, and manufacturers are forced to operate at reduced capacity as a result of disrupted supply chains.

Against this uncertain backdrop, data has played a key role in enabling China’s economy to emerge from lockdown and begin the long road to recovery. In similar ways, data can support UK business leaders as their thinking turns to restoring their enterprises for the future. The Chinese experience show us that re-imagining the business, rather than simply restoring it to what it once was, could be the way forward.

Contact Jamie Crossman-Smith, Alex Hunt or Simon Bevan for more information on making your data work for you.

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