Article

Your business and COVID-19: Technology

James Arthur James Arthur

Technology has taken centre stage in the response to the COVID-19 situation, enabling businesses to engage with suppliers and customers in new ways, and making it possible for millions of people to work remotely. Almost 80% of business leaders we spoke to said their technology has played a positive role in helping them respond to the crisis, James Arthur tells us.

Whatever technology changes you’ve made in recent weeks, now is a good time to re-appraise them, check in on new security challenges and risks, and start to think about your future technology requirements. In fact, as for all aspects of your response to the current circumstances, we recommend a three-stage process to guide your decision-making and future planning:

Assess

If you’re using technology differently and on a new scale, take the time to assess these arrangements and make sure you’re approaching the situation in the best way to allow secure and efficient operations.

Protect

Moving your business beyond the current situation means managing and providing assurance over a new spectrum of risks. Technology can help you to do this efficiently and effectively.

Restore

As you look to restore business-as-usual, don’t neglect opportunities to re-imagine your technology to improve agility and resilience.

So, what should you consider at each stage?

Assess

Capacity and stability

Our current circumstances have transformed the way businesses interact with customers, suppliers and employees. As a result, the load required to support stable connections and access to key systems has reached levels that were only previously imagined as peak demand. How well do you understand this need going forward? Will it persist at current levels, increase as you adapt your operating model or fall back once some kind of normality returns?

In-flight programmes

Given future technology requirements:

  • Which elements of your IT strategy should continue?
  • Which programmes should be parked?
  • How can you do this in a way that minimises disruption and costs in the future?
  • Are there some elements you should accelerate?

In some cases, technology itself is the tool that enables tech programmes to continue. For example, we have our people using Microsoft Teams sessions to run virtual workshops, so our clients can continue the requirements-specification phases for their new ERP systems.

Remote-working policies and procedures

If you’ve rapidly expanded your existing remote capabilities or introduced these for the first time, it’s important to have clear policies and procedures in place for home working. Employees need to understand how to work securely, and continue to protect company data and systems when working from home.

Not leaving security behind

In the rush to get people working from home and ensure customers can still access products and services, it’s easy for security to become a secondary consideration. Have you considered the full range of security risks created by new ways of operating? Some weaknesses we’ve helped clients fix in the last month include:

  • newly installed VPN portals and websites that are using recent, but already out-of-date, software from major suppliers that have known security vulnerabilities
  • new contracts for software-as-a-service (SAAS) that have no effective security configured and, therefore, would allow anyone to access sensitive customer data
  • business functions purchasing cloud computing space (on Amazon or Azure, for example) to provide team access to development environments and shared workspaces, but not securing these and leaving them vulnerable to being taken offline or having data stolen

Efficient spend

Following this rapid expansion of technology and systems, it’s worth checking now whether you have chosen the most cost-efficient approach, especially as current arrangements might have to continue for some time. As ever, efficient technology spend is not just about software licenses and hardware costs. Take account of the cost of training, as well as of adapting processes and systems to new solutions.

Protect

Internal assurance initiatives can only be put on hold for so long. The world has changed, but senior-management responsibilities haven’t. In the current environment, the usual face-to-face meetings with stakeholders are no longer possible, but technology offers a highly effective alternative in the form of analytics solutions. These are easy to deploy, can be delivered remotely and produce real-time insights as events unfold at pace.

Remote working, staff shortages and different trading conditions stemming from the current situation have brought significant changes to the control environment. As a result, we recommend focusing assurance initiatives in the following risk areas:

Workforce continuity

With many people finding themselves unable to work through illness, it’s vital to assure your capacity to maintain operations. This is not just about having the right numbers. Have you identified business-critical roles and developed alternative plans in the event that key employees become unable to work?

Financial health

As these circumstances squeeze cashflow, analytics can help you explore options for freeing up liquidity. Sophisticated solutions can analyse cashflow based on daily forecasts, for example, and identify payments that can be deferred within the current terms of your supplier contracts.

Payroll

As payroll changes come into effect, with staff reducing hours in some situations or new staff joining in others, analytics can check for anomalies and indicate fraud risks, including those around overtime and cash payments.

Supply chain

As supply chains come under stress, analytics tools can review payment terms, assess supplier resilience and identify locations where suppliers are most likely to be under threat.

Social media

Will you emerge from the lockdown with an enhanced reputation? Analysis of social media can help you understand if customers think you’re getting your response right.

Workplace safety

Health and safety risk to employees is a major concern during the pandemic. Use analytics to pick up potential weaknesses and problems early on.

Automated assurance solutions

In order to provide robust viability-statement reporting to their stakeholders, organisations are performing complex modelling and scenario-planning. Automated auditing tools can analyse these models remotely, highlighting errors in formulas, integrity issues or broken links, and identifying critical inputs and dependencies.

With reduced workforce capacity, the need to react promptly to the changing situation and the requirement for greater workforce flexibility, well-established segregation of duty controls are being relaxed. Having visibility of such changes across the environment is key to ensure that they are reset to their original state when business-as-usual activities are resumed. ERP assurance tools can provide full visibility over the user population, as well as targeting specific processes that are deemed to be high-risk during this time.

Ongoing cyber monitoring should also continue. We have seen a rise in phishing attacks in recent weeks, with criminals trying to gain access to company networks. Again, remote-auditing solutions can play a role here by assessing network permissions. In addition to seeking assurance over such security risks, organisations are taking pro-active steps to detect and prevent potential breaches using our Managed Security Operations Centre.

Restore and reimagine

To date, most businesses have been focused on the ‘assess’ and ‘protect’ phases of their response. But already, according to a poll of our clients, over 10% are starting to think about restoring business-as-usual, even before any detail on a strategy for exiting the lockdown has been announced. This should go hand-in-hand with identifying opportunities to improve future IT agility and resilience.

Areas to prioritise in your thinking include:

Business continuity

  • How robust have your IT business-continuity plans proven to be?
  • Did your plans assume only a single site would be affected?
  • How has platform security held up?
  • Have you been able to successfully support the business in engaging with customers and suppliers in new ways?
  • Could better access to the cloud have enabled you to flex and scale faster?

Our experience is that organisations with a clear IT strategy and documented processes for supporting business continuity have fared best. For example, our investment in achieving ISO 20000 and the associated focus on creating agile processes have enabled us to move our almost 5,000-strong people to remote working overnight. We’ve also seen examples of businesses that have collaborated with customers and suppliers on continuity planning, creating a culture of working together to resolve continuity challenges.

Operating model

Clients are telling us the situation is having an impact on the cost of IT service delivery. If you’ve seen an increase in costs, what can you do to get them down again? If you’ve seen them fall, how can you sustain this as part of a re-imagined back-office operating model?

Accelerating the shift to cloud systems and solutions could help with this. Likewise, exploring the opportunities for robotic process automation, AI and machine learning could improve cost-efficiency. Even simply looking at how you optimise your use of existing systems can deliver significant benefits. In the longer-term, businesses need to consider how they transition away from traditional IT functions to more-modern service delivery.

Programmes and projects

When suspended IT programmes and projects eventually restart, careful planning will be required to avoid injecting resource bottlenecks, additional cost and increased risk into the delivery plans. The key lesson learned is that the planning work for re-launch needs to start early.

Beyond the re-launch of in-flight projects, you may find your priorities have changed in respect to future technology investment. In recent weeks, we have seen clients prioritising a range of programmes to improve resilience. These include accelerating cloud transition, in-sourcing weekly payroll due to issues experienced with a third party vendor and increased investment in planning and scenario-modelling tools.

Enterprise architecture

Ensuring robust data is essential as a basis for strategic decision-making. This is a complex endeavour that businesses often shy away from, but COVID-19 has thrown a spotlight on the challenge. In a period of accelerated strategic planning, many have found themselves trying to stitch together data from various systems, including HR, finance and operations, much of it held offline in spreadsheets. It’s far from ideal.

In this context, the current crisis provides a real opportunity to address the data challenge and to reconfigure the future operating model to establish a ‘single source of the truth’, fundamental to any meaningful strategic analysis or insight.

Next steps

To date, most businesses have been focused on the ‘assess’ and ‘protect’ phases of their response. But already, according to a poll of our clients, over 10% are starting to think about restoring business-as-usual, even before any detail on a strategy for exiting the lockdown has been announced. This should go hand-in-hand with identifying opportunities to improve future IT agility and resilience.

Areas to prioritise in your thinking include:

Business continuity

  • How robust have your IT business-continuity plans proven to be?
  • Did your plans assume only a single site would be affected?
  • How has platform security held up?
  • Have you been able to successfully support the business in engaging with customers and suppliers in new ways?
  • Could better access to the cloud have enabled you to flex and scale faster?

Our experience is that organisations with a clear IT strategy and documented processes for supporting business continuity have fared best. For example, our investment in achieving ISO 20000 and the associated focus on creating agile processes have enabled us to move our almost 5,000-strong people to remote working overnight. We’ve also seen examples of businesses that have collaborated with customers and suppliers on continuity planning, creating a culture of working together to resolve continuity challenges.

Operating model

Clients are telling us the situation is having an impact on the cost of IT service delivery. If you’ve seen an increase in costs, what can you do to get them down again? If you’ve seen them fall, how can you sustain this as part of a re-imagined back-office operating model?

Accelerating the shift to cloud systems and solutions could help with this. Likewise, exploring the opportunities for robotic process automation, AI and machine learning could improve cost-efficiency. Even simply looking at how you optimise your use of existing systems can deliver significant benefits. In the longer-term, businesses need to consider how they transition away from traditional IT functions to more-modern service delivery.

Programmes and projects

When suspended IT programmes and projects eventually restart, careful planning will be required to avoid injecting resource bottlenecks, additional cost and increased risk into the delivery plans. The key lesson learned is that the planning work for re-launch needs to start early.

Beyond the re-launch of in-flight projects, you may find your priorities have changed in respect to future technology investment. In recent weeks, we have seen clients prioritising a range of programmes to improve resilience. These include accelerating cloud transition, in-sourcing weekly payroll due to issues experienced with a third party vendor and increased investment in planning and scenario-modelling tools.

Enterprise architecture

Ensuring robust data is essential as a basis for strategic decision-making. This is a complex endeavour that businesses often shy away from, but COVID-19 has thrown a spotlight on the challenge. In a period of accelerated strategic planning, many have found themselves trying to stitch together data from various systems, including HR, finance and operations, much of it held offline in spreadsheets. It’s far from ideal.

In this context, the current crisis provides a real opportunity to address the data challenge and to reconfigure the future operating model to establish a ‘single source of the truth’, fundamental to any meaningful strategic analysis or insight.

To arrange a virtual diagnostic workshop with our specialists, get in touch with James Arthur.

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