What Key Lessons Can CIOs Take from COVID?

If COVID-19 has taught the IT industry anything, it’s the difference between having a Disaster Recovery Plan and a true Business Continuity Plan.  While most companies have thought through the basics of temporary, disaster-oriented outages, did they plan for the long-range, transformative disruptions that COVID-19 dished out?

For most organizations, that answer was no.

In fact, a 2020 study by Mercer confirmed that 51 percent of organizations had no business continuity plan in place to combat a pandemic outbreak. Experience, unfortunately, is the best teacher. The pandemic exposed many areas where traditional disaster recovery plans failed, and exposed new opportunities for network expansions and security upgrades. Let’s look at some particular challenges.

Accommodating employees without laptops—What happens when laptop free employees such as retail service workers or customer service reps suddenly have to work from home? Can they be transitioned to phone-based customer service roles with a new laptop? Field roles with a tablet? Home delivery models?

When employees aren’t tethered to an office building, retail operation or other central location, how do you program, distribute and train around these new realities? Dealing with these questions on the fly has been disruptive. But many companies are finding whole new business models in curbside pickups, home deliveries, and distributed customer service forces than they ever have before.

Read next: The Challenges of Aligning IT and the Business

Tracking systems for employee health—Do employees need to be tracked for possible exposures to COVID? Do they need temperature checks before they can report to work? Finding ways to record and track this information has been a challenge, especially as companies have had to create “return to work” protocols that adhere to adhere to current data privacy law.

Preparing for massive, rolling, unpredictable worker shortages—What happens when a large portion of your workforce is completely unavailable due to illness? Can temporary workers come to the rescue? Could work or customer requests be automatically rerouted? What tech tools will they need and how will permissions, communications and onboarding be handled? These questions become particularly pressing when considering the highly specialized skill sets and working knowledge of your systems your IT departments carry around in their heads.

Protecting the physical safety of your workforce and customers—How will physical distancing affect the layout of your offices and retail operations? Can no-touch scanners, cash-free payment systems, direct-to-app sales make it possible to keep business flowing, while minimizing the transmission of the virus? It’s a question companies were forced to answer, and quickly, during the pandemic. And for many these new ways of selling will continue, long after the pandemic has passed.

Including vendors in your plan—When parts of your system must be rerouted, and staffing levels are intermittent, the vendors you use will be more important than ever. Have they seen your Business Continuation Plan, and commented on it? What additional resources can they offer? And do they have a good disaster recovery plan for their own staff, if the worst happens?

These considerations are just the beginning. Looking to take a broader view? Check out these resources from the U.N.’s International Labor Organization. While the U.N.’s six-step plan is focused on responding to business continuity in the time of COVID, its focus on “people, processes, profits, and partnerships” is a solid framework for establishing or updating your continuity plans.

Further Reading: Don’t overlook the role a top Data-Recovery-as-a-Service partner can play in your business continuity planning.

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