Historically, most business continuity planning was for natural disasters, and companies focused IT efforts on escorting staff to temporary office locations equipped with relevant equipment until it was safe to resume normal operations. In 2009, the H1N1 flu pandemic added another layer of planning with a different mind-set: What would we do if employees became ill and couldn’t perform their jobs? How would operations continue if travel to off-site locations weren’t possible?

Through the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses must maintain payroll and stay afloat amid deflated sales or meet unexpected demand for products and services without compromising employee, client, or supplier health and safety. Advances in digital technology present organizations with opportunities to enhance their formal, or nonexistent, business continuity plans by shifting to remote working, strengthening cybersecurity, ensuring appropriate network connectivity, leveraging high-end analysis to inform business decisions, and increasing efficiency in operations.

Business continuity planning (BCP) is the process of outlining and documenting the potential impact of disasters and the systems or processes defined to prevent and recover from these unplanned emergencies. Most organizations are now undoubtedly well along their business continuity journeys, poised to leverage technology in the following four ways to enable business sustainability and, ultimately, recovery.

1. Remote working. The most obvious use of technology in BCP during the pandemic is remote working. In mid-March 2020, Gartner Inc. surveyed 800 global human resources executives and learned that “88% of organizations…encouraged or required employees to work from home, regardless of whether or not they showed coronavirus symptoms.” Digital technology facilitated this transition through unified communication (UC) and workstream collaboration (WSC) tools that many companies were already using.

UC tools integrate commonly used communication services such as instant messaging, voice, video conferencing, and desktop sharing into a single platform. WSC tools, an extension of UC functionality, offer an even more holistic solution: combining UC capability with business application integration, file storage and management, search, and project management features. Examples of UC and WSC tools are Zoom, RingCentral, Google Hangouts, and Cisco Webex Teams along with Microsoft Teams and Slack, respectively. Providing a central place for colleagues in a single team or across multiple workstreams to collaborate, WSC tools enable efficient communication amongst individuals and groups, facilitate file sharing, encourage connectivity while working remotely, and, in many instances, boost productivity.

As all organizations should be following local government guidance regarding reentry into office buildings, they might consider a more conservative approach: leveraging UC and WSC tools to extend telework arrangements and reduce the risk of virus transmission in the workplace. Furthermore, if an employee’s job can be performed from home effectively, leaders should consider incorporating these tools and telework into their normal ways of working. By employing these measures, organizations may find a smoother activation of BCP in the future, reduction in real estate costs, and a potential boost in employee morale and satisfaction.

2. Cybersecurity. The sudden and significant shift to remote working since the start of the pandemic has been met with a 400% spike in cyber complaints, according to Tonya Ugoretz, deputy assistant director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Cyber Division. Researchers at cyber group Barracuda Networks reported observing three primary types of coronavirus-themed phishing attacks: “scamming, brand impersonation, and business email compromise.” As the increase in telework makes way for countless digital vulnerabilities, organizations must implement or strengthen cyber risk-mitigation measures through BCP.

McKinsey & Company recently shared solutions that cybersecurity leaders found effective in mitigating heightened cyber risks. In addition to ensuring remote workers have access to virtual private networks (VPNs), which mask IP addresses and provide secure data transport through encrypted digital tunnels, organizations should “accelerate patching [or repairs] for critical systems” such as VPNs and “…cloud interfaces,” reducing exposure after detecting gaps or breaches (mck.co/2WzjX4b).

Access to key business applications and networks should require multifactor authentication (MFA)–where employees must present another form of identification when attempting to sign in (e.g., entering a code on a mobile phone, leveraging soft tokens, etc.). Equally important to implementing these technologies is the presence of adequate data backup and recovery processes, as well as ensuring employees are aware of cybersecurity threats, know the process to escalate potential breaches or phishing attempts, and take additional precautions when using the internet for nonwork purposes.

3. Network connectivity. VPNs, MFA, UC, and WSC tools mean absolutely nothing if employee home internet connections are unreliable. In a recent Washington Post article, Geoffrey Fowler identifies “bad internet connections” as “our No. 1 tech problem…directly tied to our ability to do our jobs, learn and be entertained in the coronavirus era” (wapo.st/3diSytP). Organizations’ BCP strategies should include troubleshooting guides for employees that help them assess the source of any network connectivity issues encountered at home and a plan to provide or pay for technical support, recommendations, or products needed to resolve the problem. Examples of underlying home network issues are placement of Wi-Fi routers, speed of Wi-Fi networks from internet service providers, uninstalled wireless router upgrades, and outdated wireless routers or modems. In his article, Fowler also offers five low- to no-cost steps to improving network connections at home.

4. High-quality analysis and efficient operations. In recent years, business professionals, specifically finance and accounting staff, have been encouraged to upskill, focus on higher-end tasks, and embrace digital technology. This is relevant now more than ever as BCP heightens the need for high-quality analysis and efficient operations. Team members who have already chosen to learn more about data analytics are able to employ descriptive and diagnostic analytics to analyze historical and real-time financial and operational data for their organizations to understand key drivers of profitability, or lack thereof, in the current environment. They also support strategic decision making by leveraging predictive and prescriptive analytics to prepare comparative analyses on a host of variables to inform discontinuing products or opening new, in-demand product or service lines as well as selecting the business decisions that provide the greatest likelihood of value delivery in the face of disaster.

Another emerging technology that can enable recovery in a sustainable way is robotic process automation (RPA). Businesses of any size can take advantage of this low-­barrier-to-entry technology to reduce costs and increase efficiency, accelerating implementation in companies where software is already in place and leveraging free online training for team members who can become citizen developers (business professionals automating processes for their own teams). With approximately 1.1 million flights canceled during the pandemic, many of the largest airlines in the world leveraged RPA to process flight cancellations and issue tens of thousands of refunds or credits per day.

In an increasingly digital world, technology will remain a focal point in all aspects of business and life, particularly when adapting to unplanned events becomes necessary. It is our hope that as you and your families remain safe and healthy, you can use our current circumstances to strengthen your organizations, making them more resilient and conscientious, and elevate your professional offering by using the time and available resources to upskill and advance.

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