How companies can ensure business continuity during the pandemic

Without a doubt, most businesses are currently trying to get to grips with what the ‘new normal’ entails, with most of their teams still working remotely whenever possible and other employees dealing with social distancing at their physical place of work.

Yet, it is clear that most businesses are now focusing more than ever on their digital services and infrastructure, as a critical asset to their sustainability, increased resiliency and success.

Most already have significant online presence, as IDC predicted that half of the global economy will be digital by 2021. Organisations are seeing the rise of omnichannel strategies, which provide a blended transparent experience across all digital and physical channels.

So, does this mean that IT priorities have changed with the pandemics and as more and more businesses go digital?

In many industries like retail, there has been a major change in priorities with many converting to become online pure players, or close to it, in a matter of weeks. Key stakeholders of any major disruptive change, like Covid-19, are made up of customers, employees and supply-chain, let alone shareholders — each raising different challenges, but there are some shared priorities:

1. Ensure Safety and Compliance, protecting the health and wellbeing of employees, customers, and partners takes first place. This has driven global work from home policies and the surge in use of online collaboration platforms. For most, this required to trigger their Business Continuity Plans, trigger the resizing of their infrastructure, the creation of new workflows and security controls.

2. Securing Business Continuity under degraded operations, securing existing distribution channels or creating new ones, via digital or hybrid, like online ordering and front-door pick-up — and also securing and re-shuffling the supply chain and adapting customer and partner information to new supply and demand realities.

3. Scaling their digital architecture to cope with activities that are x3, x10 or x100 their normal capacity – for example, online retail and home delivery, online collaboration, tele-medicine, e-commerce, etc. But also, scaling down whenever possible to cope with the collapse of demand – for example car sharing and ride-hailing.

4. Reacting and adapting to change rapidly by adapting customer journeys and business processes to public policies and daily changes to business conditions, providing real-time and transparent information to customers and end-users.

5. Focusing spend and resources on vital or highly differentiating projects and activities, in order to protect cash and rebound stronger than competition after the crisis, gaining market share and delighting customers.

A steeply upwards trend towards digital transformation will encourage businesses to leverage SaaS platforms. These have the capabilities to resolve many of the tough challenges natively; for example, the ability to be accessed remotely from anywhere in the world, the scalability and economies of scale of a multi-tenant modern architecture, the usage based model to reflect the ups and downs of activity, and the ability to provide best practice workflows and processes to deal with exceptional situations and compliance (such as providing Covid-19 solutions across the customer base and avoiding ‘re-invention’).

Gartner recommends five-phase strategy for business continuity

Gartner has recommended that organisations follow a five-phase strategy for business continuity during the coronavirus pandemic. Read here

Leveraging the cloud

In taking the SaaS route, there will also be a drive to accelerate the adoption of public cloud, and at least hybrid approaches, as a means of rapidly scaling operations without significant capital investment and resources, as well as providing the necessary infrastructure agility. This will in turn speed up the journey towards DevOps — as a way to efficiently ship and deploy new software to react to market conditions and re-invent customer interactions and underlying business processes.

We have already seen in Europe a surge in cloud activity, especially with SaaS, but it may not equate to an increase in cloud ‘adoption’. The volume of cloud activity has obviously increased for companies across the board, many of which had already been deploying cloud solutions for years and reaping their benefits — whether it was their apps were simply re-hosted in the cloud, re-platformed to leverage some gains from the PaaS components of the cloud, or fully re-factored to provide the velocity and agility of microservices and containers or serverless.

However, businesses cannot leverage the cloud in a mere few weeks if they hadn’t even begun the cloud journey much earlier. It can take months and years for teams to develop the knowledge, know-how, practice, and culture of being cloud native. I would argue that this is not something you can develop quickly, when your business is already at risk, your employees working from home, and traffic increase on your web site is already experiencing outages and latency.

So, it is more accurate to say that we will without doubt see a strong increase in adoption as an aftermath of this pandemic. It is never too late to start a cloud journey and the Cocid-19 situation will have surfaced multiple structural vulnerabilities and weaknesses in current infrastructures and practices.

What do European organisations need to do differently?

One key difference may be around data protection and GDPR. However, most businesses already have significant online presence and have therefore leveraged their existing architecture and software to comply with GDPR regulation; although it would be at a different scale if they faced a surge in traffic and in new users.

Covid-19 is a public health crisis, so there is also definitely heightened focus from the general public and the media related to the treatment of confidential health information and any potential software being used to capture health and tracking data from citizens, but this is a much broader and far-reaching discussion than GDPR compliance.

In terms of compliance, businesses operating in multiple countries across Europe or globally had to face the significant differences and frequent changes in regulations enacted by the various governments. This has amplified the need to be reacting to change rapidly in adapting customer journeys and business processes, and providing real-time and transparent information to customers, end-users and partners.

Overall, many companies have seen their business continuity plans, their agility, and their scalability tested like never before. They will draw critical lessons for the future of their IT infrastructure, software architectures and Agile/DevOps development practices. These are important steps that will enable them to face the next extraordinary event much better prepared to deal with the unknown and adapt immediately to disruptive market conditions.

Most importantly, they are discovering the necessity of having full observability of their digital environment and cloud infrastructure to see, understand, and take action to resolve performance issues proactively.

In this post globalisation era, with the global geo-political, societal, environmental and economic challenges facing our world, disruption may become the new norm, and only the lean and nimble who have a comprehensive single source of truth of the health and behaviour of their critical systems and digital processes might survive.

Written by Greg Ouillon, CTO at New Relic

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