The Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously observed that the only constant in life is change.
But while anticipating disruptive events and developing plans to manage them is part and parcel of responsible business management, it’s a fair bet that few Australian enterprises were comprehensively prepared for a pandemic on the scale of COVID-19.
Unknown to the world at large until 31 December 2019, the virus has thrown countries and economies into crisis mode, around the world.
In March, it triggered a series of extraordinary shutdown measures, aimed at ‘flattening the curve’ – the now well understood term for slowing the spread of a disease, in order to prevent medical facilities being overwhelmed by the demand for care.
Those shutdown measures have made doing business impossible for thousands of Australian businesses and ‘business as usual’ a challenge for a great many others.
Business continuity – the ability to keep trading during and after a period of significant disruption or disaster – frequently hinges on having a solid foundation that supports innovation at speed.
Technologies that underpin innovation
Digital tools and platforms can play a vital role in facilitating and supporting innovation. At a time of immense upheaval, they can mean the difference between finding ways to do things differently – and falling in a heap.
Recent research by smart workplace technology vendor Ricoh suggests organisations of all stripes which invest in these tools and platforms are likely to find it easier to effect change rapidly.
The Ricoh 2020 Workplace Innovation Index, an annual survey of Australian business leaders conducted by market research firm, StollzNow Research, highlighted the fact that business agility, technology skills and communications are key to innovation and growth.
That facility to innovate, adapt and pivot can make keeping on keeping on – the essence of business continuity – feasible and achievable, in even the most challenging of circumstances.
A digitised environment can serve as the foundation for a more innovative corporate or organisational culture but, in many Australian enterprises, there’s a significant gap between ambition and action. Currently, only 60 per cent of local organisations have a program to migrate to a digital environment, while just 45 per cent say they’re reorganising their processes and procedures to incorporate best of breed digital technology.
Analytics, workflow tools, collaboration and security are considered the ‘money technologies’ but how well Australian organisations are exploiting their potential is open to question.
While two thirds of executive leaders say they recognise the value of collaboration, many organisations have failed to optimise their investment in collaboration tools by introducing collaborative practices in an integrated and systematic way, according to Ricoh’s research.
Those self-same leaders are also less than enthused about the short-term results delivered by new processes and systems which purport to be more efficient. Almost two thirds stated they are likely to lead to a loss in productivity, at least in the short term.
Keeping employees in the dark about digital transformation is an unfortunately common business practice; a factor which can contribute to their reluctance to embrace new workplace technologies, even when there’s a clear benefit to their doing so.
How do Australian companies stack up against those elsewhere in the world? Local leaders are aware there’s work to be done. Just one in five believes the country is ahead of other developed nations in the digital work space, while more than one in four say we’re lagging behind.
Enterprise-wide, ongoing investment in digital infrastructure and culture is needed to arrest the slide, introduce people to what’s possible with digital and enable innovation to flourish.
Such investment entails a long-term commitment, not isolated or exclusive activities or exercises. Ideally, it should be made at a time when the organisation is on stable footing, not in crisis mode.
Keeping business moving
Having a comprehensive business continuity plan, built on a robust digital foundation, is helping some Australian businesses to continue trading in today’s volatile and highly uncertain economic climate. Conversely, a lack of preparedness for the unexpected has made the going tougher than it perhaps needed to be for others.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold, businesses which have found themselves less well positioned to innovate and pivot may take the opportunity to assess and address their deficits. That’s an exercise that will see them better positioned to withstand the next instance of disruptive change, when it inevitably occurs.
- Ragavan Satkunam is Senior Manager, Portfolio and Strategy, at Ricoh Australia