In the months since the pandemic, businesses around the world have been tested by the unprecedented disruption caused by COVID-19. The crisis has tried the very foundations of organizations, presenting business leaders with a landscape of previously un-encountered challenges that shift daily.
For some businesses, the transition has been nothing short of remarkable, and indeed a lesson in the power of re-invention amid times of extraordinary change. For others, the pandemic era has dealt a hand so hindering and so disruptive that the very idea of profitability has become secondary to maintaining solvency.
From supporting large-scale work from home operations to diversifying global operations delivery models or flexible supply chains, the ability to deliver unwavering business continuity under any circumstance is the new litmus test for operational resiliency. Agility has become everything and business leaders know they must act quickly while being adaptive, flexible and even creative in order to react in this new landscape of unrelenting change. However, despite meeting the highly accelerated pace of change in the time of COVID-19, businesses must ensure they are not relying on stop-gap solutions, or a ‘surviveat-all-cost’ operational strategy that does not encourageviable, long-term sustainability.
“Businesses must be prepared not just for a second or third or even fourth wave of COVID-19, but rather a future of fast-paced, unpredictable change that is likely to continue in a post-COVID-19 world.”
Beyond this, businesses must be prepared not just for a second or third or even fourth wave of COVID-19, but rather a future of fast-paced, unpredictable change that is likely to continue in a post-COVID-19 world. In this future, we must learn how to work with optimized flexibility and resilience, without losing sight of efficiency and profitability.
This adaptation is not simply a matter of adding more resources, new technology, or better infrastructure – though some investment in these areas will be required for many companies. The true end goal is to develop the flexibility to switch between different operating models, develop mobile infrastructure that can be dialed up and down as required to support employees, and the ability to source talent where and when it is needed.
We need a new playbook for sustainable business resiliency: one focused on the ability to react swiftly to major events, shifting direction and reinventing core functions while maintaining profitability. At EXL, our agility and resilience playbook constitutes of five core pillars:
1. Data Enabled Decisioning: Micro-precision in the face of volatility
2. Accelerated Migration to Cloud: Contemporize tech infrastructure
3. Proven Partner Ecosystem: Diversify and Expand
4. Stress Testing the System: Preparedness to disruption
5. Cultural Adaptability: Bringing together the distributed workforce
A New Playbook for Agility
Data-Enabled Decisioning: MicroPrecision in the Face of Volatility
In 2020, we have seen massive changes in consumer behavior, wild swings in commodity prices and widespread government stimulus shatter tried and true industry fundamentals. While some of this change is temporary, some of it is driving a permanent shift in both consumer behavior and business models. Companies need near-instant access to reliable, comprehensive data that gives them deep insight into today’s fast changing economic and market trends, macro customer journeys and individual customer experiences. Real-time insights at the point of execution have become central to resilient and smart operations, with access to on-demand continuous data driving precise, fast decisions.
Enterprise-wide data transparency and better insights for leaders through data is a critical enterprise asset that needs to be governed to provide trust and integrity. In today’s environment of uncertainty, organizations must be sure that audits do not have uncovered gaps, data does not become redundant or siloed, and that data quality and industry best practice are maintained. These practices will help to ensure that data-driven decisions are made on a robust foundation, helping to foster resilience and sustainability for the long-term.
According to research released in 2018 by ResearchandMarkets.com, the global Big Data analytics market was expected to reach US$ 105 billion by 2027, and 90% of business professionals surveyed said data and analytics were key to their organization’s digital transformation initiatives. It is clear that data is no longer a nice-to-have, but integral to companies becoming more agile in decision-making and manage volatility in times of unprecedented change.
At EXL, we are focused on tapping high frequency granular data to predict economic recovery across the US to help our clients drive strategic decisions. To that end, we have developed several metrics for determining how markets are recovering from the pandemic. These ‘Recovery Indicators’ leverage a large number of highfrequency, granular, non-traditional data elements aggregated across government directives, infection and hospitalization, consumer behaviour and business activity across industries.
This predictive recovery score is used to predict a range of metrics such as infection progression, spending patterns, unemployment trends and consumer confidence. Many financial institutions are using these scores to better align their marketing initiatives with the uneven recovery across the US. Understanding these emergent trends has been critical to optimizing the timing of marketing and new business underwriting strategies.
Static historical data has become a thing of the past. Now, with companies having to make more adaptations faster than ever before, there is little room for error. Any decision that negatively affects the bottom line or customer satisfaction can have an outsized affect on the entire business. The right analytics program counters this, anticipating, identifying, and reducing any wasted efforts. By cutting down on the amount of potentially wasted efforts, organizations can then better fund the extra costs associated with making their operations more resilient.
Accelerated Migration to the Cloud: Contemporize Tech Infrastructure
If businesses are to embrace data-enabled decisioning and apply predictive analytics to strategic metrics, data needs to be easily accessible from anywhere, anytime. As pandemic-induced lockdowns were put in place, many businesses realized the limitations of relying on on-premise systems to host their data. The need to migrate data to the cloud has become nothing short of urgent. Many digitally progressive companies have faced challenges during the COVID-19 crisis because their ERPs, HR systems and financial portals were designed to support verticalized functions and specific purposes. In the decentralized world of company-wide work-fromhome operations, many of those systems were either inaccessible, not compatible or just not functional in time — leaving teams to hark back to Excel spreadsheets.
Until now, the move to the cloud play was focused on speed, cost reduction and integrating a large variety of data sources. However, the COVID-19 crisis has tested organizations and illuminated the gaps in the readiness of systems to seamlessly continue operations independent of location. From a technology stand point, organizations have quickly realized the limitation of on-premise systems, and we’re seeing an acceleration of migration to the cloud, which offers real-time back up of all data, processes and systems, as well as eased disaster recovery and remote enablement.
“Ultimately, the cloud is becoming an essential investment in technology enablement, which will support agile businesses as they strive to become truly resilient and sustainable in the face of change.”
Ultimately, the cloud is an essential investment in technology enablement, which will enhance digital applications and improve operations manageability. Cloud-native applications will not only drive enterprise transformation and provide the flexibility for the hybrid operating model, but also ensure robust data governance and cyber security standards. With the structural cost reduction from the modernized tech architecture, companies will be able to fund their digital transformation agenda and achieve business outcomes faster. But most importantly, cloud will be the foundation for an organization’s readiness to switch between operating models, pivot to newer solutions and adjust computing capacity at will.
A Proven Partner Ecosystem: Diversify and Expand
While data and technology have become foundations to support sustainable resiliency amid times of volatility and change, the value of a trusted partner network should not be underestimated. A well-constructed network provides businesses with partners they can trust, reduces friction when making significant changes in response to events, and can reduce costs in key areas.
The support of a good stakeholder and partner ecosystem goes beyond protecting existing operations with partners: in order to promote sustainability and resilience, companies should be looking to grow their partner networks. Though disruption from the pandemic has been widespread, companies can decrease its impact by building and maintaining a wide and diverse network of partners, who are less likely to be disrupted all at once.
A partner network may also offer other unique advantages, such as geographic diversification. Firms that have operations that are spread across a country, or indeed across several countries, have in many instances been able to mitigate some of the impact of COVID-19 from a service delivery standpoint. Geographical diversity may also help talent acquisition needed for areas of transformation that rganizations might be lacking. With quality talent scant in some geographic areas, a broadened search can include remote workers outside of a particular region.
At EXL, we are seeing our clients focus on operational resilience as one of the key drivers of partner selection. The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of a robust partner ecosystem, with trust, credibility, and communication labelled as absolutely crucial.
Stress Testing the System: Preparedness for Disruption
Moving forward, organizations will have to build sustainable resilience to withstand crisis such as the pandemic — but not at the cost of profitability. Making a system resilient doesn’t mean iron-cladding the whole supply chain, but rather identifying the weak points in the chain which have a high probability of breaking and high impact potential and safeguarding against that.
“Making a system resilient doesn’t mean iron-cladding the whole supply chain, but rather identifying the weak points in the chain which have a high probability of breaking and high impact potential and safeguarding against that..”
Most businesses have already begun protecting weak points in their supply chains. Employees have been provisioned with laptops and internet connectivity devices where needed, tools for communication and collaboration have been deployed, and process adjustments for a remote work environment have been made.
Most of these adaptations have been made as temporary fixes for a particular problem. Sustainably resilient operations will require taking a step back and looking at workflows end-to-end to see what changes must be made for these short-term changes to work long-term. That includes examining what governance structures should be instituted, taking a second look at what compliance issues may arise in this new environment, and how to better manage transitions between on premise and remote work operations.
Businesses need to strive to withstand disruptions of varying size and length, be it a step function change or sudden peak. Companies need to look at systemic changes to business models that can safeguard against more predictable and small-scale disruptions such that the incremental cost to bear is only for extremely disruptive scenarios. Businesses right now need to find solutions that leverage tech to make the process and business model better. If they do that right — with the right engineering, the right technology and the right focus — the cost savings will follow.
Cultural Adaptability: Bringing Together the Distributed Workforce
Companies thrive or fail based on their culture. Just as businesses are adapting their technology and partner networks for a constantly-changing future, the ways organizations create and promote their corporate cultures must be examined too.
Unsurprisingly, most workplace culture is created in the workplace. Offices often serve as incubators for the collaboration and team dynamics that shape how employees approach their work. Access to these facilities has become a volatile proposition as regulations tighten and roll back if and when workers can return to their workplace.
Instead of finding ways to maintain a corporate culture developed in offices for a work-from-anywhere environment, businesses should instead find ways to embrace the change — and make the flexibility to respond to changes one of their core cultural tenets. A research by HBR has found that businesses with strong, strategically aligned, and adaptable culture earned 15% more in annual revenue compared to their less adaptable peers.
At the core of it is human ingenuity — the ability of people to adapt, rally to the occasion and collaborate is what will make organizations successful. What will be critical as we move forward is that we continue to recognize, reward and allow that spirit to flourish in our organizations — virtual or not.
New Playbook for the Agility Economy
In the long-term, shareholders will benefit by paying for the cost of resiliency but will expect higher productivity gains from data. Enterprise wide data and analytics capabilities will no longer be a nice-to-have, and real time insights at the point of execution will be central to resilient and smart operations. Predictive recovery scores will be integral in predicting a range of metrics that will underpin informed and strategic business decisions moving forward.
Technology interventions such as cloud migration and the creation of virtual organizations will work hand in hand with today’s work from anywhere model, while the development of proven partner ecosystems will promote diversification on all levels while bolstering resilience.
Every business has the capacity to achieve new levels of resilience: the key is being agile in a sustainable way, in order to ensure that resilience is sustainable.
“Every business has the capacity to achieve new levels of resilience: the key is being agile in a sustainable way, in order to ensure that resilience is sustainable.”
Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, EXL