COVID-19 Business Survival Kit

Author by Nathan Lasnoski

Ever watch “Man vs. Wild”? I remember him eating something crazy and thinking, wow… that’s pretty intense… I don’t know if I could do that. He said, “when you need to survive, you do what is necessary”. Even more, when you learn what you can do, you learn what you now must do and you grow from it. The current business climate is a bit like a version of “Man vs. Wild” for the economy, with businesses needing to re-invent themselves and look themselves in the eye on how they re-engage in what is most important for their businesses. What needs to go in your business survival kit that enables you to make the necessary changes?

Starting Block:

The starting point of response is to understand your priorities. The COVID event will impact your employees, your customers, and partner relationships. The expectations on a business owner are:

  1. Keep your employees safe and enable their WFH environment
  2. Understand how COVID impacts business execution
  3. Control business activities with discipline and intentionality
  4. Retain core business where possible
  5. Plan and respond to COVID with business disruption

So, what kinds of ideas can help us accelerate, transform, and respond to this situation? How can we look at the event as a time when our business was the strongest because of how our people and strategy came together to respond. This isn’t a time to just exist, it’s a time to re-define how we serve a market with a different set of needs. Here is our survival kit:

Survival Kit 1: Demand & Inventory

Are you optimizing the inventory and customer needs in this economic climate?  No business wants to be spending more or over-paying for their supply chain, especially now.  Now is the time to look under the hood and find the “pennies in the couch” that might be diamonds, right when you need them.  The way you’ve solved supply chain and demand wasn’t effective on a good day, but now there isn’t a human alive who can do this themselves.  Now is the time to think different and receive the benefits.

  • Understanding the incoming demand better
  • Optimizing the relationship between demand and supply
  • Optimizing where supply is stored and how much
  • Optimizing when and how supply is obtained

These questions have answers and you aren’t getting them now. Looking at this picture, your goal is to get your demand as close to your supply as possible. The problem is your capability to manage that just went from bad to worse, with the red arrow representing inventory, capacity, or allocation you are spending that you shouldn’t be.

Now imagine the image above with many locations, the dynamicism of in-location optimization, and the need to be conservative with cash. In bad times the best optimizers are the ones that remain.

The goal with this optimization is to take the uncertainty out of the equation, or at least minimize it. We can’t do that as humans because we lack the computational ability and even with tools like excel we struggle. This is where we must lean on technology like AI to look at our challenges and apply learnings to save us precious investment and effort. This isn’t an aspirational effort… this is a here and now opportunity.

Survival Kit 2: Your Customer Engagement

Is pivoting in your customer engagement now not just a “nice to have”, but a “must”?  Are your products and services aligned to where your customers are buying now and 6 months from now, as the market shifts monumentally as do buying habits?  There isn’t time to wait around anymore.  You need to understand your customer journey and related pivot for the survival of your business.  In just the last two weeks the market is full of examples of companies that have completely changed their business models for the current opportunity.  Exhibit companies that turned to building outdoor testing centers, movement to cinema streaming as movie theatres shutter, retooling to produce masks… now is the time to pivot and live vs. wait and fade into irrelevancy.

Take these examples below as ways to think about this shift, in B2C, or even a B2B setting where the customer is another business. In each of these the service not only adapts to the new lifestyle, but actually may remain normative after the event completes.

Consider that if you make the shift, either to produce a new product your customer wants now, or change the delivery model, even if less capable than before, you may change the entire market. This change likely is disrupting what was originally your core service… something you might have been reticent to change. That’s how disruptive innovation happens… the core service is changed by something more accessible but less feature rich. Disruption happens in the un-served market… well, now most of the market is un-served and there is a land grab to do it better.

To learn more about disruptive strategy, check this post we did a few weeks ago and how it can change your approach at this critical time

Survival Kit 3: Workforce Productivity

When some businesses shifted to remote work it was just another day at the office.  How was it for you?  Are your people as productive as they were a week ago?  Do you know?  How do you distributed a new laptop and enable a user to be productive?  Can you meet the needs of your remote workforce?  Let us look at your workforce and optimize the effort and effectiveness.  Anything but is opportunity cost wasted. 

I’ve seen two types of businesses in this shift… the first is where businesses weren’t ready, thought of the shift as a short term move, and saw their legacy platforms or a hasty roll-out weakly respond to the need. The second is the one that understand the shift in the remote business model as one that is pseudo-permanent and their company’s ability to execute in this position will determine its future. The optimizations in IT, workforce, and process are a catalyst to drive productivity, creativity, and engagement from the organization. The following describes the continuum from legacy (left) to modern (right) and moving through that model.

For more on this, check our post on 5 expectations and 5 changes for the remote workforce that talks about these shifts in detail.

Survival Kit 4: Workforce Security

Has there ever been a time when the workforce is more vulnerable to security gaps? Yes, and no… in an odd way the disconnected nature of the workforce can create some mitigating factors for some of the traditional ways that companies are compromised, but on the whole, the gaps are huge and the ease of compromise is real. With un-managed devices, un-managed networks, with un-managed users connecting to critical company assets you have a recipe for disaster. Your users are not safe because they are on the VPN or corporate network. Your corporate network is unsafe because the users are on it! The opportunity is to use the work from home movement to cause us to secure the environment. The work you do now will also translate into a more secure future, even when devices start coming back into the office.

Think about it from the perspective of this diagram… the most secure environment is the one that mitigates the movement below from this…

To this… which provides much higher protection and in the case of work from home is critical to your security.

Or this, which shows the “gates” a device needs to flow through in order to talk to an app, another user, or corp-net resources.

Learn more about it here, in the full length post.

Survival Kit 5: Leadership Management

How is your leadership team doing at responding to the crisis, having a clear action plan, managing actions/owners/ETAs, and using technology as an asset?  The tools in your toolbox yesterday may not have been sufficient, but you got by.  Now is the time to ensure you are driving with effectiveness, discipline, and transparency.  Concurrency can help with agile methods of responding that keeps you on track.  We’ll look at what you’re doing, show you what we do, and then quickly help close the gap.

You can see below an example of leveraging Teams and Planner to organize an executive team plan… driving collaboration, files, communication, and action in the same place.

The big difference between leadership acting with intentionality and not was significant before… now it means jobs, your business, and your customers in a much more accentuated way.

Survival Kit 6: Logistics and Product Delivery

Not only is your supply chain a mess and your demand process stretched, but the process of serving your customers is in real trouble.  How effectively are you able to manage the distribution and engagement of your goods to where they need to go?  Do they ship from the closest facility?  Are you prepared to manage this as the workforce, consumer demand, and your locations are hit with uncertainty?  This may not always be the “first dollar”, but if the priorities are to retain your customers and save every dollar you can, the payback here is significant. 

For an example, consider grocery delivery and the supply chain necessary to fulfill it, as well as the demand for products attached to that flow. In the first example, we have the legacy model. The majority of folks went to a store for their products and groceries… the supply chain was largely understood and although inefficient, it did hit most of the customer’s needs, despite sometimes being out of one item or another.

Now consider the changed market… the grocery delivery to homes has drastically increased, the needs for certain goods outpaces supply, and the new services like store-contactless-pickup are understaffed. This market change will be semi-permanent once we get used to it. How do we prepare ourselves to execute better and still make a profit?

The guardianship and management of the supply chain has never been more important and now is the time to apply new technologies and approaches to solve the problem. Yes, you can throw staff at it, but the more timely and cost effective way is to combine that staff with immediate optimization that only AI can provide.


Survival Kit 7: Supply Chain

The close partner to #6 is the supply chain itself. In response to COVID many businesses saw their supply chains fall apart. From lack of staff, to outpaced demand, to missing deadlines. How comfortable are you in your supply chain right now?  Are you sure you can deliver when your customers are counting on you?  Can you make promises to your current customers with all the uncertainty?  This is the time to get it right, not to guess. It’s the time to understand what’s really going on in your supply chain, when product is being delivered, when you need it, where it’s going, whose handling it.  It needs to be nimble, but controlled.  These are the times when mistakes are made that cost serious capital, or more lives, because we struggle to manage all the moving parts. 


This is also where technology like cost of delivery, when you need it, and how much you need can make the difference. The best companies are not only in control of their supply chain, they are also helping their suppliers to be effective because that partnership drives outcomes for both companies. If a supplier knows what to produce and a producer knows what they are delivering and how, the quality is higher. This, combined with #2 creates a truly capable organization.


Survival Kit 8: Creative Problem Solving

In the past when your key leaders couldn’t push an idea because of internal politics and blockers you were concerned, but not enough to do something about it.  Now, you need every idea you can get and you need it now.  Your people are your best asset as you look to re-invent your company, re-engage your customers, and lock down your supply chain.  Is technology your best asset in that fight?  If not, how can you unblock the power of your employees.  How can technologies like process optimization, low/code, and creative tooling let you engage faster, more nimbly, in what is important right now. 

The best companies have an innovation mindset, are willing to disrupt themselves, and are constantly evolving. It can be challenging to get the wheel starting its movement, but nothing kick starts it like necessity.

Consider if you have a customer obsession. Are you building products that they want or do you have a product you are trying to sell?

Think about product development in the context of the Theory of Jobs to Be Done. This framework considers “what job is my customer trying to accomplish”… for instance, the reason why a customer needs a hole drilled is because they are trying to fasten two objects together. What if there was a better way to fasten the two objects which didn’t require a hole?

Your customers are hiring you to fulfill a need. What we’re seeing from the shift in the market is a rapid transition from an evolutionary growth of products to a disruptive moment. Consider where your business is now and how you respond… are you climbing the curb and able to respond?

Survival Kit 9: Bridging the Gap and Finding a New Door

There is always more work than your team can handle, but now it’s really hit hard.  How do you respond to this crisis, knowing your team can’t scale as they need?  Are you trying to just throw more people at the problem?  What if automation, combined with brilliant change agents can accelerate your current team?  Rather than scale with manual processes, leverage advanced capabilities to find better ways to scale, in an agile fashion understanding your team is busy, but also looking for a better way out.  Use this opportunity to drive a better customer engagement and employee productivity by augmenting with experts who will both provide much needed manpower as well as look for optimizations and automations.

In the following you see a manual process for estimating… it takes a certain amount of manual process and requires a highly skilled estimator. Unfortunately, scaling highly skilled estimators is very difficult and leads to quality and error prone outcomes due to the inputs being poor.

Now imagine this model, where we’ve applied automation in the form of RPA, AI, and other tech to pre-process the data, eliminate a certain number, then augment the evaluation similarly with RPA and simple optimizers.

The opportunity now is to look at the current problem as an opportunity to improve the process as a whole, while also trying to address the issue of scale. Yes, you can throw people at it, but you’re better off looking at the problem differently and combining people with augmentation to deliver a consistent (if not better) experience.


Survival Kit 10: Moving Out

You have that datacenter down on Sullivan Street across from the medical center.  You’re paying through the nose, innovation isn’t happening, and everyone is remote anyway.  Is outsourcing to HCL all you get for your money?  You’ve got change windows everywhere because half the business is shut down and you know all new applications are built in the cloud.  Stop paying good money after bad and let us help you get a fresh start.  The first thing we’ll do is determine if we can shut it down.  Like spring cleaning, the best feeling is shutting it off, knowing you’ve just saved the company cash.  The second best is getting it out of the old place and into somewhere you can optimize and build new.  


The steps in “moving out” include, (1) defining the operationalized platform, (2) assessing the workloads to move (3) shutting down those that can be shut down, (4) moving those that remain in an optimized way.

The stage you’re trying to achieve is climbing the maturity curve, starting with the operational platform, then moving into leveraging it.

The opportunity to move now is based on the realization that you are always paying for something and rationalization fuels optimization. Get rid of what you don’t need, move into something optimized for your business, pitch the boat anchor of the datacenter. This both eliminates the legacy platform and optimizes you for future opportunity.

That’s 10… stay safe, analyze your strategy, attack and win. Now is the time to focus, modernize, execute. Let’s be change agents together.

Nathan Lasnoski

Author

Nathan Lasnoski

Chief Technology Officer