This is the third in a series exploring Dr. Kristen Lee’s (Northwestern University) nine lessons in personal and collective fortitude. Seen through the lens of a business operation, each lesson has application in the current national health and economic challenges, and for successful endeavors in the future.
Resilience is innate to us all. We have built-in mechanisms to endure and recover from physical challenges, and we can strengthen our physical resilience, as any athlete will tell you. We can strengthen our psychological resilience too, by connecting with others and doing something meaningful every day.
The ability to adapt to challenges and novel circumstances is the hallmark of resilience, not just for individuals but for businesses as well. But unlike human resilience, business resilience is not innate.
Most businesses have provisions for sudden disruptions to supply chains and operations, but few have the same resilience built in to the business model itself. Your old business model may not be holding up well to the challenges of today. But you can modify the model to add a measure of resilience that not only helps your business survive, but thrive in the “new normal.”
The business experts at Gartner offer a five-step approach to improving business resilience:
- Define the current business model.Customers, value proposition, capabilities, financial model – what have they been, up to this point? What has changed in the current crisis?
- Identify uncertainties. What uncertainties are likely to affect the business? Define the disruptions.
- Assess the impact. Create a Business Impact Analysis that covers the categories of impact, the time frame and cycles of impact, the relative weights of different types of impact, and the dependency risks.
- Design the changes to the model. An example: Some organizations are changing to fully remote work, supported by imaging (document conversion) to maintain productivity. Focus on what would need to change in your organization’s model to meet Step Three’s impact; no idea is off limits here.
- Execute. The four previous steps inform the decision-making process. Once decisions are made and the new business model is defined, take an agile approach to execution. Ensure that all department leaders, from IT to customer service, have bought in to the new business model, and are integrating it into their operations.
The same is true for business organizations. Change is inevitable, but it is usually slow and gives plenty of notice. In a crisis, however, change doesn’t wait. No business can be entirely shock-proof, but those which add resilience to their business models can meet the challenge: endure, adapt, strengthen, and thrive.
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Business owners and managers seem to be in constant disaster recovery mode these days. A perfect storm of catastrophes is pushing many companies’ disaster plans far beyond their original parameters, but there are technology tools that can help your organization weather the effects of the next emergency.
To bring the right technology to bear, first look at your business model. Ideally, it was designed with resilience in mind, adaptable to sudden change. Then identify the elements – human, physical, and digital – that are vital for the business to continue.
- Physical assets– paper documents and records, communications and IT equipment, inventory, operational facilities, manufacturing equipment
- Digital assets– Broad informational resources, from accounting and customer data to inventory and logistics information
- Human resources– Department heads and key teams with intimate operational knowledge; line workers with specialized training or experience
Once you know what’s essential, take a look at the technologies that support those vital elements you’ve identified. Is your business taking advantage of all the available technology? Here are three ways to apply existing technology to bridge asset-management gaps:
- Paper documents– Institute an imaging program to convert documents from physical assets to digital assets, stored safely on off-site servers. Remote access to imaged documents lets knowledge workers remain productive if the workplace is off-limits during a disaster.
- Communications and IT– Provide portable IT and telecom resource centers in safe zones. Employees can access and recharge work-related electronic devices at off-site locations, continuing their work even in the event of power cuts.
- Employees– Utilize RFID-equipped wearables in the workplace to maintain social distance and preserve employee health. And in emergency situations, these same wearables will help locate workers for evacuation or rescue.
The above technologies don’t necessarily require complete new systems to be put in place. Depending on how you do business, you may only need to expand what you’re already doing. For example, if you’re already providing electronic devices to your employees, it’s quite simple to have several portable charging and storage stations on hand as part of a readiness plan. Or if you’re already providing work uniforms to workers, RFID wearables are easy to bolt on to your current program.
If this year has taught us anything, it’s to be prepared for the unexpected. Emergencies of all kinds, whether natural or human-caused, can wipe out the unready. If technology can keep your business assets safe and keep your business operations productive, shouldn’t it be part of your disaster plan?
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This is the second in a series exploring Dr. Kristen Lee’s (Northwestern University) nine lessons in personal and collective fortitude. Seen through the lens of a business operation, each lesson has application in the current health and economic challenges, and for successful endeavors in the future.
For years, fitness experts have been telling us that stressing our muscles makes them stronger. When we hit a fitness plateau, we’re told to challenge ourselves. Run a little farther, lift a little more weight, change our routine. That change is inevitably painful, but our bodies adapt. And after the discomfort, they are improved – faster, stronger, more resilient.
The same principle applies to the “fitness” of a business. A successful enterprise often falls into routine habits of doing business, just like a fitness plateau. Innovation and creativity are set aside in favor of “business as usual.”
Today’s economic challenges can seem like a too-heavy lift, unless we think of them as an opportunity for improvement. We have a chance to break out of the routine, dust off our creativity, and invent new strategies for business success. Consider some of the new ways you might do business:
- Make telecommuting a permanent part of your operations. Support teleworkers with electronics and remotely-accessed imaged documents. You’ll reduce the number of workers in the office and keep that ideal 6-foot separation.
- Re-shape your facility’s interior to accommodate social distancing.Condense your documents and supplies into a high-density storage system that reduces storage space and provides more area for personal space.
- Establish additional services or products to bolt on to your current ones. For example, add delivery to manufacturing, as many restaurants have. Or add installation to design, as some interior-fixtures companies are planning.
This period in our history may feel like an enforced “time-out.” But like switching up our fitness routines, today we have an opportunity to apply our innovative instincts, do something different, make a change, and grow stronger. Break out your business imagination!
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Many of us are working from home these days (kudos to the heroic first responders, healthcare workers, and essential-business employees keeping us safe, secure, and supplied!). It has been a disruptive transition for the many enterprises unprepared for telework. Even businesses that already had telecommuting policies and procedures in place have found their remote-work systems stretched beyond capacity. If you’re new to telework, your staff may be scrambling to stay productive while setting up alternatives to face-to-face collaboration – building the ship while you’re sailing it.
Despite all the disruption and anxiety, there’s a silver lining. On the upside: Businesses with established telecommuting routines are learning where the weak points in their systems are. Now they have an opportunity to fix the shortcomings of outdated VPNs and low-capacity internal apps.
A second positive consequence: Businesses that were previously reluctant to adopt telecommuting are now discovering that their organizations may actually benefit from remote work. One study in the Harvard Business Review found that telecommuting employees start work earlier, take fewer breaks (no “cake in the break room”), and work more diligently, as much as an extra day per week.
To make telecommuting work, however, the right infrastructure needs to be in place. As some organizations have discovered, there are plenty of productivity tools they can quickly adopt to support telework. Zoom, for video conferencing, and Slack, for remote collaboration, are two of the most popular.
But what about all the paper documents in file cabinets back at the office, the ones that need to be accessed routinely by teams? Companies in the finance, insurance, legal, and government sectors are especially paper-reliant. Telework is a challenge when the nature of the work requires paper documents.
That’s where document imaging fits in to the productivity picture. Digital versions of paper documents, stored on secure internal servers or cloud servers, can be accessed and shared among remote workers. In combination with other collaboration tools, imaging gives teleworkers the infrastructure to be even more productive than they were in the office.
Telework is upon us, like it or not. With the right tools and systems we can make it work to the benefit of our individual businesses, and the economy as a whole. And when the current crisis ends, telework will have proven itself to be the work style of the future.
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Telework has unquestionable benefits – employee satisfaction, health, and productivity are often cited – but without easy access to business documents, those benefits may not be realized.
Forbes reports telework savings averaging $11,000 per employee per year, including the value of healthy, productive employees and the cost savings of reduced real estate and other facilities expenses.
But teleworkers need access to information in order to work efficiently, and that includes access to data which may currently be available only in paper form. Remote sharing of physical documents is obviously unwieldy. Teleworkers must to come to the documents’ location or the documents must be delivered to the remote workers. And if teleworking team members all need the same documents, the logistics get even more complicated and expensive.
All the teleworking productivity gains are wiped out by the paper document bottleneck.
You might think that a simple PDF of a physical document would be easy to share with any teleworker who needs it. That’s true. But what if there are hundreds or thousands of pages that teleworkers need to access? Further, what if they need to search for specific individual elements within those many documents?
That’s where enterprise-level imaging becomes a vital component of teleworking productivity. Imaging, also termed document conversion, creates “smart” digital documents – secure, searchable, and shareable via cloud computing. When paper documents are converted to a smart digital format, teleworkers’ productivity is preserved. Digital documents remain secure (have paper documents ever been lost or destroyed in your business?). And managers can monitor staffers’ work and support their collaborations remotely.
Some businesses have the time, expertise, and resources in-house to plan and execute a comprehensive imaging program. For many, however, an experienced outside vendor saves them the time and cost of a long learning curve and the personnel to administer an imaging program. If your business is making a move to telework, and time is of the essence, talk to a trusted imaging vendor about the best way to convert your paper documents and avoid the information bottleneck.
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In almost every industry, business owners are considering ways to outsource some business functions. Others are looking at bringing everything in-house. It’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition. How do you decide?
Home Depot, for example, has taken a big step toward moving its entire supply chain in-house. The building-supplies giant recently opened an 800,000 square foot distribution center in Dallas, Texas, with the goal of being able to provide same day/next day delivery to 90% of the U.S. This new distribution center gives Home Depot “the opportunity to own its entire supply chain,” according to SVP of supply chain Stephanie Smith.
Outsourcing has its own set of benefits, however, and the risks and rewards have to be evaluated for each unique situation, according to Micah Pratt, writing in Business.org. The upside of outsourcing includes:
- Expertise without the learning curve– Business functions from accounting to document imaging, inventory systems, and facilities management all require a fair amount of expertise to establish and maintain. Outsourcing provides immediate access to expert professional services without the delays of the in-house learning curve.
- Focus on core business– When you outsource some functions, you can turn your attention to the important tasks of sales growth, customer retention, and innovation.
- Lower-cost growth– Outsourcing to a professional-services provider allows businesses to grow without all of the capital costs and operating expenses associated with expanding those functions in-house.
Outsourcing is almost always a cost saver. Some business owners and managers worry, though, that they will lose control of essential information or product quality.
If reduced oversight and control is a concern, look for a single vendor who can provide more than one outsourced function. A vendor who provides storage products, professional services, and inventory systems, for example, will be easier to monitor than three different vendors for these three different functions. Start off with a single project, and as a vendor proves to be trustworthy, add more functions to the vendor’s outsourcing contract.
A careful cost-benefit analysis yields useful insights into the relative value of outsourced vs. in-house, and accounting expert Kenneth Boyd offers a template to help weigh the pros and cons. As businesses everywhere face downward pressure on costs, now is the time to evaluate whether some business functions should be in-house, and others can be beneficially outsourced.
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