Preparing for the Unthinkable: Lessons from the Coronavirus Pandemic
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Shawn Allan
Global digital and technology leader (consulting)

In the normal course of business, companies of all sizes face a wide variety of vulnerabilities, from reduced demand and cumbersome regulations to increased capital, labor and material costs, and even natural disasters. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of preparing and planning for something else – the unthinkable. This global contagion has forced businesses worldwide to think about how they function and whether they have the tools, resources, workforce and flexibility to continue operations – whether it’s in the office, in the field, online-only, or a work-from-home environment. What should you do when there is zero tolerance for downtime – and what has the pandemic taught you about your company’s preparedness?

Ten years ago, my team asked many of these same questions. I was managing Wood’s Met-Ocean initiative, which operates a 24/7 weather forecasting business that generates an enormous amount of data and has run continuously since it launched over two decades ago. If we were just a few minutes late with information, there were financial penalties and weather-related safety concerns for our clients. We serve businesses that rely heavily on advanced weather modeling to reduce impacts of severe and unpredictable weather patterns – on road conditions, helicopter flights to remote and challenging worksites, and stability of electrical grids. To ensure the business was resilient and responsive, we planned for how to operate under multiple extreme system failure scenarios and moved to a dual cloud-based architecture with multiple options for power outages. This freed us from the limitations of physical servers and ensured our team was prepared for anything – even if it meant servicing clients from our homes. That worst-case scenario had never happened until COVID-19.

In my current role representing digital and technology for Wood’s Technical Consulting Solutions business, I have been thinking about the importance of businesses being agile enough to adjust to unthinkable circumstances like the coronavirus pandemic. No one could have envisioned the speed with which they would have to make crucial decisions – for their employees, their customers, and their own long-term survival. This held true whether it was global corporations moving their teams to work-at-home models, small businesses suddenly forced to close or reduce operations, automobile manufacturers retooling assembly lines to produce ventilators, retailers forced to shift to online-only purchase models, or local grocery stores suddenly finding themselves on the frontlines of panic-buying.

In a short time, businesses and governments worldwide have learned the answers to some crucial questions: How nimble are we? Do we have the technology and resources we need to adapt? What isn’t as important as we thought it was? And, what must we do better for the future?

Here are five key takeaways to consider:

  1. Companies need to prepare for a workforce that prefers the flexibility of working from home.
    4-7% – Average of UK/US employees who regularly worked from home before COVID-19.

    Steps taken to continue operations have reinforced that much work does not require an office. Workers are becoming more comfortable with virtual meetings, which will reduce the need for travel and face-to-face office interaction. What elements of the office environment add the most value, and how can remote working be made both productive and enjoyable?

  2. Business resilience will be essential for everyone.
    6-20% – Estimated online order business for more than half of full-service, dine-in US restaurants.

    Business models must be revised to ensure agile response to cope with sudden, unexpected shocks. The restaurant industry, having faced complete shutdown from COVID-19, understands the value of incorporating new curbside and takeout-oriented models alongside traditional indoor dining. Investment in online and mobile retail gateways must be accelerated, as social distancing makes traditional ways of doing business less profitable. New revenue models must be found in sports to withstand sudden stadium shutdowns.

  3. Field workers need to be digitally connected.
    81% - Executives believe empowering firstline workers with digital tools and platforms creates competitive advantage.

    This means more than just phones, tablets and an internet connection. They need mixed/augmented reality and video capabilities that allow factory acceptance testing, auditing, and training to take place through full digital replication of the field worker’s environment back to another remote environment, whether office, home, or elsewhere.

  4. Further investment is needed in digital twinning.
    13% - Median of businesses already using digital twins.

    Companies that had the most mature digital twins of their projects during this crisis were the least likely to experience disruptions to workflow. There must be an aggressive acceleration of investment to build more complete digital replicas of physical assets, operations, and processes and the interoperable data warehousing structure that undergirds it.

  5. Rethinking supply chains and how they operate.
    +222% - Average increase in supply chain lead times for China-sourced inputs.

    The crisis is already motivating governments to shift away from producing everything in China. It may also be what is needed to push blockchain to more mainstream adoption. Blockchain can provide much better visibility into where problems are occurring in a supply chain. Those who adopt it are likely to gain competitive advantage during future economic shocks.

No matter how you look at it, the global COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented force of change for everyone. Sadly, many lives have been lost. Nothing we took for granted in the past feels sure anymore, and entire business and economic models have been upended. Yet, even out of extreme hardship, there are unexpected and critical lessons to be found – one of them is to make sure we’re prepared for the unthinkable of the future.

Learn more about how Wood reimagine resilience that can transform how you respond and reshape your future.

Statistics cited in this blog came from the following resources

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