by Nicholas D. Evans

3 steps to developing a risk response advisory system

Jun 23, 20205 mins
Business ContinuityDisaster RecoveryIT Leadership

Much like DEFCON is used in the U.S. Armed Forces to react to changing threat levels, your enterprise needs its own PANDCON to deal with changing pandemic conditions. Here's how to get started.

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Credit: Getty Images

If your business continuity and disaster recovery plan, or any approach for that matter, is serving you well in times of COVID-19, you can stop reading now. However, if the crisis has made you look for other solutions and approaches simply to survive, let alone thrive, please read on.

The fundamental issue with most recovery plans is that they are designed for short-lived outages. You’re relying on these plans to get business back up and running and to recover. It’s a way to restore business as usual from a temporary outage or disruption in service. 

But what if we’re not trying to get back to business as usual? What if continuous change and disruption is the new normal?

This requires completely different thinking and a radical change in mindset.

In this world of continuous disruption, what’s required is enterprise adaptability — not just for a one-time change, but continuously based on rapidly changing external conditions.

Here are three recommendations for starting on this new journey.

Set a strategic goal to become an adaptive enterprise

In times of constant change your enterprise needs to be adaptive. You can achieve this by strategically moving to areas such as agile, devops and cloud within IT, to gig economy and contract labor within HR, to platforms and ecosystems within business models, and to pre-configured operating procedures for the most likely conditions.

Adaptability should become part of your organizational DNA as you advance your maturity in designing and operating flexible and agile processes and procedures. In this manner, the improvisations that have been introduced for COVID-19 can become go-to innovations for the longer term. This is the backdrop and the top-level strategy and approach that readies you for the next set of recommendations.

Design your risk response advisory system

Much like DEFCON is used in the U.S. Armed Forces to react to changing threat levels, your enterprise needs its own PANDCON to deal with changing pandemic conditions. Building on the concept of a color-coded, 5-tier warning system, this should be used to codify the operating procedures that will become your go-to procedures based on the changing business realities of the pandemic. These will become your standard operating procedures for how you do business every day. Set level 1 as fully open, business as usual. Set level 5 as fully closed or operating essential services only.

By also codifying your operating procedures for levels 2-4 (typically 75%, 50% and 25% open if you think about phased re-openings, though these figures aren’t exact or to be taken literally), you can innovate in these intermediate zones to strike the right balance between risk and reward, lives and livelihoods. As an example, if you’re an airline, your level 4 as you gradually re-open might be blocking the middle seats and domestic travel only.

And you can explore ways to move between levels while still operating within government guidelines. To use our airline example, you may find that reversing the middle seats enables you to operate at Level 2 (75%), instead of Level 3 (50%), to open up more capacity while still maintaining passenger safety.

Implementing PANDCON

To implement this system, you cascade your 5-tiered set of operating procedures across the business much like a strategic plan. You may have different versions to codify your go-to operating procedures for various countries, business units and functional areas. Each leader can build out their own plan for their specific area. Each area can also be operating at a different level from other areas simultaneously.

Depending on your maturity, and how far you’d like to go with this approach, you can use it simply as a communication tool and playbook for how you’ll operate throughout different pandemic conditions or you can use it to rehearse jumping from one modality to another, aiming to reduce switching time from weeks or months to days.

Responding to unpredictable, fast-changing and often dangerous conditions is something that the natural world figured out long ago. Chameleons can display a myriad of colors, yet they tend to show brighter colors when displaying aggression and darker colors when displaying submission. These aren’t random choices, improvised on the fly, but pre-configured go-to responses. What are your go-to responses?  

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