The ongoing need for individuals to work from home is changing our personal lives, but also creating new business priorities and challenges. With people self-isolating and staff working in unfamiliar ways, or perhaps becoming unavailable at short notice, what was once routine can quickly spin out of control.
Regular processes are often highly labour intensive, such as reconciliation of accounts, data entry, tasks specified by regulatory bodies or the prioritisation and allocation of work. Many of these tasks will have become the domain of a single person, which introduces a ‘single point of failure.’ What if that person cannot work suddenly? The tasks may require specialist knowledge, or the person may have developed their own ways of working to get the job done.
Even as we hunker down to protect ourselves and others, it’s not too late to take some simple steps to make sure your business processes can continue whatever happens.
Here are five practical steps you can take in the next few days to build resiliency in your operations.
Step 1: Run an online discovery workshop
Hold an online workshop using tools such as Microsoft Teams. Get everyone talking about what they do and what extra help they need to make sure their role or process can continue. Find out where the weak points are and what people need to improve them or how to do them differently.
Step 2: Record how things are done
It’s vital to capture as much organisational knowledge as possible to ensure that key roles continue to run no matter what and that all stages of each process are fully documented.
The best way to do this is for the person responsible to record themselves doing the process, clearly explaining what they are doing and why it is done that way. People in the organisation may think they know these processes and could take over if they must, but there will be misunderstandings about what’s really done in practice. There may be ‘missing links’ in the process that are covered in some special or ad-hoc way.
A screen and audio recording will show exactly what is done and any shortcuts and tweaks the person has developed.
Step 3: Set up some buddies
With the processes recorded, a ‘buddy’ system can be put in place to ensure there is always someone else to take over if the original staff member becomes unavailable. Shadowing of the process, allowing the buddy to gradually take on more of the tasks, will spread the expertise.
Take care to capture knowledge about unusual events – what do we do when the unexpected or failures occur? Who can provide help at our suppliers or vendors? Who are the contacts that can step in and help us solve problems?
Step 4: Make sure security is tight, but people can access what they need
Security is of course important, but is some of your information restricted out of habit? For example, you may have multiple spreadsheets to which only one person has access, but the information on them may not be particularly sensitive. Identify which are truly sensitive and restrict these to the appropriate managers, while widening access to the rest.
Equally, people responsible for processes or platforms will have built up relationships with suppliers and have contact details and account credentials on hand. These need to be captured and securely disseminated to the buddy or more widely if needed.
Step 5: Centralise your assets
There’s no point in having a fully ready buddy who cannot get to the information they need or the right tools to use. It’s important to make sure that artefacts such as databases and image libraries are held in a central location, so that everyone who needs access can find and use them easily.
Then think about the longer term
These practical steps you can do right now will help see you through the coming weeks and months. Longer term, the lessons coming out of current world events are clear – new ways of achieving resiliency need to be built-in.
Automating processes is one of the most effective ways to build robustness - even if key personnel become suddenly unavailable, you can be sure tasks will be done. Automated processes can be run on existing infrastructure and can be developed remotely in only a few weeks. They can also be run by staff with minimum training, or by support teams.
Conventionally, the decision on which processes should be automated was largely based on the number of people involved and the frequency at which they ran – the more people and the more often, the better chance of a good return on investment. That’s still true, but in addition we need to think about the need to automate critical processes no matter how small or how little time they take - the monthly payroll run by an accounts person is a simple example.
Now is a good time to identify these processes that would benefit from automation.
I hope this quick guide will help you to make your business processes more resilient. If you need any further support, NTT DATA can help by organising and facilitating workshops, buddying or any other tasks. We can also help you to identify and validate the processes for automation and advise how to go about it. Please reach out if you need to.
But above all, stay safe.
For more information about business resilience and how automation can help, contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org