During the COVID-19 pandemic, the main issue that rendered business owners restless was the continuity of their business operations. Under normal circumstances, businesses operate according to predefined and calculated levels of certainty, confidence, and comfort. However, unexpected incidents like COVID-19 brought with it unprecedented and abnormal disruptions which have not been addressed even in the best strategic plans. As a result of the high level of confusion during the pandemic, continuity interpretations have surprisingly changed. Business owners and executives have started to accept compromises that have never been considered for the sake of ensuring minimal continuity to prevent full shutdowns or losing their market share.

The pandemic prohibited even the best-standing organizations from resuming normal business operations and critical business functions. Some businesses managed to go fully online, but others that deal primarily with physical products found themselves stranded in closed loops with no potential exits or way outs. Levels of warehouse stock started to grow until many products have gone obsolete, dysfunctional, or unusable.

The management of COVID-19 featured several rounds of lockdowns, border closures, and curfews in order to contain/reduce the wider spread of the virus. These lockdowns caused major disruptions. Impacts of the pandemic ranged from operational to strategic and had varying tangible and intangible consequences. In many cases, organizations went out of business due to their inability to fulfil financial obligations or meet their customer demands and expectations.  New phrases, such as “business continuity in a COVID-19 world” have become very common.

From a supply chain perspective, disruptions increasingly manifested in rigid restrictions and constraints on product movement, process inflexibility, repetition of unnecessary checkups, crowd and product crushing, and agility limitations. Instant business solutions have become unrealistic, and many business plans have lost their long-term scope. Short-term plans only address business survival issues.

These accumulating complexities have also reflected on business recovery periods, especially those aspects related to brand image and corporate reputation. Many companies reported they were unable to expect the length of the recovery processes following the pandemic.

Business continuity management has been challenged as a process. Even the most reputable international standards for business continuity management have been subject to major revisions and updates in order to incorporate current business disruptions. In a recently published paper, today’s global business environment has been labeled as UBVR (uncertain, brittle, volatile and risky).

With increasing UBVR levels, businesses worldwide have to start investing in advance resilience strategies which include both continuity measures and “bouncing back” mechanisms. These processes aim at assessing factors that enable organizations to resist and counteract their intrinsic susceptibility to absorb external shocks and pressures. This adds more value to the already existing recovery plans by addressing the latent features that characterize any system of business.     

Demographic factors are increasingly becoming critical above all the other factors when business continuity is concerned. More market research has to be conducted to better understand the different market segments, customer preferences, requirements, and demands so service delivery does not freeze when disasters strike. Unlike old-fashioned business continuity strategies that address mainly technology-related disruptions, the sociocultural factors have to be equally monitored in order to highlight the human aspect of continuity. In the end, COVID-19 did not affect systems and technology as much as it affected humans; their mobility, interaction, and physical communication.

Advance resilience strategies do not only enable organizations to bounce back after the occurrence of disruptive incidents, but also to bounce forward – which entails capacities to recover, learn from failure, and prosper.

Today, business continuity management is increasingly being coupled with resilience concepts highlighting the new cross-functional and socio-technical nature of the process. This emphasizes its significance to the different elements of the organization while stressing its evolutionary nature as long as the enterprise evolves. A new concept emerged, that no one should treat an incident as “insignificant” even if it appears to be at the early stages. Mismanagement and denial are capable of turning minor issues into major catastrophes. Continuity aspects are meant to associate each and every business process from the beginning to end, rather than just activating the continuity plans in response to major incidents.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ihab H. Sawalha

Ihab H. Sawalha is a professor of risk management and business continuity. He has an MBA from Coventry University, UK, and a Ph.D., in risk management from the University of Huddersfield, UK. He is currently the dean of scientific research and graduate studies at the American University of Madaba, Jordan.

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