Episode 1: The Reality of Business Continuity Planning During a Pandemic

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Real Life Can Be Stranger Than Fiction

COVID-19 has changed marketing today – and most likely forever. The impact of the pandemic and the pace of change has been rapid beyond belief. Every business needed to implement a holistic BCP (Business Continuity Plan), in many cases for the first time.

As a global marketing services business with over 100 customers relying on us, we are ideally set-up to deliver a great BCP response – but even with our preparation, certifications and processes, we encountered some incredible challenges.

Being at the rock-face of managed services delivery, what we’d like to share in this series is best-practice for Marketing Business Continuity Planning – but also the real-life stories that you don’t find in the white papers and the text books.

BCP in a Nutshell at Theorem

At Theorem our core principles are “Be Expert, Be Transparent, Be Direct and Be Effective.”

Our approach to Business Continuity Planning reflects those core company values:

Policy – Have up to date policies, written down, available and accessible.

Agility – Business Continuity Planning is a framework not an answer. Be prepared for ambiguity.

Communication – Great implementation is 90% communication. Use it well. 

Transparency – An imperfect situation can be managed with open dialogue.

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This PACT approach created the simplicity needed in order to tackle a most complex challenge.

Delivering our BCP Process: The Details

Being a company with offices in the US, India, Australia and the UK, it was clear that continuity planning would need to move to ‘on the ground implementation’ at an accelerated pace.

Maintaining the health and well-being of all Theorem employees was, and is, our top priority. Organizational continuity planning always centered around this core principle.

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As the COVID-19 situation escalated, a few things became very clear. All lines of internal communication would need to be as open and transparent as possible – while employee and client inputs would be critical to our success.

A guide to the key aspects of our Business Continuity Planning approach can be summarized below:

Immediate Tasks

The need to be adaptive and ready to change course in an instant was more important than ever. Information was changing, risk was escalating, timelines were condensing and bottlenecks were presenting themselves. We needed to go from 5 offices, to 1,000 home-offices in a matter of days.
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  1. The first task was to establish policies and implement actions to protect the employees.
  2. The second most important action is to be aware of our two key stakeholders; employees and clients. We immediately contacted employees for operational input and clients to understand their demand requirements.
  3. Next up was to rapidly enable work from home for all staff (nearly 1,000 individuals).
  4. To enable work from home, we ran a complete tech inventory, then worked collaboratively with suppliers and employees to secure and prepare equipment and check individual connectivity.

Early Delivery

Throughout the process, adjustment were made utilizing all of the data at our disposal to evaluate progress and circumstances on an ongoing basis. It was clear that the only way to manage volumes and properly prioritize work, was working directly with clients. 
  1. We evaluated coverage needs and gaps by client and services.
  2. We established goals to achieve with interim milestone targets.
  3. Analyzed our live utilization data to make adjustments and ensure reasonable needs we met.
  4. We refined best practices and training in line with rapid market developments.
  5. Communicated continuously at the employee and client levels – with transparency and honesty, striving for perfect but understanding it may not be achievable.
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Situation Optimization

The next step of the process was to match SLAs to delivery times and adjust accordingly. To ensure SLA compliance, work from home dry runs were performed with both individuals and teams. In addition, we ensured access to additional VPNs to ensure we were able to maintain security compliance.
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  1. Clients responded with support and understanding, helping us prioritize work when needed.
  2. We progressed through it all with a sense of calmness, purpose, teamwork, and structure – everyone was in it together and played their part. 
  3. Teams saw the effort and urgency and volunteered to help through-out.
  4. Created tools to enable but also mobilize workforce in different ways.
  5. Used two daily stand-ups to optimize plans and tweak to match client requirements.

Ready & Able to Change

The initial impact has been headed off at the pass, but more changes are yet to come. As we continue to navigate this constantly evolving situation, it is clear that our Business Continuity Planning actions during this unprecedented crisis are setting us up for a better future. With one prevalent underlying theme leading the way; a proactive approach is necessary.  
  1. We fully expect to continue to meet challenges along the way, but our rapid response capabilities are serving us well.
  2. The need to continue to communicate and collaborate is now more critical than ever.
  3. Radical continuity planning is radical and forces long-term change for good. This has set us up better as a future business.
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How You React to Real-Life Challenges Defines You as a Company

We had the plan, we have the team, we have the processes and we have the scale. But, nothing was going to get us ready for COVID-19! Here are some of the more interesting real life things we learned:

Technology

Having  a 1,000 workstations/laptops for 1,000 workers is one thing. But performing complete audits, security checks and installing new software on all 1000 in 48 hours is quite a challenge. To do this we created an assembly line of 50 volunteers from around the business, working across the weekend to get every computer up to scratch. 

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Connectivity

We needed to get 50% of our teams connected to the internet at home within a week. Instead of asking them to drive this, we used our corporate broadband contact to come to the cafeteria and physically sign everyone up who needed connection. Barriers to change needed to be removed by us.

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Training

The reality of managed service is that some clients need faster connections than others. At the same time, an entire global industry of millions had just been sent home! Something we didn’t anticipate was the need to cross-train teams as we matched broadband speed to the clients requirements. The unintended consequence of this will be a more rounded and skilled team.

Checks

Every business, in India particularly, was scrambling for technology, as they feared a shortage. As part of our effort to secure the tech we would need, a sourced a supplier  that would provide the 100 dongles that we needed and could deliver that day. Perfect! But our processes kicked-in and during testing we found that the promise of the easy solution was rarely reality. The dodgy dongles were returned to sender! 

Transportation

Never have we been so glad to have our own Theorem buses and cars. It’s one thing having the plan and the hardware – but at some point you have to move 1,000 people and a 1,000 computers around. We wouldn’t have been able to handle our clients work if we had not had this infrastructure built into our business. We just didn’t think it would be utilized for such a task.

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SLAs

The reality of a pandemic is that SLAs need to change. What was once the norm, is no longer the case. Constantly communicating with clients and rapidly changing SLAs is not something our industry is used to, shall we say. Contractual speed is not something you associate with managed services! But, in this instance this was one of the unsung heros of the Business Continuity Planning. As clients needed to mobilize legal amendments, sometimes within 24 hours.

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Time

Without a doubt, the single biggest challenge we had was a shortness of time to act. When the order came in India to lock-down, shut the offices and for ALL staff to go home, we (and all other companies in the area) had 3 hours! With planning, judgment, commitment and some luck, we managed to get everyone home on Monday evening and over 80% coverage of client work by Tuesday. There isn’t a BCP in the world that had a 3 hour deadline plan in place.

Authorities

Something we didn’t consider in our standard Business Continuity Planning was the regularity with which the Governments would introduce and change policy. At the same time, this was different in USA, UK, Asia and India! Next time, we will be more aware that these macro forces have more impact than the on-the-ground realities.

The Results... So Far!

We made it – none the less! Client work has been covered, employees are safe and we have a plan for improvement.

We got to 80% coverage straight away, and we’re up to 100% in most cases. This is testament to the combination of a good plan, and a GREAT team.

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We’re proud of our process, we’re proud of our implementation – but mostly we’re proud of our teams and our clients.

When something like COVID-19 hits you, your response is not in a manual or a white paper. It’s in your ability to ACT (Agile, Communication, Transparency) with integrity.

And Remember, the Number 1 Rule of Business Continuity Planning – Stay Safe!

What’s next in Theorem’s “Marketing Through COVID-19 Series”:

  1. Episode 1: The reality of Business Continuity Planning during a Pandemic
  2. Episode 2: The after-effects of initial BCP implementation
  3. Episode 3: The future of direct-to-consumer
  4. Episode 4: Where next for email marketing
  5. Episode 5: Where next for digital advertising
  6. Episode 6: How data and analytics can help with understanding COVID-19
  7. Episode 7: How creative can help deliver the COVID-19 message
  8. Episode 8: Areas of Growth
  9. Episode 9: What we can learn from the last month
  10. Episode 10: Predictions for the next 12 months
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