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Protect! Secure! Prepare!

Read time 10min 40sec

Thanks to Monty Python, everybody expects the Spanish Inquisition. It’s just pandemics, disruption, unplanned outages and other incidents that are unexpected, and that can hit the organisation where it hurts. Last year was unexpected. This year has its fair share. Like Brussels sprouts at Christmas, tomorrow’s unexpected risks and emergencies are unpleasant, but avoidable with the right strategies and a determination to embed resilience into every level of the business.

McKinsey positions the need for resiliency as a business imperative, one that can be achieved by digitising operations, transforming business models for cross-functional agility, and refining global assets and supply bases. The company found that organisations don’t just see resilience as something that can be used to overcome the issues that arise today, but as building a ‘culture fortified with technology and digital tools that enable them to see around corners, to be ready for the changes that are yet to come’.

This future-forward approach to resilience is echoed by Forrester in its report ‘Business Resilience as a Competitive Advantage’. Here, the research firm highlights the value of resilience as a foundation to long-term business success. It points out that companies with prepared responses, that have recognised potential risks and are focused on situational awareness are more likely to find opportunity in calamity, and own the competitive advantage.

This much is obvious. The real question is – how? How does the organisation genuinely prepare for the unplanned and unexpected disaster that may lurk around the corner?

By more rapidly embracing digital change and the associated innovation this entails, companies can make themselves more resilient against future events.

Leona Mentz, BT

The ability to pivot, adapt and survive in highly challenging and mercurial conditions is not easy, particularly when companies are already juggling multiple struggles. For Forrester, it’s about finding opportunity within the complexity – in engaging with an existing customer base to fill new needs, thereby creating the space to innovate. Space that can potentially allow the business to fill new holes in the market. This approach uses what the business already has in place, but takes these tools in new and unexpected directions. It’s a resilience borne of culture and planning, and one that was seen in the moves made by brands such as Adidas, which turned its 3D printers to masks, not shoes; Spotify going back to creating its own podcasts at a time when consumers needed content to consume, and Zoom becoming the de facto digital meeting room for people around the world. Even organisations such as Airbnb, reliant on travelling people to make money, changed its business models to adapt to closed doors and airports with virtual wine tours and learning experiences. Resilience.

It’s more than just knowing where the switches are when the CIO is the last one to leave the building or handing every employee a disaster handbook. It’s ensuring that the organisation is in control of its revenue and growth regardless of the times it finds itself in. It’s new revenue streams, planning for the unexpected, models and frameworks designed to provide robust support, and a crystal-clear focus on customer and experiences that keeps them loyal and engaged. Business resilience is not the skill of learning to survive, it’s the art of learning to thrive.

Q&A


Business resilience: The ‘How to’ guide

Brainstorm: What are two importantsteps that every organisation should take to move along the road of businessresilience?

Grant Phillips, Group CEO, e4: I believe it starts with an organisational willingness to accept and even embrace change and an unwavering focus on the client journey going forward. The flexibility to try new ideas while failing fast, investing in the infrastructure environment to facilitate rapid deployment and ultimately building what you sell and not selling what you’ve built all create great building blocks for enterprise resilience.

Allan Saffy, managing executive, Decision Inc. South Africa: Resilience involves fighting to counter something that could potentially prove fatal. The fundamental component organisations need to survive in a difficult situation is access to cash. Simply put, how much cash a company has directly underpins the amount of time it has left to revive itself.

Thibault Dousson, GM, Lenovo Southern Africa: It’s vitally important to re-evaluate your business resilience strategy as often as needed. As we’re adapting with the times, certain solutions will no longer be as effective as they were two years ago. It’s key for this assessment to be done not just by senior management, but by employees working on the ground as well.

Angelique Montalto, SAP Concur regional director for Africa and the Middle East: Improve compliance and control costs. At a time when financial stability is critical, a business needs to assess all costs and ensure it’s compliant with the corporate and government policies in place. This will lead to better management and faster processing – after all, you can’t manage what you can’t see.

Brainstorm: What digital tools and capabilities can be leveraged by the organisation to embed digital resilience that’s future-proof and future-capable?

Jake Shepherd, technical director, Synthesis: Adopt technology that will allow you to quickly adapt to challenges and seize new opportunities as they emerge. Practically, it means you need to start understanding how new technologies will reshape the world (whether you like it or not) and which of these new technologies you should be adopting.

Sandra Crous, MD, PaySpace: Employees enabled by technology, to use it to their advantage, will have digital resilience. Whether it’s supplying employees with the tools to work remotely, even when they experience loadshedding, or making sure employees are truly engaged by clarifying the challenges of the remote workforce experience. Digital resilience should be seen as a long-term strategy, not a knee-jerk reaction.

GarsenNaidoo, GM, Cisco Sub-Saharan Africa: CIOs have to reimagine how they design, develop, and deploy their applications. That was true before, but has been heightened by the pandemic. Today, applications are at the heart of business: applications are how services are delivered and consumed. It’s how companies build a relationship between their brand and their customers.

Brainstorm: What would you define as the single most important thing every organisation should consider when it comes to business resilience?

Mikey Molfessis, cybersecurity expert, Mimecast: Aspects such as culture, workplace policies and executive buy-in play a large role in building greater resilience. True resilience requires that technology, culture, employee behaviour and workplace policies all work in tandem to strengthen the organisation's overall resilience.

Leona Mentz, regional operations manager: Asia, Middle East, and Africa, BT: It has become crucial to not only identify the most relevant digital trends that will redefine the world in the new normal, but to find ways to best harness their potential within the business. By more rapidly embracing digital change and the associated innovation this entails, companies can make themselves more resilient against future events.

Mike Styer, country manager, GlassHouse South Africa: Resilience must have board-level decision-making. The value of data is such that it could affect both businesses and their customers and once a breach has occurred, a company’s board must make some difficult decisions. For example, if a business is held to ransom, is it best to pay the ransom, or to allow customer data to be released on the Dark Web?”

Padma Naidoo, GM for Dimension Data’s Advisory Services practice: Ultimately, resilience is about the bottom line. Going into the future, it’s not a nice-to-have, it’s essential. If the perception regarding resilience can change, organisations will be far more open to exploring and pursuing the benefits that can be achieved to resilience efforts.

The Altron case for resilience

Evolve, evolve and evolve again. The mantra that embedded resilience into the core of the business.

In 2016, Altron revised its strategy, streamlined its portfolio, and put Mteto Nyati at the forefront of the company’s leadership. Under the mantle of ‘One Altron’, the organisation put change and revision at the top of its agenda and then went ahead and did exactly what it promised – changed. Now, in 2021, Altron 2.0 has arrived, a fresh new initiative and strategy that’s making tough choices around which businesses to keep, and revising its approaches for the next stage of its journey. In short, the company has been working on resilience for a while, and Debra-Lynn Marais, Altron’s Group CIO, weighs in with what this actually means.

“As an IT company, business resilience is embedded into our foundations; we believe we have to adapt and change and always have clearly defined five-year strategies,” says Marais. “As the market evolves, we evolve our strategy and reassess it on an annual basis. We look at the macro level, at the assets we hold, and as we move along the journey, we reassess which assets belong, and which don’t. We define resilience as being able to absorb or minimise the impact of disruption.

To ensure that this flexible approach to change and disruption is embedded throughout the organisation, Altron engages with people from the exco downwards. It has regular group exco meetings, engaging with operations and teams to review what’s working, what isn’t working, what’s happening in the market and how to reset enterprise risk.

“We strategically partner with companies like Microsoft, and have regular meetings with them to review the market, customer changes, and engagement with operations,” says Marais. “This level of engagement informs our continuous view on strategy – if something lands and changes the market outlook, we update accordingly. For example, because of our strategic relationship with Microsoft, we were on Office 365 from the start, and when its datacentres landed in South Africa, our servers went live 24 hours later.”

This approach of partnership and collaboration trickles down throughout the organisation. Resilience is strategic at the board level, but it’s also driven throughout the business with regular communications across all levels of the company and a commitment to listening to what customers, markets and employees have to say. This approach also shapes how the company adapts to market and technology change.

“Three years ago, we made the decision to become a cloud-first business and all the technology we adopted aligned with this goal,” says Marais. “We went with SaaS first, then PaaS, and then IaaS – taking the best of breed out of the cloud rather than wedging existing technology into the cloud. Every time we have refresh cycles, we buy into cloud. When we went through our ERP refresh, we moved to Microsoft 365; then, when we refreshed human capital management, we went to Workday.”

The goal is to consistently leverage technology to achieve the right results. Business process is shifted to the product rather than changing business processes in the company; configuration is more of a priority than customisation. This has allowed the company to support the philosophy of a distributed workforce and to embrace the work from home ethos, taking the technology to the talent instead of the other way around.

“We were already building towards this before the pandemic hit – our new campus is designed to house only 60% of our employee base at any point in time,” says Marais. “This focus has allowed us to continuing working through the complexities of the past year with very little disruption to our workforce. Because of our approach to constant change and reassessment of strategy, we saw Covid-19 four months before it landed here and strategically prepared for what it meant. We filled in the missing gaps before the lockdown, and carried on as normal. I believe we really did minimise disruption because of our focus on ongoing business resilience.”

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