Planning for the unknown key to business survival

Johannesburg, 28 May 2021
Read time 4min 30sec
Luca de Risi, Chief Operating Officer at Enterprise Architecture vendor MEGA International.
Luca de Risi, Chief Operating Officer at Enterprise Architecture vendor MEGA International.

The biggest IT trend of 2020 was the headlong rush to digitisation – a trend not anticipated by a single IT pundit nor included in their “top IT trends to watch out for” list published in late 2019 for the following year.

It’s easy to understand why – no one could have predicted that there would be a global pandemic. Nor, when the first news of the novel coronavirus started trickling out of China in late 2019, did anyone foresee the impact this would have on every aspect of the economy around the world. But as lockdowns tightened their grip, many of the world’s most iconic brands were driven to the wall. South African companies were not spared, with such household names as Comair, Flight Centre, Edcon and SAB forced to lay off thousands of employees and/or file for business rescue.

But many survived – and some even flourished.

Luca de Risi, Chief Operating Officer at Enterprise Architecture vendor MEGA International, believes much of this has to do with the resilience of these organisations before the pandemic hit. He says the social and economic fallout from pandemic has underscored as never before just how important it is for businesses to be resilient.

“Resilience – having the ability to react to major and sudden changes and stay competitive – allows organisations to plan and adapt to the kind of large-scale and long-term disruptions we experienced in 2020, and will continue to experience well into the future,” he says.

Business resilience doesn’t just happen. It requires strategic planning, including setting goals, determining the actions to achieve those goals and mobilising resources to execute the actions.

But how can anyone plan for the unforeseen?

“Because we don’t know what we don’t know, particularly about the future, the resilience of a business depends on a detailed understanding of what we do know. This means we have to learn from the past. At the same time, companies must also have a clear vision of their strategic objectives and know how they are supported and carried out by each part of the organisation,” he explains.

According to De Risi, IT plays a central role in this process. Detailed knowledge and understanding of the organisation’s core systems and applications is vital to developing the kind of resilience that will effectively disaster-proof a business.

For example, when turmoil and disruption occur, the organisation needs to know not only what technologies are in place, but which systems can be powered down and which are critical to maintain; what can be scaled back or done without; and which parts of the business are going to be strained or at risk of failing.

The organisation not only needs to know what needs to be done, but also how to do it. The COVID-19 crisis, for example, accelerated the need to digitise the business as remote working and social distancing became the new normal. Those organisations that were more digitally advanced were able to adapt faster.

However, it’s not just events like the global pandemic that can impact every aspect of an organisation’s operations and ultimate survival. Having to abide by increasingly onerous and complex compliance regulations around issues such as privacy and money laundering can also place significant strain on an organisation’s processes and resources.

“Resilience needs to become embedded in an organisation’s culture for it to survive and succeed. Pre-COVID, organisations tended to focus on efficiency over flexibility. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the focus has to be on building a flexible organisation that can withstand disruption, regardless of the source of that disruption,” De Risi adds.

He believes the COVID-19 pandemic has also presented organisations with unprecedented opportunities to transform and meet new market demands – provided they survive.

Enterprise architecture (EA), which models how an organisation operates using people,  process and technology, has a key role to play in this.

De Risi points out that enterprise architects have visibility into all parts of the business and can thus act as the intermediary between the business and IT, ensuring the entire organisation works towards common objectives.

“EA and strategic planning are the cornerstones of business resilience plans as they help the organisation to understand how to adapt to new market conditions, and even how to take advantage of it and plan for the future.

“By drawing on key EA principles such as focusing on critical capabilities and applications; determining the right cloud migration strategy for each application; adopting a long-term view when planning future capabilities; positioning customer experience at the centre of future capability planning and ensuring agile developments support the new customer experience; as well as designing security architecture to mitigate cyber security risks, it is possible to ensure that the organisation’s strategic planning effort supports overall business resilience,” De Risi concludes.