How Do I Prepare My Business for the Coronavirus?
As the CEO of a growing business, you likely spend most of your time thinking about your products, customers, and staff, as well as how to keep growth on track.
But soon enough, you may have a new priority – how to keep your business running when threatened by coronavirus.
We certainly don’t believe that the end of the world is near. But we do see the possibility of disruption due to illness or quarantine. You may have employees looking after sick relatives, or school closings to limit infection risks.
(For up-to-date coronavirus information and guidelines, see this link from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)
The good news is that there is a relatively simple way to prepare your business for disruption – telecommuting (or home-working), meaning providing your employees with the flexibility and equipment they need to work remotely.
Preparing your business and staff for remote work provides a robust means to handle health scares, as well as most other disaster scenarios like power failures, bad weather, or public transport problems.
As an example, a long-standing Freeman Clarke client provides a 24/7 business-critical service. They can’t afford an outage, so they have spent a lot of time and money preparing for emergencies, including ensuring they can deliver their service uninterrupted with everyone working from home. They’ve tested it and it works.
Emergencies aside, enabling your staff to work remotely is a great way to attract and retain the best talent. Many businesses employ “knowledge workers” who can function effectively from home or the coffee shop with management, processes, and facilities set up accordingly.
Planning for remote work in the event of coronavirus goes beyond prudence. It’s a step in the right direction for your business.
How to Get Started
The good news is that even if you’re considering this scenario for the first time, it’s not too late. Our advice is to gather the senior management team and ask two questions:
- Which members of your team are critical to the ongoing survival of the business? Also: who can cover a colleague’s job in case they’re not available?
- What processes are absolutely critical to running the business? These processes might include taking payments, getting product to your customers, answering customer calls, and so on.
You can then plan out how these critical people and processes could continue to work remotely.
The first focus should be on the people. Ensure all critical team members are properly equipped to work from anywhere. That mean at the very least a mobile phone, a laptop, and possibly a VPN (virtual private network).
Then work out the simple details, like ensuring that everyone has their colleagues’ cell numbers.
Finally, all your people should be confident with using voice (or video) conferencing so they can organize themselves without needing to be in the same place.
The next task is to review the highlighted critical processes and discuss whether they would work if you and your team were out of the office.
Don’t assume that everything has been digitized! Ask your critical staff to look over what’s currently only in paper files, notebooks, or Post-it notes. All this must be available to them online. Fortunately, these days the tech is inexpensive or even free, products like Trello, Teams, and even Whatsapp can be effective ways to support remote work, including exchanging documents.
Don’t forget documentation such as customer contact details need storing somewhere accessible, as do the tools people use, such as PIN pads.
Cloud-based services excel in these circumstances because all you need is an internet connection. System such as Office365 and online accounting systems such as Xero make planning for a disaster far easier. If your business has a lot of its processes based on servers in the office, this is a great opportunity to kick off a project to migrate to the cloud. Aside from protecting you from emergencies, it will ultimately be cheaper, more secure, and more flexible.
Don’t Wait for Disaster
You’ll need to invest time and money to make all this happen. Consider it insurance against disaster and an opportunity to make your business better.
We recommend that you immediately organize a senior management team to focus on the questions above. Don’t leave the room until you’ve agreed on the necessary actions, the owners and timescales for completion, and the follow-up. Consider having this meeting by video to get the ball rolling!
Visit our COVID-19 knowledge center, which have more useful content related to this topic.
Freeman Clarke regularly helps businesses plan for emergency and growth. If you’d like to talk to us about how to make your technology more robust, feel free to get in touch. We’re always up for a chat.
Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.
Learning from Travelex
Due to a cyberattack, Travelex, the world’s largest foreign exchange bureau, has been paralyzed for weeks. The reputational and financial impact on the company and its senior leaders will be severe. New laws and regulations, like GDPR and NY Shield, mean that such breaches can no longer be swept under the carpet, and the business losses will be compounded by huge fines.
Travelex is a wake-up call to all businesses. In today’s cyber-risk environment, maintenance of your basic IT infrastructure and services is critical to remaining profitable and even staying alive. You may be concerned that if a giant like Travelex gets hacked, how can a mid-market company protect itself? It’s actually pretty straightforward.
When we engage with clients, we talk about “getting the basics right.” A fundamental part of that is making sure the IT infrastructure and services are fit-for-purpose and up to date. If the basics aren’t right, then there’s no hope of looking at ways to use technology to grow the business and get ahead of the competition.
To provide you with a head-start, here are your first nine priorities:
- Prioritize systems maintenance. All systems and services, particularly those that are connected to the outside world, must be kept up to date with the latest software patches. The IT team or your Service Provider must review and update systems in a regular, controlled manner.
- Review your backups. Many malware infections encrypt your data and hold it for ransom. Frequent backups mitigate the chance of you losing everything. A regular complete backup of data stored somewhere with no connection to your systems – what’s called an air-gap – will greatly limit the damage of an attack.
- Get a penetration test. Get a reputable security company to undertake an external penetration test of your systems and services. Resolve all the concerns raised in the results. Find your vulnerabilities and patch them before hackers find them for you!
- Get certified. Spend some money, usually less than $12k on earning the Cyber Essentials Plus certification. The process involves making your technology secure, and we’ve seen clients win new business after being certified.
- Lock down your data. Each individual in your business should only have access to the data they need to do their job. This minimizes the risk of data loss should they leave with it or accidentally click a malware link. Allowing employees wide-ranging access to data is asking for trouble.
- Invest in protection. Keep the bad guys out with well-configured firewalls, anti-spam email systems, malware detection software, and pro-active Day-0 protection systems.
- Get some insurance. Cyber insurance covers the losses resulting from a cyberattack. It can also aid with the management of the incident itself, particularly reputational damage and regulatory enforcement. Crime insurance covers the loss of money due to theft, fraud or dishonesty and includes theft of money by hackers. Add cyber insurance and crime insurance to your portfolio as separate policies, not just add-ons to existing business insurance.
- Train your staff. Your employees are the most vulnerable security point in your business. The more they know what to look for and what to do, the better your chances of avoiding an attack. Training is essential for all new staff, and it needs regular refreshing for the whole business – including you!
- Plan for the worst. Even with all the above nailed down, you still need to be ready for the worst. Sit down with your top team and discuss potential disasters and plan your way out of them. Who would be in charge? Who is authorised to make major decisions on the spot?
Will Travelex survive this attack? Who knows – the reputational and financial damage may be terminal. But by following these nine steps, you can avoid that fate for your own company.
For more information see our Knowledge Center about Cybersecurity.
Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations, and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.
6 Steps to Business Clarity
At Freeman Clarke, we use the term “vision” a lot. But we don’t only mean imagining what’s down the road for your business. We also mean asking yourself if your reports and management information allow you to see your company clearly right now.
You can grow in the short term by reacting to opportunities as they arise. But to grow a business sustainably you need to clearly see your activities and the outcomes, your customers and the wider market.
Clear vision of this information requires a platform of systems and processes that are not easy to implement. The good news is that we’ve done it many times. Based on our experience, we have created this simple list of the six steps for CEOs to achieve clarity.
- Clarify who’s in charge. Create a strategy and architecture for where master information is held and how it is shared between systems and people. Which system is the master? Which teams are responsible for creating and maintaining the data?
Automate links between systems where possible to avoid manual effort which is expensive and (inevitably) prone to errors.
- Set the rules. Set standards for data management and maintenance. Decide who is responsible for ensuring data is correct and for training and policing those standards. Monitor how often these rules are broken and whether specific teams or people are repeat offenders.
- Be efficient about reports. Finalizing reports for specific individuals can be endlessly time-consuming. Instead focus on the broad areas of information that managers or directors need. Ensure you have flexible tools and reporting skills so you can build and change reports easily.
Review your reports regularly and ask yourself which reports are valuable and which are not. Stop producing those that are no longer useful. Or change formats where “report fatigue” has set in and useful information is being missed.
Again, automate wherever possible. Manually generated reports are a great waste of time and money.
- Take a hard look at what you’re reporting. Often reporting is focussed on old-fashioned financial indicators. Identify the more relevant indicators, especially the non-financial ones, which will allow you to strategize and manage events as they unfold.
For example, as well as monitoring sales last month, monitor web activity or numbers of inquiries, which may be indicators of future opportunities. Monitor unusual changes in stock levels or supplier lead times, especially of critical items, to avoid future issues with fulfilment.
- Analyze profitability by product, client, and service line. Ask yourself, What are the real drivers of cost? Where do you have influence over cost?
Use this information to drive cost-reduction projects to provide an extra few points of profitability. Using it to inform the sales and marketing strategy can be transformational to the overall success of the business.
- Free your executives from operational distractions. Where in your business is “expert judgement” important? How can you generate data that would allow you to use machine learning? Perhaps to improve decision-making, or to reduce manual effort, or to allow you to scale your business and to free up directors to spend their time elsewhere?
Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time, or fractional, IT leaders. We work exclusively with organizations looking to use IT to grow their business. For an informal conversation, contact us and we’ll be in touch.