COVID-19: The Disruptor of Our Times

June 1st, 2020
COVID-19: The Disruptor of Our Times

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A few months ago, we were still laying out our business strategy for the next three years and making grand plans for Numata’s future. Many of which were to kick off in 2020—enter COVID-19. We’ve had to re-adjust our goals, hit pause on several projects and re-think the way we do things—just like many other companies out there.

I have heard the term “uncertain times” so often that it now makes me cringe. When last were we living in certain times in any case? Disruption and disruptors have always been around, shaking up and forcing innovation in numerous industries. Much like COVID-19 is doing right now.

Our business serves several verticals, so we’ve seen the anticipated impact and the predictions for companies across the board. The varying responses have surprised us. Some clients are trying to find ways to stay afloat. Others are pursuing growth. Whether your business is choosing an offensive or defensive strategy, change is inevitable for all industries. Business models will adopt temporary changes as permanent strategies, and innovation will be forced—ready or not.

Online Versus Brick and Mortar

The debate of online versus brick and mortar is not new. We have seen the rise of the online marketplace, and then, the transformation from online-only into hybrid models. One thing is clear: digital (or online) will no longer be considered a secondary channel for most businesses. COVID-19 settled that.

Supply Chains Will Be Reviewed

Most of the manufacturers that we work with are busy reassessing their supply chains, several of them rely on shipments from China. We predict that the pandemic will force many of our clients to review their current supply chain to identify and mitigate risks. This could bode well for the traditional “secondary” suppliers located outside of China. Let’s take a relevant example, ventilators. With China manufacturing most of the world’s ventilators, it is interesting to see the number of countries that turned to local engineering resources to produce ventilators with little-to-no need to import materials.

Business Continuity versus Disaster Recovery

Since starting out in 2004, we became well-versed in designing disaster recovery plans for our clients. Further down the line, we focused more on business continuity through a cloud-based architecture. It’s fascinating to see how many mid-sized companies still have a physical disaster recovery site. If we ever needed an advocate for ditching the traditional enterprise architecture (with physical infrastructure and failover sites), COVID-19 sure made our case.

Companies that are currently reassessing their technology designs realise that there are better ways to do things. For example, ensuring systems are designed to avoid disaster from occurring at all, as opposed to planning for disaster. The focus should be on developing resilient business systems by leveraging enterprise-grade cloud systems and platforms.

The Way We Do Business

In our business, considering that we are mostly a young bunch of professionals, we have stuck to relatively traditional conduct. We like face to face meetings, doing business in person, the old-school way.

Suffice it to say we have been forced to conduct all of our business via Microsoft Teams, namely sales meetings, on-boarding of new clients, strategy discussions and internal meetings. With this, we found that we are more productive. Remarkably, our clients prefer the shorter, structured, focused meetings that are easily scheduled, too. This may be a basic example, but it illustrates how practically all areas of business will be forever changed.

Imagine the impact on the commercial property market! We predict that many companies will give up their office leases and relocate to smaller offices or co-working environments. The bottom line is that COVID-19 might have fast-forwarded business models a couple of years.

Diversification

I’m not talking about masks and hand sanitisers. COVID-19 forced many businesses to reconsider their diversification options or even re-think their entire business model. All in effort to thwart closing their dues to the pandemic.

I have great sympathy for hotels and airlines at the moment. I can only imagine what they must be going through. The ones that survive will most definitely look at diversification to spread their risk. We, too, have considered several options for diversification in our business, all based on remote delivery.

Human-Centric Leadership

The real test of leadership is not how well you lead a company during good times. It is the leadership demonstrated during a crisis. Throughout history, great leaders are pushed to the foreground during a crisis, when they would have otherwise remained largely unknown. Great examples that come to mind are Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, John F Kennedy, and Jacinda Ardern, to name a few.

We have seen the best and worst of people come out during these times. Leadership at Numata means precisely that; leading your people. Putting people at the centre of what we do has never been more critical.

Everyone is affected by COVID-19; there is no discrimination, no racial segregation, religious division or inequality. Leaders need to focus on their people and make decisions that will not only preserve their company but their people. If you are a leader and you are reading this, understand that every single person that you lead is looking at you for guidance, reassurance, advice and honesty—not answers. Be a leader to your people; be vulnerable, be honest and, most importantly, be human.

Our reliance on technology

As a service organisation delivering technology services, I am a tad biased on this topic, but, I have to make a bold statement. Without technology, I would love to know how many more businesses simply would not have survived COVID-19. Companies now comprehend the importance of a well-designed technology strategy and the value of investing in technology. Likewise, how, if aligned correctly, technology can and should support the business plan. An often overlooked tool like Microsoft Teams has been a saving grace to umpteen small-to-medium sized companies by enabling constant communication and collaboration.

I believe this trial has made evident the significance of technology in business. Our dependence on IT proves that IT is an executive concern—essential to strategic business growth, innovation and survival. There are, of course, pitfalls, like the influx of cyberattacks. However, scores of these attacks can be prevented by investing in cybersecurity awareness training for employees. Invest in technology and alignment thereof to protect your investment.

The importance of core values during a crisis

Decision making at an executive level is challenging under normal circumstances, never mind a crisis.

Our business has a very well-defined set of six core values that guide our actions and decisions. How do you discern what to do amid limited, contradictory, inaccurate or fake information about the virus? Our core values act as our compass, the true North that will help our leadership team to steer the ship. This eases tension among our team. They already know how the leadership team will act.

Evaluate your actions against your principles. If they do not speak to each other, now is a better time than any for introspection.

Your business strategy. What would need to change to prepare against pandemic-like threats?

So, what was the greatest disruptor in the past ten years? Uber? Airbnb? Tesla? Nope, probably COVID-19. It frightens me to say, but, do we believe COVID-19 will be the last pandemic we will have to face? Could there be other disasters that affect businesses globally? The truth is that nobody knows.

Perhaps we will be lucky, and this is the last world-wide catastrophe in our lifetime. Doubtful. What would you do differently with the knowledge you have today? Would you diversify more, would you focus on different products or services, explore new markets—perhaps a new vertical? Using COVID-19 as a forced disruption accelerator today is the best day to start planning for major disruptions and how your business will react.

Article By: Jakobus Koorts | CEO of Numata Business IT

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