Business continuity plans and tech are lacking during the coronavirus pandemic

A recent study about COVID-19 emergency preparedness finds that many companies don't have the necessary tech for telecommuters.

A new study on the wide-ranging business continuity (BC) impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on 500 US companies has found that only 37% of the survey respondents said they have the right technology in place for employees to conduct critical business operations from home in the event of an emergency. Another 19% said that none of their workers could do their jobs from home due to a lack of technology equipment owned and distributed by the business, while 41% said that only some employees could work from home with their own equipment.

The survey conducted by AvidXchange, a SaaS-based accounts payable software vendor, in the second week of March 2020 also found that only 62% of the businesses surveyed have business continuity plans. Forty-eight percent of the respondents said their BC plans only cover emergency operations for two to three weeks, 22% have plans that cover contingencies for more than two months, and 5% said their plans only cover operations for one day. Fifteen percent were not sure, and 10 % have no BC plans in place.

The report, Critical Gaps in Business Continuity Plans: Exclusive Survey Results (PDF), details that AvidXchange surveyed senior finance managers and C-level executives at US companies of various industries and sizes to find out how prepared they are to keep their core financial operations running during times of emergency. The study found that many companies are not properly prepared for disasters or emergencies that can disrupt businesses for extended periods of time or across multiple locations.

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic Premium)

"We don't find it surprising," Angelic Gibson, the CIO of AvidXchange, told TechRepublic. "We are in a world where we are still trying to remove manual processes," which is complicated by the reality of some 80% of businesses that are still using paper checks to pay their bills, she said. That's a real problem and risk for business continuity in emergencies.

"The manual processes with paper [checks and invoices] are typically run through a building, and it's really hard to take that home with you in a disaster," said Gibson. "Many people are just not prepared for that."

That's where having business continuity plans in place for procedures such as accounts payable and accounts receivable come into play, she said. For businesses, that means being able to ensure adequate cash flow when disasters strike so companies can stay in business through difficult times, including the current coronavirus pandemic.

"If you run out of cash flow in a week, it's going to paralyze your business," said Gibson. To help prevent such challenges, companies can take action before emergencies strike by moving their accounts payable, accounts receivable, and related critical business processes to online portals where employees can then continue to perform their needed tasks from anyplace with an internet connection, she added.

SEE: How to create a business continuity plan: 5 factors to consider (TechRepublic)

Even SaaS-based financial operations aren't a panacea if some vendors continue to pay their invoices using paper checks and don't participate in the electronic payments approach, potentially squashing needed incoming cash flow for businesses. That's a people and procedures challenge, not a technology challenge that still must be overcome.

Because businesses typically can't take on non-core projects like SaaS-based billing systems alone, they should consider partnering with established vendors who provide such resiliency services so they can integrate the processes into comprehensive business continuity plans, said Gibson.

The AvidXchange study found that while 62% of the respondents said they are prepared with BC plans, 19% said they have some plans in place, and 4% don't know if they have plans in place. About 14% of respondents said they have no plans to follow.

The survey also found only 45% of the respondents reported having plans that cover all their company's geographic locations, while 21% said they have plans that only cover some locations. Another 18% reported they have plans that cover only one location, and 7% said they don't know.

For many companies in today's COVID-19 national and global crisis, that lack of preparedness is causing many stresses to businesses, workers, and the economy.

"That is surprising considering the day and age that we are in," said Gibson. While many employees have their own personal smartphones and computers, relying on the use of those devices alone is not a scalable strategy for businesses because they don't include important professional collaboration tools that allow business teams to stay in close communication, she said. "You need collaboration tools that can bring multiple people together at once and not just one-to-one communications," she said.

Complicating matters is that not all at-home employees have internet access, which makes working from home impossible. "We assume today that everyone has internet access at home," said Gibson. "That's just not the case."

Businesses can start making or improving their business continuity plans by identifying and targeting the largest risks in their operations to try to reduce or minimize disruptions in those areas, said Gibson.

So how can executives and managers do this without feeling overwhelmed?

"As leaders, it's not our job to operate from a place of fear," said Gibson. "Have a plan and do it one step at a time. You can't have a fully-baked plan for this kind of scenario. So, looking at how to be nimble and agile is what is called for. You're never going to have all the answers."

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