Business Planning for SMEs: Overcoming the Crisis posed by COVID-19

COVID-19 and the situation SMEs are facing currently is an operational risk. The Pandemic which emerged in Wuhan, China, is a stark reminder that all companies need to plan and prepare for large-scale outbreaks created by disruptive events such as a cyber intrusion or a Pandemic or a natural disaster. These critical events could span months and has the potential to be disruptive to an organization’s continuity of operations. Pandemics are extraordinary, and these could be unfolding over months. Businesses should understand that this is an event that is outside of its control. Hence preparations must be far-reaching for the potential impacts of the coronavirus on personnel, operations, and the supply chain. These are to be managed at the highest levels of the business organizations and they must be prepared to take some hard decisions. Overall Conditions:

  1. A pandemic like Covid19 is global in scope and can be extended to many months

  2. A pandemic can be dynamic, and every business should adjust their expectations and preparations as things can change frequently and dramatically

  3. Lockdowns, Social distancing, Quarantines and travel restrictions are in place

  4. Socio-Economic conditions become too difficult to predict during a pandemic dislocation

External Conditions:

  1. Essential services such as healthcare, fire and police protection, provision of clean water, sewage and garbage removal, communication infrastructure (e.g., telephone system, radio, internet), utilities (e.g., gas and electricity), food and other essential goods, banking, etc. could be seriously disrupted

  2. There can be delays in responding to all types of events, such as civil unrest, mass protests or natural disasters

  3. Power outages due to a reduction in Utility workforce may be more frequent

  4. There will be a shortage of Hospital services as existing facilities can be overwhelmed

  5. Govts will have to adopt rationing on fuel and food

Business Conditions:

  1. Businesses with many locations are likely to be more affected than those with a single location.

  2. The disruptions are triggered as a result of quarantines, travel restrictions, school closures, and sick family members.

  3. Businesses should realize how these occurrences could damage their supply and production network, as well as their preparedness to tackle them

  4. Technology such as blockchain, AR, Robotics, etc. can help organizations better adapt to the changing situation

  5. All businesses should give importance to cultural and religious differences in their preparedness plan

  6. Many businesses fail to ensure that they have adequate Business Interruption cover and, in any event, even if they have them, it will provide some protection in terms of a limited financial cushion, but will not, on its own, enable a business to survive in the longer term.

What an SME crisis/contingency plan will look like: Business contingency planning protects any business and is the responsibility of any quality management team that is entrusted with protecting the interests of the owners, employees, customers and all other stakeholders. How quickly and effectively an organization could react is integral to survival. Actions undertaken in the first few days have a significant financial impact and if one gets it wrong, it’s going to cost a lot of money. The contingency plan should be devised considering the following considerations:

  1. Minimizing the impact upon employee health & safety, staff layoffs, redundancies, loss of key skills, etc.

  2. Minimizing the impact on the movement and flow of products and services, utility outage, industrial accidents, etc.

  3. Protecting the business against damages to brand image & reputation

  4. Minimizing the impact upon the technology and IT infrastructure

  5. Reducing socio-economic impact

  6. Enabling the business to return to new normality sooner

Area to be covered:

  1. CASH: Whether the Business will face potential cash issues?

  2. WORK IN PROGRESS: Whether there is any work that cannot be completed and invoiced for?

  3. SUPPLY CHAIN: Whether there are sufficient materials to complete existing work?

  4. STOCK: Have you got an adequate stock of materials and whether you have stock that will deteriorate?

  5. CUSTOMER LOSS: Whether you have a plan in place to survive the loss of key customers?

  6. PHYSICAL SECURITY OF OFFICE PREMISES: Is your office building which is closed under lockdown is secure and safe from fire, break-in, and looting?

  7. DATA & IT INFRASTRUCTURE: Have you got a daily backup of data and whether your IT systems are robust against data theft and confidentiality issues?

  8. KEY PERSONNEL: Have you identified the team, and can they work remotely?

  9. OTHER STAFF: What is the plan in place to get adequate productivity from the team adapting to home working and if there is no sufficient work how do you deal with staff redundancies?

  10. HYGIENE & SAFETY: Are you doing everything you reasonably can to prevent spreading viruses?

  11. TOTAL CLOSURE: What is the plan in place if the business has to close completely?

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