‘Operational resilience’ isn’t necessarily a phrase that sets hearts racing, but it is set to become the organisational pursuit that underpins post-crisis success. Ready yourself for it to join your crisis-lexicon in the months to come.

In these ‘unprecedented times’ buzzword burnout feels very real. We’re becoming hardened to the pessimistic commentary of our current crisis. Following a period of lockdown panic, business leaders are now seeking practical ways to ensure resilience and growth in the ‘new normal’ (yes, I know).

Bad news fatigue is nothing new – remember the great GDPR panic of 2018 and the seemingly endless list of hacks and cyber-attacks that dominated the headlines last year?

The good news is that such hot-topic headlines have led to action. There’s not (yet) been a deluge of GDPR non-compliance rulings from the ICO and according to our new research conducted by NelsonHall after much focus on cyber, nearly 80% of organisations are confident in the resilience of their cybersecurity efforts. That’s not to say that cybersecurity is no longer a live issue, but it has rightly now become a board-level concern that, on the whole, is given the attention and investment it deserves.

The bad news is that while the last few years have seen sights set firmly on digital compliance and cybersecurity, there’s been less weight given to enterprise-wide operational resilience. That is, as The British Standards Institution (BSI) states,“…a strategic objective intended to help an organisation survive and prosper …the ability to anticipate, prepare, respond and adapt… to minor everyday events to acute shocks and chronic or incremental change”.

Most organisations have business continuity plans – the problem is that they are not designed to deal with complicated, multi-site crisis’ that displace workers to un-planned locations (i.e. remote home-working). Even within a global economy, organisations are still thinking locally with business continuity plans often city and centre focused rather than enterprise-wise. Needless to say, local plans are useless when a crisis can’t be contained to one geography. In fact, during this crisis 96% of banking, insurance, and healthcare executives reported they had suffered from a lack of business continuity planning.

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Now just 16% believe their operations are highly resilient to another crisis.

Responding to crisis

So, what’s the problem? When we have such seemingly sophisticated global enterprises why is it so hard for businesses to be confident in their ability to flex in response to crisis?

Clearly, the ability to quickly transition to home working has been pivotal in the last few months. However, over 70% of organisations surveyed reported that their ability to make transition to home or off-site working was severely hampered by a lack of remote access to data and documents.

Despite a focus on cybersecurity, the sister-issue of safe and secure remote access to data has seemingly taken a back seat. Simply, employees are not able to easily access the basic documents and data they need to do their jobs when they are forced out of the office.

During lockdown, this inability meant that just 10% of SLAs were met. Customer communications, order fulfilment and sales support were among the worst affected – arguably among the most vital aspects of any organisation!

We now know that homeworking, flexible offices and access to data, documents and services for remote workers are key to continuity. The ability to access and process documents securely and in compliance with regulatory requirements, therefore, underpins any operationally resilient organisation. In fact, following this crisis, 80% of organisations are now looking to digitise mailrooms, with over 70% seeking to digitalise document processes.

For example, insurers in the UK have accelerated automation initiatives such as the use of digital mailrooms to respond to the current crisis. Document digitisation is now a necessity for financial and insurance service providers and their actions now will have a transformational impact for the organisation long into the future.

Digitising document processing services – both paper-based and electronic – is no longer a nice to have, it is a basic necessity. Many digital transformation programmes have stalled in the past in favour of ‘sexier’ projects that have not delivered impact in this time of crisis. Embracing digitation as a foundation of operational resilience is the future.

Operational resilience interweaves with digital transformation

Back to buzzwords. While the phrase ‘extraordinary times’ has set the scene for recent conversations, is our current crisis as much of a surprise as commentary suggests? The signs have been there for years – SARs, H1N1… We’ve not been descended on by a ‘black swan’ (an unpredictable event with extreme consequences). Arguably it’s been highly predictable.

Beyond outbreaks of disease, other global issues we are facing might be more pressing than we think; climate change, extreme weather – not to mention the borderless and ever-present risk of cyberattack. Now more than ever there is an increasing need for enterprise-wide transformation programmes that focus on getting the basics of operational resilience right – starting with location agnostic, agile access to data and documents.

If organisations are to build back better, stronger and more resilient to a range of crisis they must consider how digital transformation interweaves with operational resilience. Ask yourself what transformation initiatives must now take precedence to shore up your organisation against current and future crisis?

Gary Harrold is UK CEO of Swiss Post Solutions, a provider of business process outsourcing and innovative document management services in both the physical and digital worlds.

Read more: From construction to engineering, the pandemic shows why digital transformation is more important than ever