12 December 2022

Operations will be noticeably different in the post-lockdown era. Freed from the constraints of co-locating workers in physical proximity, and in many cases more physically distant from their customers, businesses can adopt newer ways of working with a digital business transformation. 

The phrase ‘the new normal’ having been coined in the aftermath of the 2007 financial crisis has gained currency again in recent weeks. The implication being that once restrictions on both the physical interaction of people and on the ability of businesses to trade freely have eased, things won’t quite go back to being how they were before. 

According to Yuval Noah Harari, writing in the Financial Times in late March, such societal crises ‘fast-forward historical processes. The direction of travel, including adoption of emerging technologies and “virtual” ways of working, may be unaltered, but its pace becomes faster and more disruptive.

A need to reinvent

The cultural, societal and economic impacts of the coronavirus will probably be significant. It is almost certain that your ‘new normal’ customers will not buy the exact same things from you, in the same quantities, or in the same way. For evidence of this, we only need look back to the SARS outbreak, which is widely cited as a key factor in the growth of e-commerce in China. The effects of constricted trade and any subsequent economic recession may well change the competitive landscape irreversibly. Established players will disappear, and new innovators and disruptors will emerge. These will typically have lower cost and efficient business models that do not need huge volumes to sustain them, allowing them to cherry-pick the most profitable customer segments. They will be agile businesses who can adopt a digital business transformation and new ways of working that help them exploit the societal and economic changes ahead of their competitors. Technologies that may have appeared “leading edge” 12 months ago will now start to become broadly adopted.  

Every business will need to reinvent itself to some degree, to realign its’ strategy and objectives with the changes that we are now starting to see emerge. 

New ways of working

You and your co-workers are probably different too. A prolonged period of home working will have opened the eyes of many to its benefits – better work-life balance, hours freed up from the daily commute, the ability to focus and prioritise without casual distractions from bosses and co-workers. There are obvious difficulties too, such as the loss of richness of information and cultural togetherness. Nonetheless, the genie is well and truly out of the bottle and home working will inevitably become, if not the norm, at least normal. 

Current ways of office-based operations, largely focused on the performance of overhead heavy physical sites, already looks very ‘old’. The inherent resilience of networks of dispersed people supported by modern technologies and robust infrastructure is a compelling and increasingly attractive operating model proposition. The efficiency benefits of scale for centralised offices remain but we expect to see increasing adoption of “virtual” ways of working and “offices” in the future, and businesses will embed this into their Digital strategies.

Opportunities emerging from change 

Whilst this is a potentially significant change it is a journey that many companies have been forced to go on in recent weeks. Some will retrench, others will embrace the it. For some, it could be their saviour if they are brave enough. For example, organisations with a significant high street presence, having proved that their mid- and back-offices can function without staff being in a central location, might be able to disperse activities across their branches, making those locations viable, maintaining a valued customer service and protecting their brand and reputation.

We believe businesses that succeed through this change will likely exhibit the following characteristics:

  • A genuine proximity to their customers and staff: Whether relationships are face-to-face or remote, these companies will invest the time in listening to and understanding their customer and staff needs, share their values and align their ways of working and the experience they deliver.
  • Management by effective performance dialogue and a shared sense of contribution: Businesses will deliver performance by having a clear vision and an engendered sense of how every role contributes to its attainment. This will be backed by regular, structured and holistic performance dialogue from the front-line to the boardroom and back. The capture, presentation and analysis of meaningful, and relevant, data will become more important. The adoption of Analytic and Business Intelligence tools will start to gain pace.
  • An efficient operation with the flexibility to adapt: There will be a shift towards newer, more flexible Cloud and SaaS technologies. The lingering fear of Cloud and uncertainty over SaaS will have diminished through the last few months providing a more open market for these technologies.  Inefficiencies that have been accommodated to date will now be eliminated. Staff will be focused on the activities that add most value to customers and can best be done by other humans. The routine, unseen or unnecessary will be eliminated, automated or performed with maximum efficiency. Technology is not a “silver bullet”. Even though many of these new technologies incorporate good practice they need a business led approach in their implementation, to support and complement your people and processes, to drive adoption and ensure success.

Although these characteristics are nothing new, the new normal gives them a new imperative and indeed make them critical to survival rather than merely aspirational. Many companies that were previously well set-up will need to quickly adapt.

Emerging green shoots

All this is well and good, but the short-term economic outlook is challenging. Businesses face revenue loss and increased risk of bad debt. The immediate focus is to protect revenues and minimise costs. Projects and investments will be put on hold or abandoned. Businesses have set up coronavirus task forces to help manage these impacts.

And yet even now we are starting to see green shoots. Businesses are looking to use their teams now to implement new technologies and address operational inefficiencies that they know exist. This window of relatively low activity gives them that opportunity and they are taking it. 

This includes optimisation of the business ERP backbone and implementation of robotic process automation (RPA) to remove unnecessary manual process steps including hand-offs between legacy systems, with the associated business change to process and organisation structures. Data analytics is becoming increasingly important, particularly with the scrutiny on historic performance and modelling to understand future performance.

We’ve been here before

Whilst the causes of this period of disruption are unprecedented in Europe, many of the implications are familiar. The 2007 financial crisis forced banks, in particular, to re-assess their operations, mobilising operational excellence (OpEx) programmes across their middle and back office functions to drive out waste, reduce overheads and re-focus their efforts on understanding and better meeting the needs of an increasingly demanding and hostile consumer base. Many of the lessons learned then, will be applicable now.

Helping your organisation overcome immediate challenges

RSM has a breadth of consultancy capability that will help organisations overcome their immediate challenges and build a successful ‘new normal’, including:

  • A Digital Strategy team that can help you navigate the way through the complex market of technologies to provide a pragmatic and practical path for your business to adopt new technologies and adopt a digital business transformation.
  • Change and Transformation consultancy, that will aid with the creation of task forces and central co-ordination to manage through the immediate challenges.
  • A Business Improvement practice led by those who have been through disruptive times and understand where best to focus.

Please contact Roger Lovis or Ian Gill if you would like to discuss how we could help you:

  • Create and run a coronavirus task force.
  • Define a digital strategy that will drive your business forward with a digital business transformation.
  • Turbo-charge your operational practices.
  • Improve your cash flow management.
  • Optimise and automate your vital processes.
  • Design and deliver a Data Analytics strategy aligned with your business objectives.
  • Define, design and deliver your ‘new normal’.

For more information on how RSM can help your organisation through these challenging times, please contact