Tom Jenkins is the Managing Director at Dynamics Consultants. As well as having a strong product knowledge, his strategic knowledge of industry and the business landscape helps him to provide thought leadership to a range of vertical sectors.
What will the world look like post-Coronavirus?
As the government starts to discuss plans to lift the lockdown, our MD Tom Jenkins looks at how we will continue to be effected and what we can do to make sure that our businesses remain successful, as part of The New Business Normal that we are all facing.
Is this the end of Coronavirus?
The Coronavirus seems to be declining and at some point, the lock down restrictions will be lifted. So that is the end of it right? Well, no it is not. The restrictions will be lifted only gradually, some sectors will see a return to relative normality quite quickly, however a number will still be constrained by supply chain issues and ongoing social distancing restrictions with no large gatherings and socially distanced shopping likely to continue for a number months. Furthermore, there are difference of opinions amongst experts, some are saying it will be a couple of years before the virus is defeated, whilst others are saying it is not a one-off occurrence. An article posted on Wikipedia states:
The WHO asserts that the pandemic can be controlled. The peak and ultimate duration of the outbreak are uncertain and may differ by location. Maciej Boni of Penn State University stated, "Left unchecked, infectious outbreaks typically plateau and then start to decline when the disease runs out of available hosts. But it's almost impossible to make any sensible projection right now about when that will be". The Chinese government's senior medical adviser Zhong Nanshan argued that "it could be over by June" if all countries can be mobilized to follow the WHO's advice on measures to stop the spread of the virus. On 17 March, Adam Kucharski of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine stated that SARS-CoV-2 "is going to be circulating, potentially for a year or two". According to the Imperial College study led by Neil Ferguson, physical distancing and other measures will be required "until a vaccine becomes available (potentially 18 months or more)". William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University stated, "I think it's unlikely that this coronavirus—because it's so readily transmissible—will disappear completely" and it "might turn into a seasonal disease, making a comeback every year". The virulence of the comeback would depend on herd immunity and the extent of mutation.
The last part of this paragraph is a sobering thought for those hit hard by the current lock down! Additionally, the lock down has shown many people alternative ways of working. Those who thought that it was not possible to work from home have been forced to do so, and many have found that there are additional benefits in terms of productivity, costs, environmental impact and staff morale to name a few, and Microsoft thinks that CoronaVirus will forever change the way we work and learn.
So, how do we prepare for the future post CoronaVirus? I see a number of things happening.
With the return to normality, or The New Business Normal, likely to be a drawn out affair, and with the prospect of possible further interruptions in the future, it would be prudent to prepare for a higher degree of homeworking ability going forward, where possible.
Homeworking has a number of benefits for the employee: reduced commute costs, relaxed dress code, zero commute time, ability to take deliveries, put the washing on etc., and today’s technology makes it easier than ever for some individuals to work from home, with many office based workers being able to work from home just as effectively as if they were in the office. There are also benefits to the employer of homeworking, such as reduced costs and improved employee morale.
To make the most of homeworking, the organisation needs to be prepared and put in place the necessary technology and controls to ensure an effective homeworking environment. This includes the following:
Appropriate equipment to be able to work from home
Consider replacing desktop machines with laptops at the next renewal cycle so that they can be taken home more effectively and provide additional screens and keyboards as required. A good office chair and work environment needs to be available for the employee and remember the DSE (Display Screen Equipment) regulations still apply to homeworkers.
Alternatively, a lot of employers now allow some form of Bring Your Own Device or BYOD. This means employees can use their own equipment, but care must be taken to enforce strict security rules through tools such as InTune or other Mobile Device Management software. Talk to us if you need help setting up or configuring InTune.
Communication is very important, and for homeworking to work, you need to be able to communicate with colleagues and customers as effectively as if you were in the office. For this, a collaboration tool such as Microsoft Teams, or Zoom is ideal as it allows for conference calls and video for both internal and external meetings. You will also need access to your company’s phone system and having a good internal VOIP system will help with this. If you don’t currently have VOIP capability, then implementing Microsoft Teams with VOIP integration will allow calls to be transferred to an individuals laptop or mobile phone without the need for a separate VOIP phone. Dynamics Consultants can implement this for you.
Often overlooked, but the company should carry out a risk assessment for an employees working environment whether that is in the office or at home. These can often be carried out by the employee, but should consider things like insurance, appropriate working environment and mental well-being. The employee should check with their insurance company (and landlord if appropriate), that they are OK to work from home, for office work, it is not usually an issue.
Access to files
Go back 20 years, and access to files usually meant carrying a large box of paperwork home, and if it was a document that was a work in progress, then this would quickly become out of date. Today however, companies should be embracing the concept of the paperless office. At Dynamics Consultants, we find many customers say they can’t go paperless, but normally that means that they find comfort in the piece of paper and the objections are generally not unsurmountable. Microsoft Teams, Office 365 and Google Docs all provide solutions for electronic access to documents, where multiple individuals can collaborate on the same documents at the same time, where prior versions can be compared to the current one and restored if necessary. In order to work effectively in a paperless environment, we would recommend a second monitor to view the document along side anything else required. The cost savings of paper, printing, filing, storage, disposal and employee efficiency outweigh the costs of the additional monitors and Office 365.
Access to Business Systems
The business systems are the backbone of most businesses, and whether you are an advocate of the cloud or not, there is no reason why you cannot access your business systems remotely. There are of course the SaaS, vendor hosted, versions of many business systems including Dynamics CRM and Business Central that can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection. Additionally, many new versions of NAV can easily be accessed remotely either by exposing the middle tier via a secure internet connection, vpn or remote desktop. For those on older versions of NAV, access can still be achieved via remote desktop.
All of the above relies on an internet connection to work effectively. Most employees will have a perfectly adequate internet connection for most of the above, where some companies may struggle is having an adequate connection to the office to cope with the additional traffic. Using Teams and Office 365 will help with this by moving the communications and document aspects of work away from the office internet connection and using up to date business systems will also help reduce the internet traffic.
With people working remotely, it is important that the connections to the systems are secure, implementing security certificates, multi-factor authentication (confirmation via an alternative means such as a smart phone app), password policies and properly configure operating systems and firewalls are all very important. Using SaaS solutions can help with this, but it is still possible to properly secure your on premise solutions, but we would recommend leaving it to the experts.
Office Space Reduction
With the increase of home working, there will be a reduced reliance on office space. As businesses grow, there will be less inclination to increase the office space to suit the size of the workforce, but instead use smaller offices as a meeting hub for homeworkers to touch base with colleagues, customers and suppliers as and when required. The cost savings of running a smaller office can be put towards conference facilities when larger company gatherings are required.
With less people in the office, improved video conferencing and a greater awareness of social distancing, virtual meetings will become more prevalent. Initial job interviews, sales meetings, demos, inspections, training etc., will be held remotely giving a saving in time and expenses.
Ecommerce / Mobile Apps
Many businesses have already embraced ecommerce solutions for sales of their goods, and for the likes of Amazon it has been a very lucrative lock down, in fact, their share price has risen $1,676 on 12 March to $2,408 on 16 April. Businesses that have been able to take online orders during the lock down have seen an advantage over those who cannot in both B2C and B2B sectors.
An ecommerce site need not break the bank, but there are a number of factors to consider, such as integrations and branding. Ecommerce will continue to grow and I think the coronavirus will help to see an acceleration in that growth. Companies will also develop apps to allow customers easier access to their goods and services, and technologies such as Microsoft PowerApps are making this even more accessible than ever.
It’s all very well being able to take orders electronically, but you also need to be able to deliver the items. That said, if you already have the process and infrastructure in place to provide individual customer deliveries, then it is easier to upscale that than start from scratch. Decide whether you are going to provide delivery yourselves or via a courier and put in the relevant systems and processes to enable this. If you are a manufacturer or distributor then this might not be so easier without upsetting your customers, however now is the ideal time to discuss with your customers contingency plans for the continual delivery of your goods in the event that your customers cannot sell them, perhaps redirecting them to your website with a lower commission as you are handling the deliveries.
Not everything needs to be delivered by a courier, software, images, documents and some services could be delivered electronically. Amazon, Netflix etc. have been doing this successfully for years. If it’s been created electronically, it can probably be delivered electronically, moving as much as possible to electronic delivery will help reduce costs and allow you to continue trading. In much the same way as access to files remotely will become a requirement for many businesses, so will the ability to send, receive and process documents electronically, and most up to date business systems allow you to do this.
Increase Stock Holdings
Industry has prided itself on its ability to cut storage costs and reduce capital tied up in inventory by implement good stock forecasting solutions and just-in-time delivery. This works well if you have a relatively consistent demand, reliable supply, and alternative sources of supply if required. However, in a situation where goods cannot be delivered, or there is a sudden peak in demand, the tightly controlled stock levels no longer work, this is the situation that the NHS is finding itself in with the PPE crisis. This is not a problem unique to the NHS, supply of toilet rolls, hand sanitiser and flour being noteworthy additions to the list.
In industry too there have been supply issues, with some UK businesses struggling with supply from China due to their lock down well before the UK lock down. Whilst I don’t think the stock optimisation solutions that companies have put in place will be made obsolete by the coronavirus (far from it), I do think planners and buyers will be reviewing the safety stock levels to ensure stocks of critical, non-perishable items are increased accordingly thereby allowing the company to continue longer before implementing any furloughing measures.
Review of Working Processes
A well-run company knows what its purpose is, its values and how it is going to achieve its goals, part of this is a well-documented set of working procedures. Many organisations will have these in place, but they may be rigid and inflexible and not able to cope easily with sudden changes in the environment in which it operates. Some organisations, especially the larger retail organisations, have had to adapt quickly in order to continue and many would have the luxury of a well established management structure to drive those changes through, whilst for others that responsibility may fall to just the business owner who will be overwhelmed with the fire-fighting to be able to think clearly around the strategy required to keep the business from being severely wounded.
Successful business men, those that have started and run multiple businesses, know what they need to have in place for the business to get where they want it to get to, the rest of us are just reactive to the pains we feel along the way and build the business to the size it is this year and worry about next year when we get there. At the very least you should use this time to plan what you will do if a lock down happens next year, how your processes need to change, how your team should react, and how you can implement social distancing in your work place. Ideally, however, you should look at gaining the knowledge to enable you to build the business you want it to be in the next 5 years or more. I am more than happy to discuss my own experiences around this.
Partnership is at the core of Dynamics Consultants. It’s very easy to look at your own organisation and what you need to do for yourselves, however one of the best ways to look after your own organisation is to look after your customers and suppliers. I think we will see a number of organisations investing time to ensure that their partner organisations can continue to supply materials or sell their goods. If you were a distributor for example, you might consider providing your customers a templated ecommerce solution where they can sell your goods, you might arrange extended payment terms, or you might arrange for a supplier to hold critical stock on your behalf or make use of your delivery infrastructure so they can continue to trade and supply your requirements. I think some organisations will also work with some of their competitors to resolve common issues with a view to reducing the cost impact.
How can Dynamics Consultants help?
For most people, the technology to enable all this is a bit of a mystery, but for Dynamics Consultants it is our day job. If you need help in any of the following, then please contact us:
- Microsoft Teams (with or without VOIP capability)
- Office 365 (Microsoft 365)
- Setting up VPNs and Remote Desktops.
- Systems Security.
- Reducing office bandwidth use.
- Enabling Dynamics CRM, NAV or Business Central for remote access
- NAV upgrades
- Implementation of modern Microsoft Business Solutions.
- Ecommerce Solutions
- PowerApps / App development
- Stock Optimisation solutions
- Document Management solutions
- Courier Integration
- Business Planning and Process Improvement
The New Business Normal
The world has undoubtably changed since the outbreak of COVID-19, and the way in which we manage and operate our businesses may never be the same. This blog is part of our new series of articles entitled "The New Business Normal", sign up to get updated on new articles.
I find their approach to our relationship very professional whilst being refreshingly realistic. We now consider them to be part of our teamTechnical Director, Bainbridge International