The Software Outsourcing Show, Episode 21: Business Continuity in the Time of COVID19

March 30, 2020

By Lea Jesserer

Join Accelerance this week as we talk about business continuity planning and the effects of Coronavirus/COVID19 on the modern workplace. The evolution of the workplaes has led to the greater use of remote or distributed teams and 2020’s Coronavirus pandemic turned this idea from a strategic long-term initiative to an immediate mandate for survival. There’s a reason why companies and stocks such as Slack and Zoom Communications are growing so rapidly while other equities languish. But what are the compelling reasons to act now to reimagine and re-architect your software engineering function to include globally distributed team members?

This week Andy Hilliard, an IT industry veteran and CEO at Accelerance, and Tom Cooper, a Principal at BrightHill Group and SVP of Delivery team member at Accelerance, discuss how companies and leaders can communicate and plan efficiently and effectively to avoid lost time, delayed projects and ensure the continuation of business during unprecedented times.


Transcript: 

Bobby: You're listening to the "Software Outsourcing Show" brought to you by Accelerance, the global software outsourcing authority.

Bobby: Hello and welcome to the "Software Outsourcing Show." My name is Bobby Dewrell. And as always, I'm gonna be your host through the next 30 minutes or so as we talk about some fun and important topics here within the "Software Outsourcing Show." The thing that we're talking about this week is business continuity planning. And as you can imagine, it came up due to the global concerns that we have around COVID-19 or the Coronavirus, if you will.

I know I had a lot of travel planned for this week and next, was supposed to be down in beautiful Argentina, followed by a wonderful stand Brazil, helping some clients out and moving some stuff along with some of our global partners. And well, here I am in the virtual studios, so still making it happen via remote work, but kinda like everybody else these days.

And, you know, that's what really prompted us to have this show today to talk about business continuity planning and the types of things that you should do when you enter an environment like we're in today. And I've got two great gentlemen in the virtual studio with me today. One is Andy Hilliard who is the CEO of Accelerance. And you may have remembered him from a past episode on the show.

Andy is an IT industry veteran with more than 20 years of experience. He's got a proven track record of taking a personalized approach to matching clients with software development partners best suited to fill their individual needs. Now his success is largely due to his passion for the global software development industry and his enthusiasm for helping the underserved market grow their network and experience their full potential, no matter where they are in the world.

And also joining me in the studio today is Tom Cooper, who is a principal at the Bright Hill Group. And he works with leaders and teams to help them be more effective in communicating with others. He's got a background in software engineering, systems management and engineering. Tom uses his deep knowledge of the software and IT industry to help companies and leaders communicate and plan efficiently and effectively. Tom, Andy, how are you doing today? Thanks for joining me in the studio.

Andy: Doing great, thanks.

Bobby: Good. No fevers, no coughs, no chills.

Tom: I'm getting a little chilly here. I'm not sure what, thankfully no. Everybody in our house is healthy. That's good.

Andy: No, fortunately here too.

Bobby: Andy, you're over in California, I think they're having some of the most stringent responses, it seems like. How is everything going there, is it...?

Andy: I would really like to understand how the rest of the world is dealing with this, but there is quite a bit of panic in the county. And I've asked myself from reading too many scary stories to saying, "Keep it together, everything will be okay."

Bobby: Right. Well, and you know, that really brings us around to what we're talking about today. And it was talking about that business continuity planning, right? And that's really just the organization's ability to maintain functions during a disaster whether you want to consider this. You know, I know there's a lot of people out there and I really don't want to get into the talking head politics part of what's going on with the virus, right?

But, you know, there is a disruption to normal services and normal life right now, right? So from that standpoint alone, right? And the things that are coming down, we do know that we've had to go into a new normal, just like you would. You know, I know for me living down here on the Gulf coast, like we would do after a hurricane hit, you know, I know it'd be, you know, Tom for you up in Charlotte, like after, you know, unexpected snowstorm.

Tom: Maybe if we got an eighth of an inch of snow up here, I mean, it'd shut down the whole city for about two weeks.

Bobby: Right. And, Andy, I know, you know, in California would be the same for you guys getting an earthquake or something like that, right? It's definitely a shift in what normality is and it's a disruption to the...not ecosystem. What am I trying to...to the infrastructure, right? It's a disruption to the normal pattern and flow that we work with every day.

Andy: It is, but there is different definitions of how long something happens and creates a business continuity event whether it's earthquakes, is you know, momentary because typically they don't go on for too long and then fires, we've had quite a bit in California and that might go on for a month or a month and a half maybe a season. But we always know that winds will die down and there's only so much you can burn, right? Other times you just don't know where the end is.

Tom: Well, I mean I think on this particular one, and again, I'm not going to far outside of my lane, but I'm totally convinced we're gonna get through this. This is a season and we're gonna figure it out, there'll be some new normals that come out of it. But I think that, you know, this is something we've gotten through crises before and I think we're gonna get through this crisis. The question is how are we gonna respond today and how do we prepare for the next thing that's gonna come up?

Bobby: Correct. And I think that's, you know, the interesting thing, you know, I've talked with people about this before and thought about it before and I really love the semantics of it how it's changed. Because, you know, back in the 2000s, right? The early part of the decade, you know, those double zeros, we talked in terms of disaster recovery, right? So we assume something bad is gonna happen and now how do we recover best from it, right?

And so as opposed to disaster recovery, you know, now it's more of a, "How do we keep business operating?" So that, you know, it's not just how we recover, but how do we maintain, right? Because really where we are in the world today we can't accept disruption to normal functions, right? I mean, think of how the world would react if, you know, we don't have Amazon, right? For a couple of days. I mean what do we do now, right?

Tom: Heard somebody talking about keeping DoorDash in business right now.

Bobby: That's actually very true. I've thought about some of the shifts that's happening with where the workforce is gonna go. But with that strong business continuity plan, we're just able to keep the business running, right? I mean, that's the whole idea. And really, you know, based on how your organization normally works, I mean, it's not necessarily keeping everything up, but it's at least keeping functioning and keeping moving forward.

And, you know, Andy, I know for us here at Accelerance it doesn't seem like as big of an impact because we do largely work remote day in and day out, right?

Andy: Yes. And we have redundancy built-in and we have diversification of geographic distribution of people, so I think if someone goes down in a function or if someone goes down because of an event, you know, we always have enough going that we can maintain a certain level of productivity and output.

Bobby: Yeh. And we constantly kind of exercise that muscle too, right? Because I know, you know, the other thing that I think is important when you think about a business continuity plan is that it can't be something that you just put together. I mean, it is a written document, it is a way that you're gonna approach it, but you can't kind of say, okay, we have it and then put it on the shelf and hey, I'll break the glass and cut the seal and blow the dust off and read what to do when the event comes, right?

Andy: You have to practice it. You have to put it in practice and make it a part of your culture. And, you know, cultures are hard to change, and not just like the values part of culture, but also just the operational part. If you have leased or built a large building, you've put a lot of people in it, you've invested a lot into that co-located culture. And if you've decided to break that up or not have it then you invest in people, this is the way we're gonna operate and we're gonna be remote, we're gonna be distributed. So that's different from one culture to another.

Tom: I think that's true. And I think you end up with figuring out how to do some of those things on the fly. I mean, you know, I remember years ago I was working for a Fortune 500 company and we had disaster recovery events, and we had disaster recovery planning and we had you know, all those kinds of things that went on. And then they went to summers where we did "No Meeting Fridays", and the idea was that you wouldn't schedule any meetings on Friday and the people could work from home or people, you know, had more flexibility.

And what we found was that we did still need to get in touch with people, but we didn't really know how to do that because, you know, what phone number would you call to get them, right? You couldn't stop by their office because they weren't there. And then they would go to like work weeks where we were working through a recession and they were trying to get people to burn down their PTO. And so they were encouraging us to work three days a week and then people, you know, you pick the days and then man, now we gotta figure all kinds of things out about how do we adapt to a different workforce and a different level of availability?

And I think, you know, unless you're practicing some of this stuff, and I think we're learning those lessons right now. I had a client just tell me this week, "Oh crap, I work for an organization that has had a 'no work from home' policy forever and now we're being mandated that we must work from home for the next 30 days, minimum." Oh, crap.

Bobby: Yeah, and what does that do to the organization and you know, not to get into all the different tools and things like that. But I mean, you know, if you're largely all on-premise with everything, you've got to find ways for people to VPN in and do you have that right infrastructure for them to be able to get into the organization? Or, you know, maybe you're using some cloud-based services that it doesn't matter, but you know, what's the lockdown policy? Or do people have laptops that they can take home? Do they have connectivity at home?

You know, I think there's a lot of questions there that, you know, I think about, you know, a couple of places around here, a little more local where they've got ways that they can work around it but they've never practiced it, they've never flexed the muscles so now no one really knows what to do, right? So, you know, I think when we're talking about the business continuity plan and the things that were there, you know, we want to make sure that we're maintaining resiliency, it should be saving time and money and company reputation as well, right? I mean, that's something we certainly have to think about in this time is that we're mitigating any, you know, financial or personal loss from employees, you know, to any loss of reputation. You know, I know a couple of businesses around here, you know, there's actually been some reputational loss around this because they did not have a plan for how to deal with this and so they've kind of ceased operations, almost.

Tom: That's a difficult thing, I'm sure you guys have too, I've gotten about 4 billion emails in the last five days about, "Our response to the crisis," and I'm not really staying awake at night worried about how most of those providers are gonna be handling it. But I do think there's a concern about how are we gonna look if we don't have a plan for this? And I got to tell you that, you know, based on having worked in industry for a long time, I'm skeptical that these organizations have really thought about this or flexed those muscles.

And an event like we're dealing with right now is a great opportunity to highlight, "Look, man, we need to make sure that we're ready. Here's one thing we know, we've been through crises before, we're dealing with something that's brand new now, something will happen and so we need to figure out how are we gonna be ready when the time comes?"

Andy: Sure. Though I don't think in the planning of worst-case scenarios and the risk mitigation scenarios, very few if any companies have factored in a global pandemic. Even ourselves, it's like, "We can take a punch, what if there's a global recession? Well, then we do X, Y, and Z." And, you know, this could be a global recession plus a pandemic which creates a whole different set of scenarios, it's like we need to operationally do different, not just, "Cut back expenses or be proactive," or, you know, "Just weather out the recession and people might be buying our services or not buying our services." It's a redeployment and a reorganization of how you work.

Tom: Well, and I think that's probably a separate podcast episode, a lot of things that could come from this sort of event. But I think you're right, I don't think folks have planned so much for this. And I think it'd be helpful to talk a little bit about how do we do it? How do we think about being able to get from where we are to where we need to be? And do we need to think about it in terms of "business continuity" rather than a "work from home" policy?

Bobby: Right. And I think that's true. I think that's part of what you have to do within that business continuity planning, right? Is think about what are the steps that we need to take? What are the things? You know, what happens if, right? Let's pull this one piece out, now what do we do? Right? And so it's more than just natural disaster. I mean, you know, even for smaller organizations business continuity planning can be around a key resource, right?

But, you know, Andy talking about that and we touched on it a little bit but really let's kind of, you know, explore Accelerance a little bit and our workflow, and the fact that that it really hasn't been affected by the current pandemic, right? It's our motto allows for fluidity and the ability to continue working effectively and what are some of those things that add to that?

Andy: Well, I would break that down into two areas. One is that Accelerance the company itself, but then also the global software engineering partners around the world that we help connect to primarily U.S. companies to provide software engineering services. The company itself, Accelerance, you know, we have adopted from day one, thus it's like we've been going to the gym for the last 10, 12 years. We're used to the way we operate and our muscles, you know, aren't sore from doing it because everyone in Accelerance is distributed. We spend probably three to five hours on video calls either with clients or ourselves working on different, you know, projects and problems.

But then as we extend it out to our software engineering partners around the world, I mean, they are service providers and they have services to render. They have been built to render services according to certain KPIs that have been agreed to and those have to be delivered, come hell or high water. Now, fortunately, the whole model of this, these companies are already in an outsourced location and they have been built to provide services and provide on those KPIs and those companies themselves also have business continuity and most of their workers are remote themselves, also. So they have a way to continue to provide services according to contractual obligations.

Bobby: Right. And, you know, I think hitting upon that globally distributed software engineering function as just a part of the culture and the operating model, right? I think that's what does help the companies that we work with and that we help outsource, if they've already been outsourcing with the offshore or nearshore partner, they've flexed that muscle, right? They've got that operating model in place.

Andy: And they've proactively built that model with the client. The client knows going into it that they are gonna be dealing with people that are distributed, not just in a certain co-located location in a certain country, in a certain city, but also outside of that city, outside of that geographic location. It could be spread regionally or globally. So they may be dealing with, you know, 10 people in Cali, Colombia and that group also has people in Argentina and people in Peru and maybe some in Vietnam too. And they have processes to work together, they have their daily stand-ups and they have their KPIs to meet.

Bobby: Right. And you kind of hit upon some of the risk mitigation there too in that, even just working with one partner, they can be geographically diverse as well. So now you're spreading it out, you're lowering that risk for any particular geographic region to get hit with something. You've been able to kind of disperse that a little bit. And I think...earlier this week I heard a report that they said that the center of the impact of the spread of the virus has actually moved from, from Asian into Eastern Europe and parts of Europe.

So as we talk about the migration of the center of this spread, I mean, if you're spread out in, you know, maybe if you were in Asia and you had some geographic impact there, they're kind of starting to come back out of it, get over it as it's kind of migrating across the world so that you're at a reduced capacity but not at nil capacity if you were all in one geographic location, right?

Andy: Sure. Actually I think probably about half our customers now are looking to add additional partners in other geographic regions just for the diversification of risk and the distribution of teams so that they can have a team in Latin American, and a team in Eastern Europe, and maybe even a team in Asia. So it's worst-case scenario if one team goes down or is impacted greater than another team, you know, as long as you have an umbrella set of processes that, you know, guide, you know, all the teams working together under...it's an extension of it, the software engineering culture and you're good to go and, you know, protected against risks.

Bobby: Right. And, you know, that's one thing I want to talk about because we've been very vocal on the show and I know as an organization we're very vocal about one of the most important things to do in outsourcing is to physically visit, physically travel. And I know I had a couple of clients I was supposed to be down in Latin America this week and next week, and we have pulled back from that, so we're not making that physical travel right now. It's something that we'll do in the future once the concerns are mitigated, right?

And we've kinda gotten through this period but there are strategies to still onboard and work at least in the interim and get things going without having to do that actual travel, right? So we have modified a little bit there as well. And again, you know, without getting into the tools of it, it's the ability to use video communication, it's the ability to be able to talk to one another very easily, right. Tom wouldn't...Oh, go ahead, Andy, go ahead.

Andy: I was gonna say with time and practice, the benefit that we all have is that we're all remote and we're all distributed, now we have phones and we talk to each other on FaceTime and Slack and, you know, use all of those tools. So we're in a good position, you know, as a global society to just operationalize this. And, you know, right now it's a podcast I know, but you, Bobbyby are in Florida and Tom you're in Charlotte and I'm in California and we're looking at each other and talking and it seems as natural as if you were in the same room.

Bobby: Absolutely, there's no difference than if we were all together and, you know, that's why I love to refer to it as the virtual studio, right? I don't actually have you guys all in one nice soundstage but we're here and we make it all work. Tom, any thoughts as we kind of start to the wind down and wrap up?

Tom: Well, I think that as we look at, you know, how do we operate and what are the key functions that we have to have in place in order to be successful, understanding that is critical to creating a plan because until you know exactly how you operate, you're gonna be stuck, you know, and you're not gonna understand until you realize the thing is missing, you know. So it's, it's really important to kind of walk through what are the processes, what are the key things that we have to have operational in order for us to be successful?

And I think also as we look at this, we could talk technology stuff all day long and I love tech, and I've spent my career doing tech but the other side of this is really a people thing. And I think Andy touched on this earlier about, you know, kind of going back and forth on, "How serious is this? How am I gonna respond? What's going on?" We're all doing that, all of us are doing that. We have some moments where we feel like things are great and some moments where we're like, you know, "What's going on with this?"

And I think realistically we have to recognize that this is a season and we're gonna get through it and then we need to plan for how we're gonna do that well. And then when we do make those plans transparent, communication is critical, you know, recognizing that we can say, "Here's what we're gonna do, this is what we know for now." You know, I'm working with a client right now that's gonna face a significant contraction of their business because of this disruption.

And I'm talking with the business owner and she said, "Yep, here's what I'm doing, I sent a message out to all my employees." And I said, "Help me understand where you're, how you're doing financially because I need to make some cuts, but I don't want to cut the most, you know, critical stuff." And she said, "I needed five people to give me willingness to availability to cut their hours. And she said, "I had seven come back and say, 'You know what? I'm okay you know, let me take one for the team, Let's cut back my hours if you need to cut somebody.'" Incredible.

That's good leadership. You know, being willing to be able to say, "Here's where we are, we need to preserve the business, we want to help our team members, we're in this together, how do we work through it together?" And then, you know, and being able to say, "Here's what we're gonna do for the next few weeks and after that we'll give you more communication." And I think over communication is critical in the short term to reassure people about kind of where we are and what the next steps are.

Bobby: Absolutely. You've got to get the word out early and often, right? You absolutely have to do that. And Andy, you know that was one thing that I noted that we kind of did here pretty quick. You pulled the senior leadership team together and y'all were in I believe daily stand-ups, right? To really talk about what was going on and what were our contingency plans, you know, a constant monitoring of what the World Health Organization and the CDC was telling us, right? So that we knew what was going on. We canceled our events, right? We canceled some of our travel when it made sense. And then we really started flexing a lot of those relationships that we've built over the last 20 years around the world.

So instead of, you know, just kind of rely, and I mean, I hate to say it this way, but instead of relying on, you know, social media or our local news, trying to tell us what's happening somewhere else, I know you spent some time reaching out to some of those partners that you have a long history with saying, "Hey, what's happening in your country? What are you hearing about it? What's going on?" And did you find that to be really effective? And we were getting information. Would you say we got better information or quicker information or...?

Andy: Well, like Tom says, and Bobbyby, like you also said, over communication at this point is critical, it gives people perspective, especially since we have a global network and a distributed workforce. And we need to talk to one another and understand how they're coping within, what they're dealing with, whether it's here operationally in Accelerance in the United States or whether it's with our partners around the world.

And just speaking to someone and listening to their perceptions or their challenges and sharing what is happening in other places, especially partners who, you know, they have their entity, they're typically in a, you know, a single location or a specific region and they want to know what's going on around the world, not just what's being fed to them through their own media channels. And, you know, we helped them by relaying best practices and relaying perceptions and things going on with other partners around the world and that gives them, you know, a good understanding and a little bit more confidence to move forward.

Bobby: Right. Absolutely. So just in wrapping up, I mean, you know, we've kind of talked all around it but I wanted to try to really bring it and boil it down. So I'll look for you to disagree with me as I make these statements. But I think really when we look at a business continuity plan, you know, one, like we've said, it needs to be a concrete written document, right? I think that's vitally important. I think one thing we kind of learned a little bit too along the way is, let's make sure we have everybody's contact information and it's the right contact information, right? That we know how to get a hold of people. Tom, like you were saying, not just through the work phone number and the work e-mail address, but through other communication channels.

Tom: Absolutely.

Bobby: You know, I think what it needs to include in it is what are we gonna do when faced with different incidents, right? So our response to a pandemic may be different than our response to, you know, a geographic incident or you know, something of that nature, right? A power outage or hurricane, those types of things. You need to know when to use the document, when to go to your business continuity plan. And you know, I think it's important to say that while we call it a business continuity plan, it does account for variables, right?

It should have guidelines on how to maintain the operation of the business and really what's your number one priority to keep running, right? What's your most important thing? What's your second most important thing? What are the things you can put on hold? And, you know, when do you start adding things back, right? So you got to know, "Hey these are mission-critical, these are the important ancillary things and here's the bells and whistles that we're just gonna have to wait for."

Bobby: Well, and that's, you know, I think it's important to talk about and I think it's also important to note that we may be in a point of inflection where things are gonna change as a result of what's happening right now. And so it's wise to be looking at, "What is tomorrow and how would that work?" I've got one client that's heavy into print, physically printing things and they've been working on digital. And now they're saying, "We think digital may be absolutely where we need to go because of right now and where this is. And it hasn't been our primary function because our cash cow has been our print. But now, you know, with this shift, this may provide a vehicle for us to transition and get the buy-in internally to make that transition as well."

So what I'm saying is, you were talking about the PR business priorities, what's the most profitable, what's the most valuable stuff for us to do? That may shift somewhat, and we have to be aware of that too because we don't want to rush back to what fed us yesterday and find out that we're Blockbuster in a Netflix world.

Bobby: Absolutely, I think that's a great point. And, you know, Tom, you were talking about that, one of the clients that I'm working with right now does some work with organizations in the retail space and with the retail experience and I thought it was really interesting. We were talking this morning from a product standpoint that's still 95% of retail sales actually still happen in a store, right? And they were even quick to point out.

Tom: That's crazy, I can't even believe it.

Bobby: And I said the same thing was I said, oh, maybe like 60% or something like that but I do think that this pandemic, you know, this next two weeks to a month or six weeks based on where you live, I mean, you know, the hardest thing is to break somebody's habits. And at six weeks, you're breaking a habit, right? I don't have to go to that store anymore, I feel very comfortable ordering everything online. So I mean, it could make a permanent shift in something like that.

Andy: I actually hope it does. After a 10-year bull run and a very strong economy globally, the resiliency comes from facing challenges. And, you know, I'm sure this saying has been going around a lot, but, you know, always taking advantage of a good crisis or something to that effect that Winston Churchill said. And that operationalizes changes that companies that have grown somewhat complacent in good times forces them to not only write a business continuity plan but actually start to put it in function, and in operation to make themselves stronger as a whole.

Bobby: And accept some of those new normals, right, if need be.

Andy: That's right.

Bobby: Well. Hey guys, listen, I really appreciate y'all joining me today and talking about this. I know it's at least a very current topic, what we can say. Business continuity planning, maybe not the most interesting thing we've ever talked about, but I think it's important and it's timely, right?

Tom: It's critical. You know, it's one of those things that we don't necessarily think about talking about all the time, but we've got to stay in business, and we've got to find a way to stay in business. And there're gonna be a lot of creative things that come up right now. We thought we couldn't live without X. Now it turns out we can, or we found a better way to do Y than we ever thought before.

Bobby: Right. And I think the important thing to remember about it too is, you know, you can't be so concrete and rigid in the plan that you can't adjust to it, right? You know, I always think about, you know, what we talk about in this, I've heard it multiple times out of the Pentagon, you're always prepared to win the war you just fought, you know? So I mean, when it comes to the business continuity plan, we need to think through it, we need to think through what's mission-critical, what's secondary, you know, what can go on hold? And then, you know, how do we can we keep maintaining and moving forward and how do we adjust nimbly to that, right? And it's having a concrete written plan, it's having thought through it, it's exercising that muscle and it's being ready to move, right?

So with that, we'll kind of wrap it up. And I'll say again, you know, Andy, Tom, thanks for joining. For everyone out there, thanks for listening to the "Software Outsourcing Show." As always, you can find the latest episodes and show notes on iTunes and I think we're now on iTunes, Spotify, that's the one I was trying to think of, Google Play. And you can always find us at the softwaresourcingshow.com. So thanks Tom, thanks Andy.

Bobby: Thank you for listening to the "Software Outsourcing Show" brought to you by Accelerance, the global software outsourcing authority. Do you have a topic you'd like covered in a future show? Then send us an email at podcast@softwareoutsourcingshow.com, podcast@softwareoutsourcingshow.com. Show notes, links and materials discussed on today's show may be found on our website. That's softwareoutsourcingshow.com, that's softwareoutsourcingshow.com.



Subscribe

Learn more about successful outsourcing and get the latest from Accelerance.