By Ronnie Wilson, Group Executive Vice President, Serviceware
Events over the last several months have seen the business world turned upside down. Whilst many organisations have been forced to scale back their workforces, others have narrowly escaped collapse. Implementing a range of cost-saving measures has been a necessity for many firms simply to stay afloat. And now fresh challenges have emerged: the UK is officially in recession for the first time in 11 years, and Europe is facing a deeper-than expected downturn, meaning tough times and further uncertainty lay ahead for most. This is all whilst businesses have had to deal with lower levels of staffing as a result of the ongoing ramifications of furlough and redundancies. Never has the c-suite faced more pressure to not only perform and build resilience to survive the ‘now’, but also to fuel future business growth. For many, success will be entirely dependent on the decisions made over the coming weeks and months.
Whilst many businesses are starting to emerge through to the other side of the global crisis, ongoing turbulence – as a result of Brexit fallout – is set to send further shockwaves through the economy. According to recent analysis, businesses that have escaped the worst effects of the economic fallout from the pandemic are typically in sectors which are more likely to feel the impacts of EU withdrawal.
In order to overcome this, and navigate the murky waters ahead, businesses must be able to minimise costs, guarantee a stable cash flow and free up money for investment in future growth. After all, the future of the organisation and its employees’ livelihoods depend on it. But how can the c-suite truly manage business costs when, all too often, a lack of visibility and departmental silos stand in the way of understanding the cost base?
Preparing for the future
Donald Rumsfeld gave his famous explanation of US intelligence reports back in 2002, but his comments on ‘unknown unknowns’ have much to teach the c-suites of today. It is hard to remember a time when so much has been uncertain – what, precisely, will be the legacy of the Covid-19 pandemic? How will business operations change and when? How will markets change? And given all of this, how can we even start to quantify and plan for the impacts of that even bigger unknown – Brexit? It is an interesting time to be running an organisation, particularly for those in IT or finance – as these are the crucial elements of any enterprise when it comes to managing challenge and change.
But this recession is much more complex than those that preceded it: there are the unknowns of Covid-19 and Brexit (both of which extend beyond the UK), but also confounding factors such as the suggestion that the sectors less damaged by the pandemic may be at greater risk from Brexit. So, even though some organisations see green shoots of recovery already, 60% of business still expect their output to fall in the next three months.
Everyone is worried and looking to the c-suite for guidance, but particularly at times of extensive and complex change, there are no quick answers. Events are unclear, constantly unfolding and hard to predict, which means that responses and behaviours currently relied upon are likely to go out of date – and fast. Of course, firms must still minimise certain costs and guarantee cash flow. But innovation and flexibility are now mandatory, too. Just ask any firm that had to scrabble around for, and implement, a reliable and secure video conferencing arrangement as the UK went into lockdown.
Navigating the stormy waters ahead
The focus must now be on agility and flexible response, rather than saving money and waiting for the storm to pass. This may mean minimising costs in one area but investing it elsewhere, to position the organisation for future challenges and opportunities. Because, although times are tough, there will ultimately be plenty of opportunities in many sectors.
Any organisation that is committed to success in the new normal – whatever that may turn out to be – must uncover and face the truths of its current financial and operational situations, and adjust both spend and strategy in light of that knowledge. That means that:
- Every organisation needs complete visibility of all financial, IT and other business assets, along with operational performance data, and the costs attached to each
- The information should be available in a real-time, easily understood form, avoiding the pitfalls of multiple error prone spreadsheets.
- Analysis of that information must lead to a clear understanding of costs vs value, to inform effective investment planning.
- Responses (be they to financial challenges, operational or market change, customer demand or any business case) should be data-led and automated where possible, as this drives up efficiency while driving down error and cost.
Cutting costs and fostering transparency is more complicated than just picking and using one of the many software tools in the market. However, financial management tools for enterprise services are vital in enabling businesses and leaders to gather vital real-time operational, project and vendor cost data – in essence, to uncover the truth around IT costs and make smart financial decisions. These tools enable fact-based scenario planning and in turn help ensure that innovation and digital strategies take centre-stage in optimising services and refining processes – whilst adding value.
In addition, financial management tools are commonly provided as a cloud/hybrid SAAS offering, and ensure greater resilience to cyber-crime, as well as easier adherence to compliance/regulation. This in turn gives businesses the ability to flex and respond swiftly to whatever this ‘new normal’ will bring.
The value of data and analytics to business success is already well established: recent events and the resulting change have reinforced that. Nobody should fall into the trap of thinking only customer data matters, and that it only matters to marketing and sales. In our current – extraordinary – times, it is hard to overstate the benefits of data acquisition and management across the enterprise, and the application of that insight to all business decisions.
Although investment of this type may seem counter-intuitive when everybody around seems to be awaiting the next casualties, this is when it’s truly needed – especially when it can drive down costs. Further turbulence is inevitable at this stage – but comprehensive, current and, above all, transparent data, in addition to decisions and operational pivots using that understanding, can provide a vital life raft that limits the impact to the business and paves the way for future growth. For those who do not act now and instead wait in hope that it will all blow over, their means of survival may be harder to find.