The Business Continuity Imperative: The Continuous Planning Experience and Organizational Agility in 2020 and Beyond
Business planning is an essential part of an organization’s focus on its future performance and overall potential because it ensures continuous operations, even in black-swan events. Planning across the entire organization needs to be a critical priority and leadership should give it the attention it deserves. In challenging times, a focus on execution tends to take hold — this is not unreasonable but in focusing on satisfying immediate customer and workforce needs and putting out fires, business leaders too often forget that forward-looking continuous planning is essential to achieving desired outcomes. Fulfilling this objective requires technology designed to meet these needs for every business process in the organization.
Operating under duress during a crisis such as a global pandemic and achieving business continuity is a challenge for any organization’s skillset, particularly if digital transformation investments did not make it to business areas that needed it most. Unfortunately, far too often organizations neglect the need for continuous, long-term planning. In fact, Ventana Research asserts that through 2021, one-half of organizations will realize that digital transformation investments have not met the organizational readiness requirements of business continuity, leading to a new focus on innovative digital technologies that more reliably sustain operations.
The business continuity imperative requires that organizations make it a priority to examine essential areas that are often overlooked in the physical and virtual workplace but that make a meaningful impact on the organizational objectives. One such business area is planning — leadership must support not just business processes but the need for planning across the organization, from its workforce and the customers it services to the products it develops and provides.
Managing the planning experience and continuous planning processes in a simple yet sophisticated manner is not as easy as it should be because many existing applications were not designed to enable quick and easy participation. Nor do they provide insights from what the plan reveals to guide actions and decisions. Effective engagement with planning requires a process that facilitates easy digital participation and collaboration no matter the participant’s location or device being used.
It’s critical that organizations provide a planning experience that exceeds expectations, and this requires information that is easy to update and simple to get personalized information from in return. The sustainability of every organization hinges on an effective planning experience and technology investments that enable it to be interactive and valuable to individuals and the organization.
Building Continuity with Continuous Planning
Every organization should start by assessing all short- and long-term needs related to continuous planning and business continuity for the entire organization that may already be in place. No matter how an organization manages its business planning to achieve agility and the knowledge and skills for ensuring readiness — whether from a dedicated approach such as a planning application and platform, or worse, from a tangle of spreadsheets — it must continuously improve the planning experience and must also ensure it is integrated and effective. We assert that by 2022, only one-third of organizations will have deployed an integrated business planning platform that is collaborative and intelligent across operations.
Furthermore, organizations that haven’t yet unified business planning to the cloud for integrated and continuous operations must make this an immediate priority. It’s more difficult to prepare for the readiness of the workforce and do the planning needed when it’s not managed in a unified manner that ensures an acceptable level of resiliency for business continuity. It is essential to go beyond conventional wisdom; applications in the cloud and mobile access are basic steps in digital transformation, but that doesn’t mean that everything will be just fine, or that an organization will have the agility the market requires. We have all witnessed the peril of this mindset. Many current approaches require significant improvement in processes and technology to support effective continuous planning.
Organizations should embrace a culture of planning that encourages engagement —through digital efforts — to bolster more interactive collaborative experiences. Doing this requires more intelligent, streamlined and automated planning processes so that every level of the workforce can engage and contribute effectively to objectives. Streamlining planning processes is critical for success and this is impossible without high-quality, seamless digital experiences. In fact, Ventana Research asserts that by 2022, one-half of organizations will determine that the digital experiences they provide are not intelligent or automated and fall short in maintaining business continuity for organizational readiness, resulting in lost customers and workforce instability. Organizations must effectively initiate a planning experience that’s resilient in order to build a strong, forward-looking and agile organization.
Success with business continuity is about more than just providing continuous planning and assuming the workforce understands what to do and how to manage operations. It’s also not just about increasing levels of performance and even sustaining those efforts in best and worst of times, under pressure and over time. Business success is about cultivating organizational readiness and agility that delivers expected outcomes. A clear understanding of business planning requires a platform that can manage to performance — roles, responsibilities and processes across the organization, no matter the line of business. In addition, organizations should seek a platform that enables them to manage and achieve goals and desired results.
Planning should do more than just optimize productivity in operations — it should guide a path toward excellence in everything that the organization is focused on accomplishing. It should provide business insights from critical metrics that indicate the future health of the organization as well as the readiness of those performing work. A integrated portfolio of critical business analytics should provide a baseline of the historical performance across the organization that leadership can then use to understand variances and target improvements. Many organizations depend on analytics but metrics that lack context and a dashboard alone are insufficient. The real value comes from applying machine learning to analytics to uncover challenges and opportunities for improvement and provide immediate guidance in the planning process and recommendations for resolution.
Machine-generated insights about the business must be easy to consume and use; some of the most accessible products use natural language and generate stories that can be read or heard and present the impact of potential plans in simple and actionable terms. The planning system should be able to create effective notifications that place intelligence into the hands of the people in the planning process that matter. I discussed this next generation of continuous planning that focuses on the digital experience in my recent perspective on how to use data and analytics to achieve organizational success. A strong focus on the planning experience can unify an organization’s efforts to not just sustain continuity but bring new value to business efforts. It’s more about engagement than administration. Optimizing the planning experience is more than just a nicety; it’s essential for every organization that looks to make the most of engagement and relationships.
Maintaining business continuity during challenging times means that an organization has the flexibility to adapt organizational priorities and rapidly align plans to reach expected performance. This effort is important whether the work environment is from home or on the front lines of a pandemic; organizations should seek to provide a planning experience that goes beyond what the enterprise expects. Without an optimized continuous planning process, an organization won’t be able to elevate the planning experience; I recently discussed why this is a critical part of your mission for business continuity and beyond.
Digital Communications is Essential
Managing planning experiences requires not just the right applications but ones that enable collaborative digital communications so leaders can determine relevant actions and make decisions. Challenges such as a global pandemic or natural disasters demand digital communication across a distributed and potentially virtualized workforce; however, crises often shift priorities and engagement can suffer. Being collaborative in planning and responsive in communications is crucial and organizations must design a program and technology that’s comprehensive across all channels and valuable to all parties. This is what resiliency and business continuity is all about.
Ventana Research asserts that through 2022, one-half of organizations will determine that their technology for unified communications is ineffective for meeting business continuity needs and falls short in the open communications requirements for secured and seamless interactions across devices and people. Organizations must ensure their digital communications can interoperate with the necessary applications and provide digital experiences that help engage the organization directly in the planning processes to ensure high participation. Organizations must enable digital collaboration among all parties in the workforce involved in the planning processes to reduce friction and optimize performance. This collaboration might be best addressed through conversational computing methods such as intelligent virtual agents (IVAs), which are smarter than most bots, to rapidly respond to individual needs and can also streamline responses to exceptions and issues that inevitably arise.
Engaging the workforce effectively requires that organizations examine virtual ways to optimize work management methods that best support planning processes. It’s important that an organization rally its digital communications efforts during a crisis such as a pandemic, because effectiveness in enhancing planning processes requires collaboration across the organization. To be effective, organizations should establish best practices and policies that guide improvement to planning processes, enhancing virtual interactions with leaders and managers for business continuity. This includes supporting direct engagement with finance and business leaders to manage contextual collaboration towards mutual objectives. And organizations must keep this axiom of business continuity in mind: Applications and systems for planning must support digital communications with the organization outside of normal operations and in a secured manner.
Planning Experiences Matter
Many organizations have managed the planning processes as they have finance, operations, sales, and the supply chain — across an array of business applications. However, few of these applications support a dedicated focus on optimizing planning by providing an integrated and continuous planning experiences across a range of business processes. A quality planning experience requires the right technology, which currently we don’t find in legacy budgeting and planning applications, or even in most of the current ERP approaches. Though the P in the acronym ERP stands for planning, these applications, both old and new, have failed to provide the integrated and continuous planning that organizations require.
It’s important that an organization make investments into supporting continuous planning technology that uses an automated and intelligent approach, simplifying participation, related tasks and activities and examination of scenarios and potential outcomes. The current movement in planning technology can help enhance the digital and virtual needs using a common platform that can author and support planning endeavors to optimize engagement across the organization. One such example is revenue planning, where there’s collaboration across many business areas. Success here demands the active engagement of finance, sales, marketing, customer service and operations to provide visibility and methods to adapt to a volatile market climate.
Organizations must improve planning experiences by assessing and prioritizing improvements to these processes to optimize engagement and readiness. Using the right technology is foundational to success and creates opportunities for breakthrough growth that far exceeds mere productivity improvements. The work-from-home and virtualized workforce efforts during a pandemic is a prime example of how most organizations were ill prepared because business continuity planning was not a priority.
Sustainable growth requires better planning experiences, which are only possible when an organization is deliberate about the technology it uses to work collaboratively across the organization. Our research suggests that this need to collaborate will also require that organizations embrace more sophisticated forms of collaborative computing so that people across business processes can share and capture knowledge that can be used to guide effective actions and decisions. For this reason, we assert that by 2023, one-half of organizations will shift from email to messaging-based collaboration; one-third of those also will adopt digital forums to capture knowledge and improve organizational competencies.
It is just as important in many industries to engage those outside the enterprise, particularly organizations across the supply chain, from suppliers, manufacturing and distribution partners to the input into forecasts from the demand chain of customers and partners. Unifying the traditional forms of supply chain planning with sales and operations planning can bring the value of orchestrating changes to the continuous plan, even those hourly and daily decisions that impact the medium-term monthly and quarterly plans. Organizations with a unified approach will find that it’s easier to achieve organizational agility when blended with digital communication platforms that are open and secure and that can help increase the velocity of engaging in and executing work.
Organizations also should prioritize investments that enable more effective digital workforce engagement in continuous planning to ensure organizational readiness. Investments into dedicated applications for planning processes are critical, especially during or following a pandemic, to ensure the continuity and performance of the workforce. And clearly, organizations must be prepared to adapt and respond to business continuity priorities that can change in a daily basis. To do these organizations will need methods that use mobile devices to virtualize interactions with planning and technology that supports workflow and robotic process automation (RPA) that can streamline continuous planning.
Smart Investments Matter
Organizations must consider whether investments in applications and technology that support continuous planning and related experiences and that can be utilized across the enterprise both inside and outside of corporate facilities. It’s also critical that investments are built from a cloud-based planning system. Supporting the planning process is significantly different than traditional analytics or budgeting processes, which need not necessarily be continuous. The right planning technology includes a platform and applications that support the portfolio an organization needs across every line of business to facilitate the enterprise needs for a distributed — and during times of business continuity, virtualized — workforce.
Investments should do more than automate the efficiency of participation in planning but should provide value to individuals and help guide potential actions and decisions needed for reaching performance expectations and that supports business continuity. And this is why we assert that through 2023, one-third of organizations will initiate business continuity planning to realign the priority of technology investments required to operate seamlessly in a distributed and virtual manner in customer, product, supply chain and workforce processes.
Smart investment requires an effective assessment of an array of applications and tools. A solid evaluation includes the following questions:
- Do your planning technologies support the engagement and experiences needed for your enterprise across departments and processes?
- Do you have the planning processes to optimize experiences and increase business performance?
- Are you able to track and motivate engagement and provide insights to those in the planning process during a pandemic?
- Do you utilize an IVA to provide immediate response to planning needs and issues?
- Can you manage your organization readiness to manage engagement and performance targets in planning?
- Are you able to have digital communications across the planning process in the organization — and in a secured and governed manner?
- Can you integrate the external economic and workforce data into the models and planning systems that can be used across the organization?
- Do you have the analytics and predictive indicators that are integrated into the planning processes?
- Are you able to collaborate within the planning process and garner input into the scenarios and actions that are essential for optimizing performance?
A “no” answer to any of these questions indicates risk that could directly impact an organization’s potential with its planning efforts. Every organization, no matter the industry, the number of its employees or the size, has an opportunity to significantly improve its continuous planning processes and provide excellent digital experiences.
It’s critical that a planning application enable leaders and managers to adequately plan for and respond to needed changes, from black-swan events to meeting typical business continuity obligations, which my colleague has discussed. Organizations are unwise to even consider any investments that aren’t mobile-ready and powered with collaboration methods across the organization. We assert that by 2022, one-third of organizations will determine that their business applications are not suited to support their business continuity needs due to ineffective collaborative and mobile experiences, which are essential to operate seamlessly in a virtual environment.
Every organization must ensure it has planning applications that can operate on a mobile device and in a remote location, including from the couch and home office, where the review and participation should be simple and effortless. Organizations should be ruthless about any operation that impairs the planning processes and related digital experiences. While organizations have spent significant resources and efforts on digital transformation in the form of automation and efficiency improvements, a far more important consideration is whether those investments make a meaningful impact on planning and simulations required and can support a focus on organizational readiness and agility that can adapt the workforce so it can reach best possible performance expectations.
Partner with Finance and Planning Leaders
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of teamwork needed with business and finance leaders when it comes to planning and developing agility and responsiveness across the entire organization and associated business processes. The focus on planning processes is typically managed by the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) or a new role evolving called the Chief Planning Officer. Those in this role are tasked with looking at the potential performance challenges and readiness of the organization to shift and meet the objectives. In one way or another this is all related to costs and margins that are part of business and financial planning and adapting to meet performance needs. Smart finance organizations have developed models to assess any risk variables that can impact the organization’s ability to reach its financial objectives, including the critical objective of business continuity.
A successful planning-focused organization goes further, embracing it to be collaborative and continuous operations in all aspects of their business, including finance, operations, customer service, sales, supply chain, marketing and partners, all of which are responsible for contributing to health and performance of the business. A focus on continuous planning is the foundation of both finance and operational leadership, but cultivating a direct relationship with the entire organization — which actually performs the work across business processes — is just as important for ensuring business continuity. Thus the Chief Planning Officer’s role is to work across the entire business to achieve the level of performance from the people and processes of the organization.
The CFO and finance leadership need to actively support working closely with their business leaders who manage the business processes and examine how to engage and improve the planning experience. Success requires engagement, not just fulfilling and responding to the requests for the financial plan but for the entire organization with operational efficiency. Similarly, legacy investments into ERP, whether on-premises or in the cloud, to knit together planning processes is insufficient, especially when it comes to the agility and readiness of the workforce. Business leaders want finance to become more strategic and partner more closely to help them work as a team more effectively. Our research confirms that nine out of 10 executives say they want their finance organization to be a strategic partner to their company, but by 2023 fewer than 25 percent of finance organizations will evolve into this role.
Unfortunately, finance might not always be that strategic partner, but this can be addressed through executive dialogue on business continuity and the direct correlation to the risks in not achieving expected outcomes needed for achieving financial performance. Finance must lead and not be satisfied with just using internal data to support their continuous planning needs. External data such as economic forecasts can indicate potential risks for particular industries, geographies and roles across the enterprise. The economic data can also help provide guideposts to sales, marketing, operations and supply chain, which at least in theory have a more holistic view of the market and risks they might be facing. This type of external data should not just provide the historical context but should include predictive indicators that are built from sophisticated analytics and machine learning designed by knowledge data scientists and those who have expertise in economics.
Technology vendors that provide planning have not done a great job marketing and selling their offering beyond the office of finance or articulating how they help business leaders in their respective areas and across the organization. These websites lack depth and connection to the line of business areas and processes that have specific planning needs that go unmet. This should not be an impediment for finance, but an opportunity for helping garner leadership to develop a common approach that unifies their efforts with a common platform and applications that optimize the planning processes with a common experience to maximize engagement.
And of course, this effort should include continuous workforce planning that helps models and benchmark all aspects of the workforce from the entire work lifecycle and especially the compensation needed from recruiting to retention. Using another form of external data that is extremely important in continuous planning is in the form of compensation and workforce benchmarks that provide context to guide future operating budgets that are part of financial planning. This step using benchmarks will also help finance leaders better address pay equity in a more methodical way.
Executive teams and even boards of directors are responsible for ensuring that investments into the planning processes with the organization will support the needs of today and in the future.
In times of crisis such as the current global health pandemic, when business continuity is a top priority, organizations mustn’t neglect digital investments into continuous planning, especially if it has not previously been a focal point of executive leadership or a team involved with these related processes. A superior planning experience demands technology that supports processes that improve productivity and the overall digital effectiveness of everyone involved in the process. Leadership that invests in managing planning and related processes can have a profound impact on engagement and an organization’s ability to reach expected levels of responsiveness and performance expectations.
Continuous planning is a shared responsibility across the entire business, and impossible to do without leadership designed to optimize the engagement and experience of planning across the enterprise. This approach is not about technology for analytics but providing insights that guide the actual engagement and interactions with the enterprise to meet their planning needs. It’s about a dedicated approach to continuous planning that’s focused on the experiences and processes related to the specific areas of the business that includes finance, operations, customers, products, sales, marketing, supply chain and relevant processes unique to your industry.
Antiquated methods such as one-off extensions to an ERP system are not always designed for the engagement beyond finance. Moreover, effective planning requires far more than just the administration and tracking of input for budgeting purposes and they certainly don’t provide a modern planning experience. One-off technology approaches can also decrease productivity, diminish accountability and increase risk in not having a comprehensive enterprise wide approach to planning. It is critical that organizations, especially in times of duress, use business continuity as a driver to engage the business through the intelligent use of planning systems, and thus should examine their investments in technologies.
If you are not sure how to approach improving the digital aspects of your business needs and planning experience — and thus engagement and performance — through the lens of business continuity, there are specific steps that every organization should take, similar to the steps outlined in my perspective on the imperative for digital innovation in business continuity. The effective use of digital technologies can reinvent the planning experience — for every participant no matter their relationship with the organization — requires the right lens that can support business continuity and not distract from it, which can ensure a more comprehensive approach. Most organizations have realized this and are making it a priority to be more prepared. We assert that by 2022, after a decade of concerted efforts in digital transformation, one-half of organizations will not have established business continuity as an investment priority and will not be prepared to operate in a future pandemic or crisis, which will lead to increased operational risks.
To achieve business continuity, optimize underlying planning processes and dedicated applications for your organization as well as for your overall business-wide efforts. This can have an immediate impact on top- and bottom-line results and reflects the priority you place on your planning experience. Once your organization has an effective approach then ensure that the digitally secure and open communications, along with the right unified tools as the collaboration is an essential part in delivering an optimal planning experience, you can be assured that your organization is built to last. Ensure that existing and future planning applications investments are designed for effective engagement and a fantastic work experience, not just for automation and efficiency. The planning experience is much more than just the digital, or the user experience (UX) of your existing applications but the ones that are designed for the process itself and the relationship with the processes focused upon.
Every worker matters as does the internal team in your organization dedicated to designing the processes that support them. The entire executive team — the CEO’s staff, the CMO, CFO, CIO, CCO, COO, CRO, CPO, and the Chief Digital or Innovation Officers— should be aware of the strategy and plans for optimizing planning. They should look to a new CPO and the chief planning officers who are focused on optimizing people and processes for future performance. Organizational leadership needs to ensure they embrace planning and the discipline it entails throughout the organization. The future depends on the active involvement of those who see building sustainable planning experiences as fundamental to business continuity and determining the flexibility to prepare for the agility and readiness of the entire workforce.
Determining your path forward for 2020 and beyond requires an effective strategy and an understanding of how to best sustain the required business continuity for your organization. We also have our benchmark research in business planning that is also continuous and will help provide more education and insights to all our improvement. We would be honored to have you take the business planning survey. Make sure you are using planning applications that can truly provide an effective digital experience that’s focused on engagement and sustainable long-term relationships for organizational agility.
Partner, Head of Software Research
Mark Smith is the CEO and Chief Research Officer of Ventana Research and leads the firm’s global market agenda for business and technology as a subject matter expert in digital business and enterprise software. Mark is a digital technology enthusiast using market research and insights to educate and inspire technology buyers and suppliers.