WEBINAR SUMMARY

 

Planning in uncertain times

 

Disruption is the new normal. Even before the pandemic, businesses faced a perfect storm of turmoil, from climate change to Brexit, from AI to Bitcoin. Now, as Covid-19 shockwaves destabilise the very foundations of daily life, it’s more important than ever that businesses build agility into their operating models, to provide resilience against further shocks. Certainly, panellists on MarketforceLive’s Planning in Uncertain Times webinar said highly responsive and flexible strategic planning is key to navigating uncharted and stormy waters.

“Resilience is about the ability of a business to not only overcome the challenges of change but also to capture opportunities”

Pinakin Patel, VP EMEA, Solutions Consulting, Anaplan

“Resilience is about the ability of a business to not only overcome the challenges of change but also to capture opportunities,” said Pinakin Patel, VP EMEA, Solutions Consulting at Anaplan. “This means monitoring what’s going on, finding innovative ways to model and then making decisions in a timely and co-ordinated way, at both a strategic and functional operational level.”

“You plan for business continuity but a Black Swan event like this is at the very end of what was expected”

Andrew Taberner, Consultant - Partner Governance, Three

Covid-19 has, of course, been a huge test for organisations, one that nobody saw coming. “You plan for business continuity but a Black Swan event like this is at the very end of what was expected,” said Andrew Taberner, Consultant – Partner Governance at Three. “In these cases, you need to be able to adapt very quickly.”

The crisis has left no business untouched, but its impacts have varied from business to business, industry to industry and country to country. Some businesses, such as gaming and supermarkets, have seen increased sales, manufacturing has been hard hit by demand and supply chain disruption while utility companies have seen their revenue streams hit.

“The organisations that are the most resilient are those that have invested heavily in technology in the past,” said Neil MacLean, Partner – Consulting at EY. “It’s allowed them to change models and given them data and insights so they can react faster to scenarios.”

“We were turning things round in a day or even hours whereas before it used to be weeks and months”

Zoff Makda, Head of Operational Resource Planning, Legal & General

Speed was certainly critical in the early part of the pandemic as lockdown measures were often introduced with little notice. “We were turning things round in a day or even hours whereas before it used to be weeks and months,” said Zoff Makda, Head of Operational Resource Planning at Legal & General.

“There were projects that people had been talking about for two to three years that were then delivered in two to three weeks”

Neil MacLean, Partner - Consulting, EY

“There were projects that people had been talking about for two to three years that were then delivered in two to three weeks,” concurred MacLean of EY. “It will be critical not to lose this kind of innovation going forward.”

Andrew Taberner, Consultant – Partner Governance at Three said the company had accelerated its existing digital journey to respond to changing customer and market demands. “Customers shifted away from calls and into chat and digital,” said Taberner. “Not all of that will stick but we are now starting to think in different ways of how we can move more quickly along our digital journey to help service customers.”

Resilience: riding out the storm

A resilient organisation is one with the kind of balance sheet that has the cash and liquidity to ride out bumps in the road. “As an accountant, I’m obviously going to say this, but a strong balance sheet is critical to survive,” said Neil MacLean of EY. “Partnership with government, in terms of grants and furlough, has also been really helpful and will continue to be so going forward.”

A capacity to understand how the fast-changing and unprecedented crisis would impact the balance sheet, and where gaps and vulnerabilities would emerge, was also important. Anglian Water quickly adapted its existing data and modelling capabilities to get a handle on the new financial situation.

“We took lessons from dealing with the vagaries of British weather and forecasting weather patterns and applied that to the financial world,” said Melissa Tallack, Head of Data and Digital at Anglian Water. “It meant we could move faster in terms of forecasting the impact of businesses closing down on our revenues from the wholesale market and also the bill impact for our domestic population who are facing their own economic challenges.”

Connected planning

When dealing with the unexpected, our panellists agreed that it’s essential that planning is connected and spans all parts of the business. “Planning functions have changed how they operate during this period,” said Neil MacLean of EY. “The various planning functions have had to come together and share data and understand the financial, supply chain and workforce impacts. It’s happened naturally because of the need to have all those insights when making decisions.”

“You have to break up silos and work in a collaborative way”

Pinakin Patel, VP EMEA, Solutions Consulting, Anaplan

Pinakin Patel of Anaplan agreed. “Connected planning is the platform that creates the blueprint for execution and decision making,” he said. “It impacts all parts of the organisation so you have to break up silos and work in a collaborative way.”

Data: the foundation of planning

Key to this collaboration and connection is data. “Connected data is the foundation to everything else that happens next,” said Melissa. “It’s about having the right kinds of data. With Covid-19, we didn’t have the data – who did? – so we went out and got it. And if you can’t find the data, find a proxy for it.”

She added: “The volume and velocity of data today is enormous so you have to be selective about what’s important to you.”

“You need to have common terminology to make sure you’re all talking in the right way to help plan and make decisions quickly”

Pinakin Patel, VP EMEA, Solutions Consulting, Anaplan

Pinakin Patel of Anaplan said it’s important to understand the internal assumption data that flows through the organisation. “You need to have common terminology to make sure you’re all talking in the right way to help plan and make decisions quickly,” he stressed.

Smarter analytics

To handle the huge volumes of data needed for connected planning, companies need to deploy intelligent automation and AI. “The right process automation gives you the quality of data and streamlines the processes,” said Neil MacLean of EY, saying that this can be a springboard to using AI to generate insights and predictions.

“AI is very good at scanning processes and finding points of failure and resolving those quickly”

Neil MacLean, Partner - Consulting, EY

He added that process mining tools are very helpful. “AI is very good at scanning processes and finding points of failure and resolving those quickly,” he said.

Unlocking these insights, however, increasingly means companies need to break free of legacy systems and their associated silos, which have long acted as a brake on innovation and digital transformation.

“Unless you are a start-up every organisation has this problem,” said Melissa Tallack at Anglian Water. “Tightly coupled architectures, variable data management practices and highly configured and bespoke third-party software means a fragile environment and you end up coming down to the lowest common denominator so as not to bring the whole estate down.”

She said the key was to shift to service-orientated architecture in the cloud that’s connected to the legacy but with minimal interactions.

Pinakin Patel at Anaplan agreed that cloud is important but pointed out that it’s just one component. “It’s the technology enabler and it goes hand in hand with people and change management,” he said, adding that connection and collaboration is key, not just within the organisation but into the supply chain and wider ecosystem. “Sometimes working together and being transparent means you can model your way out of a problem and find a more profitable way forward.”

Humans matter

Inevitably, however, there can be no talk of business resilience without focusing on the people tasked with managing the company through the crisis. Zoff Makda said Legal & General had recognised the toll Covid-19 had taken on many people and said the company was investing in the mental well-being of its workforce.

These kinds of crises also put the leadership in the spotlight. Indeed, when it comes to business resilience and connected planning, Melissa Tallack of Anglian Water said leadership buy-in is essential. This isn’t just related to Covid-19 but to the multiple pressures and disruptions facing organisations today, she said.

“Recombinant innovation is the biggest driver of innovation in our world and that requires outside perspective and diversity of thought”

Melissa Tallack, Head of Data and Digital, Anglian Water

“Recombinant innovation is the biggest driver of innovation in our world and that requires outside perspective and diversity of thought,” said Tallack. “That needs to be driven by leadership, which needs to model those behaviours.”

This includes leaders recognising they need to devolve power and allow decision-making to take place by the right people with the right data. “It’s not about top down decision-making but having a wide range of capabilities and perspectives on a problem,” she said. “At Anglian Water we are already using this to come up with better solutions, so we’re actively scaling this philosophy now.”

She said some organisations are better primed for change. “We have a workforce that’s very capable and ready to adapt because that’s in our DNA,” she said. “We’ve grown up with the need for this kind of agility and resilience because of having to coping with the weather.”

“Covid-19 feels likes a singular change but actually it’s creating ripples of change”

Pinakin Patel, VP EMEA, Solutions Consulting, Anaplan

This capacity to be endlessly adaptive is essential in a fast-changing and tumultuous world. Even the current pandemic is not a one-off event. “Covid-19 feels likes a singular change but actually it’s creating ripples of change,” said Pinakin Patel at Anaplan.

The conclusion: be prepared.