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GUEST ANALYSIS Managing the impact of coronavirus

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As if the retail industry needed any more challenges to deal with, the coronavirus outbreak has already caused massive disruption to the supply of goods leading to significant impact on business. It could be argued that there is a silver lining – consumers will be more inclined to shop online – but if retailers are experiencing difficulty in receiving goods from suppliers, delivery timescales will be delayed and customer expectations will not be fulfilled, a dangerous situation that no online retailer wants to face.   

Adding to this complexity is the reported reluctance of consumers to buy online from cross-channel merchants that ship directly from impacted countries. This ends up having a considerable impact on the availability of a wide range of products and services.

Of course, other countries, including the UK, are now registering increasing cases of the virus, and as it spreads, retail organisations will face shifting challenges and progressively difficult decisions. The need for up-to-date information will grow as the impact zone of the virus evolves and the only way to minimise disruption to supply chain operations will be through heightened awareness of suppliers, cross-docking, warehousing, routes and, of course, customer behaviour.    

Retailers also have a duty of care to their employees during this crisis, and it’s equally important to understand how the spread of the virus will affect them, whether they’re based in the UK, overseas, or travelling. Keeping in touch is essential. 

Now is the time for retailers to ask themselves whether they have initiatives in place to ensure complete visibility of coronavirus across all the parts of the business that could be impacted. What tools are they using, or could they use, to monitor supply chain routes and map the movement of goods from one location to another? How can they communicate with employees, suppliers, partners and customers and also keep all stakeholders informed?

Many retail organisations are relying on critical event management (CEM) technology to help them. This allows them to access intelligence so they can monitor real-time local, national and global risks, correlate those threats to important business assets, and ensure they can automate response and communications protocols swiftly. 

So far during the coronavirus crisis, millions of communications have been sent across multiple channels using CEM platforms to manage the impact of the outbreak on employees, facilities, suppliers and distribution routes.  

The benefit of CEM is that it uses a range of resources for tracking coronavirus developments, including health-related incidents and bulletins across widespread locations, airport, shipping and port updates, travel termini closures, transportation delays, movement restrictions, and manufacturing disruptions. Platforms collate intelligence from thousands of verified data sources reviewed by experienced analysts to create a continually updated stream of validated information. This is integrated into the CEM platform so business continuity, supply chain teams and emergency management can visually see how new developments may impact their business and automate their response and standard operating procedures to help reduce risks.  

To deal with coronavirus, we suggest that retailers take a phased approach: 

Phase 1 Visualise and assess

Aggregate situational intelligence by collecting information from all the relevant data sources and coronavirus intelligence and consolidate it to generate a unified view of the entire incident across all relevant territories. 

Phase 2 Locate

Depending on where they are located employees and supply routes can be at risk of exposure, particularly since coronavirus is spreading quickly. Retailers can cross-reference the known areas of the virus’ presence with employee travel itineraries or static office assignments and in addition consider anyone with a compromised immune system. The same principle can be applied to the supply chain. The Everbridge CEM platform has the ability to dynamically locate people using multiple methods so that any threat to them is based on their needs and actual location.  

Phase 3 Act & Communicate

Once the situation has been assessed and the people or organisations at risk located, action can be taken to manage and mitigate the emergency. By leveraging an integrated system, response processes can be pre-defined by those in charge via the platform and decisions made about whether communications are restricted just to employees, or also to partners, suppliers and customers.  Effective communication will keep people safe and avert an escalating crisis. Messages should be short, concise, practical and actionable, and delivered to the maximum number of people by text or phone (voice) giving information about what to do, and asking them to respond to ensure the message has been received. 

Phase 4 Analyse

Dashboards for understanding current virus hot zones, impacted people, assets and routes, will be essential to keeping operations running smoothly. Continuous tracking of all activities provides data for decision-making and will help to identify any gaps in the process. When the coronavirus incident has been resolved, retailers will need to analyse their response.  This will provide the vital insight necessary to learn from the incident and improve response times and resourcing for future events.

For retailers this is a worrying time and it’s all too easy to react quickly which can lead to mistakes, or, to err on the side of caution, instead of pausing to make a more informed decision. Guarding against panic-driven organisational behaviour is essential to employee productivity and safety and to avoiding financial loss from incomplete inventory and stock problems. To maintain competitiveness during the coronavirus challenges, retailers have to find a way to take control over all aspects of business operation. It is impossible at this stage to foresee the outcomes, but having strong visibility on what is happening in all locations in which the retailer operates, and being able to predict the potential impact in order to take action and reduce risk is vital as the full breadth of this crisis develops. 

Javier Colado is head of international at Everbridge

Main image: Adobe Stock

Author image courtesy of Javier Colado/Everbridge

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