How’s Your Printing Company's Contingency Plan Working?
Effective Contingency Planning – People, Process, Technology
Companies of all sizes across all vertical markets are now in an uncertain and uncharted situation due to COVID-19. Many of you may have recently pulled out and used parts of your business continuity and contingency plans. And many of you have found gaps as staff have shifted to working from home.
Some companies have quickly organized a contingency plan to keep business running while transitioning staff and resources. and following social distancing guidelines. This has created unexpected challenges in maintaining operations. Planning for the unexpected is exactly why companies create and update business continuity and contingency plans. Those plans enable them to respond and define alternative ways to get work done when the unexpected occurs, negatively impacting normal daily production and processes.
Contingency plans are critical to support print, mail, fulfillment, and direct marketing production to meet customers’ requirements when resources have to shift unexpectedly. Your contingency plan may have been developed to handle a power outage, or major weather events like a snowstorm or hurricane. However, your contingency plan may not have detailed procedures for the health crisis we now all face. Being prepared, you do have plans to define what you and your staff will do in the event where you may have to close a facility, run with a skeleton crew, work remotely, and/or delay daily production.
Now is the time to review and update your contingency plan. In the past, only large companies may have defined the contingency needs to deal with a pandemic virus. Now all contingency plans need to address remote working, secure data access from remote locations, and facility cleanliness to eliminate risk of virus transmission. The plan has to include all the steps to keep business running during an extended interruption in normal business activity.
Accurate documentation matters. For those companies with up-to-date contingency plans, they were able to implement and revise their plans using accurate resources. While making decisions during the current situation is difficult, not having a current plan with easy access is far more difficult. Forward-thinking companies had stored their plans on shared drives in the cloud,
Defining key staff, including subject matter experts who may be called upon to perform alternate duties, is a critical component to a contingency plan. Being able to execute a contingency plan means having done the work to cross-train staff and create redundancy in all areas of your client services, operations and production.
A contingency plan includes defining all jobs and workflows, as well as categorizing and prioritizing the most significant work. The plan needs to define deadlines to meet customer and contractual obligations. Putting together up-to-date documentation with detailed processing and procedures is one piece of the plan. Documentation for each step in your process will include job requests, order processing, data processing, proofing, print, electronic distribution, postal processing, mailing, fulfillment, shipping, and tracking. With complete documentation, managers can make decisions to implement alternate processing in the event of an emergency.
Beyond the ability to move jobs to an alternate facility, effective contingency planning means defining access and protocols for all systems and equipment. Technology changes rapidly. As new technology, equipment and systems are deployed, updating contingency plans becomes an ongoing task to remain current and to respond effectively. While updating documentation is not seen as an urgent task, committing to have current information in a contingency plan is essential in the event of an emergency.
Those of us who remember the days before everyone had a smartphone in their pocket may recall the phone tree procedures to notify staff in case of emergencies. Today we have many more modes and tools to communicate effectively in real time. And we have the ability to notify staff and customers instantly through tools and channels on social media. The most critical component of a business continuity plan is the communication plan.
A communications plan should include grouping staff and teams to create efficient communications during the emergency. Consider instituting centralized contact lists with updated contact information, alternate phone numbers and email addresses. Depending on the company size, public and private social media channels need to be defined and documented so they can be deployed when needed.
Consider who will be responsible to communicate with customers, employees and strategic partners. The current situation has created a flurry of COVID-19 communications. What do you want your customers to know about how your company is responding, managing their work and conducting business to meet customer expectations? What do you want employees to know so they can continue to do their jobs and alter their work as needed?
Are there staff who are hourly or contract who do not have access to company email or company platforms when they are outside of your facilities? What information will they need, and how will they be notified? These are all topics for thoughtful inclusion in your communications plan.
Update the plan
Formal disaster recovery plans for critical communications like statements and invoices are typically tested at least once a year, even quarterly, as part of contingency planning for large service providers. For those primarily focused in commercial print and direct marketing, disaster recovery and contingency planning may be less formal than those companies focused on transactional print. The current situation has made us all realize the gaps in getting work done without a detailed contingency plan and gaps in communication, documentation, and training.
Partner with USPS
The USPS has several tools and notifications to keep mailers informed during a crisis to monitor all delivery areas and reroute mail if needed. Partner with the USPS and subscribe to their industry alerts (send an email to IndustryAlert@usps.gov) so you can be informed.
Contingency planning is critical to enable companies to effectively operate when the unexpected occurs. Take the time and get input from experts to validate and update your contingency plan. I’ve worked with many companies on strategic and business continuity plans. Organizations who take the time to do strategic and business continuity planning never regret the time and money spent to be prepared for the unexpected.
While the current COVID-19 situation has caused many companies to reexamine and alter contingency plans, let us all take this opportunity to learn and improve. We can now apply the learning and critical thinking to better define appropriate business continuity plans for the future.
A great example of a service provider sharing their comprehensive plan in action is in this related article.
Input for this piece was provided by Mark M. Fallon, president and CEO, The Berkshire Company:
Mark M. Fallon is president and CEO of The Berkshire Company, a consulting firm specializing in mail and document processing strategies. The company develops customized solutions integrating proven management concepts with emerging technologies to achieve total process management. He offers a vision of the document that integrates technology, data quality, process integrity, and electronic delivery. His successes are based upon using leadership to implement innovative solutions in the document process. You can contact Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lois Ritarossi, CMC®, is the President of High Rock Strategies, a consulting firm focused on sales and marketing strategies, and business growth for firms in the print, mail and communication sectors. Lois brings her clients a cross functional skill set and strategic thinking with disciplines in business strategy, sales process, sales training, marketing, software implementation, inkjet transformation and workflow optimization. Lois has enabled clients to successfully launch new products and services with integrated sales and marketing strategies, and enabled sales teams to effectively win new business. You can reach Lois at highrockstrategies.com.