Data strategyMarch 13, 2020

COVID-19: Best practices and strategies for maintaining business continuity

With increasing calls to promote social distancing by enabling remote work, many companies find themselves at a loss when they consider how they will ensure that the quality and access to their data remains unchanged during this period of uncertainty. Maintaining business continuity during COVID-19—and any future global events—requires brands to invest in both process and infrastructure that can democratize data and access when the majority of the workforce is remote.

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As the global spread of COVID-19 continues, many industries are facing a time of uncertainty as consumers choose to limit time spent in public areas and companies increasingly mandate employees work from home for the sake of their health. Beyond concerns of decreased foot traffic, many companies are finding themselves unprepared for their workforce to go remote while maintaining the quality and reliability of their services, products, and platforms. When it comes to remote work, most companies have yet to commit to investing in a full-remote strategy and enablement plan, and may be scrambling to work out internal processes and supporting infrastructure in the face of COVID-19. Different industries have differing needs to adapt to a remote workforce, but all consumer-facing industries are reliant on customer data to acquire and retain new and existing customers and maintain business continuity.

With increasing calls to promote social distancing by enabling employees to work from home, many companies find themselves at a loss when they consider how they will ensure that the quality and access to their data remains unchanged during this period of uncertainty. Weathering COVID-19, and any future global events, requires brands to invest in both process and infrastructure that can democratize data and access when the majority of the workforce is remote. As mentioned in our CEO’s recent external memo on mParticle’s formal response plan to ensure the reliability and security of our platform—without any disruption—for all our customers, while protecting the health and safety of our employees, “Reliability is built upon resilience, both in terms of processes and systems.” The first thing companies must consider is their current infrastructure’s, processes’, and systems’ ability to deal with a greatly increased need for secure remote access.

Simply put, companies need an infrastructure that will hold steady until things go back to normal. But that’s not to say that is all is lost; below, you’ll find best practices for strategy and infrastructure remote-proofing to ensure that your organization is prepared to continue conducting business during times of crisis. 

The remote work experiment goes global

Remote work has frequently been a source of controversy for companies across all sorts of functions and industries. While remote work has been increasingly demanded by employees over the course of the last few years, with 64% of today’s professionals saying they could work anywhere and remote work policies being implemented at an estimated 71% of organizations, it is yet to be fully embraced. Most organizations (93%) defer to managers to decide who can and cannot work remotely and only 56% of managers actually let their employees work remotely even if there is a remote work policy in place. But if there is one major takeaway from the coronavirus, it’s that remote work will be here to stay and that companies need to accelerate the development of a tech infrastructure capable of supporting physically separated teams.

Best practices and strategies for maintaining business continuity

Prioritize the health and well-being of your employees, partners, and customers

This should go without being said, but the first priority for all companies should be preserving the health and well-being of employees, partners, and customers. As mentioned, many companies are now asking all employees to work remotely. If your company has yet to consider a remote mandate, then it may be time to do so. Customer and partner meetings, as well as internal meetings, should be moved to a virtual setting to minimize the likelihood of COVID-19 spread.

Determine what level of access, systems, datasets, and tools workers need to go remote

If your company is considering implementing a semi- to fully-remote working mandate, the next thing to consider is what employees will need to successfully work from home. In an ideal world, you already have a suitable infrastructure in place, like a Customer Data Platform (CDP), that can democratize access to the data needed by marketers, engineers, product managers, and data scientists to perform their jobs. A few questions you should ask yourself to determine if your current infrastructure will provide employees with everything they need include: 

  • Can I determine what level of access to data employees have based on need and role? 
  • Does your infrastructure require significant manual labor to maintain? 
  • Were certain employees to fall ill, would they be points of failure in your current infrastructure and process?
  • Do you have ways to validate and enforce data quality as your workforce is decentralized?
  • Is your infrastructure able to collect and update your customer data in real time? 
  • Can your infrastructure and processes support remote data activation and orchestration in real time? 
  • Does your team have a way to create centralized data plans when working remotely?

The last thing that any company needs during times of uncertainty is facing an unreliable, decentralized customer data infrastructure that makes it difficult for remote employees to deliver on their KPIs. If your infrastructure doesn’t pass muster through the lens of these questions, it may be time to consider investing in ways to support your team.

Consider implementing new tools to support remote access to data

If you currently don’t have a future-proof infrastructure that provides secure, role-based access to customer and tech stack data to remote employees, now is the time to act. It’s unclear how much longer coronavirus will impact the US and abroad, so it’s best to be prepared for an expanded time frame, during which employees will remain remote. The right kind of customer data infrastructure should be able to provide everyone across your organization, from marketing to product to engineering to data science, with secure, remote access to data. All teams should be able to:

Centralize, contextualize, and activate your data in real-time
A fully-managed, highly-available, secure cloud infrastructure should be able to collect, cleanse, standardize, and enrich customer profiles using data points from every source of customer engagement. With a single, self-maintaining source of truth for each customer, companies can ensure that they have the greatest understanding possible no matter where customers are engaging from and what devices or channels they’re using. During this epidemic, having a single view of the customer will help marketers better target customers with offers or promotions relevant to their preferences, location, and needs. With contextualized information, marketers can also avoid gaffes while improving the ROI of campaigns, regardless of where they are working from. A single view of the customer with real-time data can also help guide developers and product managers to adapt product development and availability to better serve customers during times of crisis. Lastly, having a single source of truth makes it much easier to collaborate across an organization when the workforce is decentralized, as everyone knows they can trust the data they are accessing.

Democratize data access
Speaking of accessing data, ensuring business continuity through ordinary and extraordinary times requires having an infrastructure designed to remove points of failure in your process. A CDP, like mParticle, allows members of every team to access and use the data they need to maintain business functions without depending on specific teams or people to do things like query a customer database, create and launch segments, and analyze data. Role-based permissioning is also available in the mParticle platform, so companies can control who can access and use specific data sets and protect sensitive data remotely. 

Maintain data quality and scale with demand
At any time, bad data leads to wasted time, increased costs, and weaker decision-making across your entire organization. During an epidemic where companies may already be feeling the effects of down-trending sales, bad data can amplify these effects, especially if no one catches issues before they impact downstream teams and tools. mParticle offers a suite of easy-to-use data quality tools to help you improve and maintain the quality of your data. Data Master can be used to build a scalable, cohesive data strategy with adaptable data plans, data validation, and data quality enforcement,  taking the manual labor out of ensuring quality. This can be especially helpful during times when it’s difficult to coordinate across teams, like during mandated remote work periods. With these data quality measures in mind, companies can stop bad data at the source and ensure the entire team can trust their data no matter what. The right infrastructure solution will also have an SLA that ensures service does not falter despite circumstances. mParticle has put a variety of safety measures and was built to be reliable and dependent from the start, and offers an average SLA uptime of 99.95%.

Support governance and compliance with data privacy regulations

Companies are still beholden to data governance and privacy regulations during global crises, which requires companies to still be able to comply with regulations like GDPR and CCPA. mParticle provides companies with GDPR consent and subject request management capabilities, supports CCPA compliance, and provides data residency features that allow companies to meet compliance regulations across the world in addition to PII data protection through hashing.

Double down on digital

Industries reliant on foot traffic to engage and convert prospects and existing customers may feel an outsized effect on their businesses as the public increasingly self-quarantines. To combat declining sales and remain top-of-mind, companies in verticals like retail, entertainment, events, quick-service restaurants, among others, should consider doubling down on their digital marketing and offerings. With work going digital for the time being, companies have an expanded audience across all channels throughout the workday. But to reach this expanded audience, companies will need to be able to quickly and efficiently test and integrate new tools, channels, and offers to find the right mix to make up for declining physical sales. For companies that have a data layer in place, like mParticle, connecting and testing new experimental channels and tools can be done in just a few clicks. Separate audience segments can be created within mParticle using persistent customer profiles and can be deployed to all downstream tools and channels once, reducing the manual labor and dependency on engineering resources.

Maintain open lines of communication internally and externally

  1. Encourage proactive communication with managers and coworkers to stay connected and resolve issues as they arise.
  2. Ensure visibility—ensure that each employee’s accomplishments, project status, outcomes, and deliverables are visible to managers and co-workers as appropriate–avoid being out of sight, out of mind.
  3. Regularly invite and encourage feedback from co-workers and managers. Every employee should proactively find ways to replace day-to-day work interactions to help maintain progress on projects and create a digital version of work culture. 
  4. Be accessible, responsive and reliable. Depending on what your company may use, every employee should be encouraged to regularly check all channels of communication, including but not limited to Slack, Trello, email, and telephone lines, to stay connected.

Externally, many companies have decided to send their customers and partners communications about the measures they are taking to keep everyone healthy and maintain level of service.

Set expectations

Beyond worries about the strain that remote work could put on infrastructure and processes, the most common concern is employees not working. By proactively and clearly establishing employee’s priorities and communicating expectations, tasks, and responsibilities used as measures of success, companies and managers can rest assured knowing that while their employees may not be in the office, their work is still being delivered on time and to the same standards of quality as usual.

Keep your cool

While this is not to minimize the impact of COVID-19 and its effects on global health, business, and the economy, the best thing to do during times of crisis is to ensure that everyone carefully and calmly monitor the situation and take measured action accordingly.

Remote could be here to stay

While this epidemic has changed how many people live their lives, it’s likely that one of its main non-health and economy-related effects will be the rise of remote work. According to Gartner’s recent research, “By 2030, the demand for remote work will increase by 30% due to Generation Z fully entering the workforce.” This estimate may already be quickened due to the current situation forcing employees and companies both to consider the feasibility of remote work and the underlying infrastructure necessary to allow for sustained remote work.

As put by Gartner, “The mandatory use of remote work for business continuity should signal to all organizations that it’s time to revisit their remote working policies and redesign them for wider application as business as usual.” If you’d like to speak to one of our specialists to help you vet your current infrastructure for reliability and access while your workforce is remote, or would like to learn how a CDP like mParticle can help solve these infrastructural issues, feel free to get in touch for a (virtual!) conversation. Stay safe!

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