Rethinking Operations Under a “Black Swan” Event

While many industries such as travel are incurring significant unavoidable impacts to business where there are few options to minimize the adversity, many sectors are being handed a “natural proof-of-concept” regarding adoption of new technologies and processes in order to keep business humming.

Just as major events such as 9/11 and the Fukushima Meltdown caused significant changes to banking and logistics to mitigate the impact of future scenarios, COVID-19 is forcing us to search for solutions to alleviate both near-term and long-term impact.

Food and Grocery Delivery

Even while the production of meals still requires staff be located in a specific location, there is a significant wave of new adoption and increasing support for pick-up and home delivery options. Food Trucks have already become a staple of emerging and established eateries and they are now showing a new benefit when dine-in options are shut-down. And the food delivery services such as Grubhub, Uber Eats, and Doordash are expected to significantly increase business if China can be used as a barometer where food delivery increased 400% for one company. And in the last week, grocery delivery app downloads have occurred in record numbers according to


If the concept of “telehealth” is still considered a novelty, the ability for providers to interact, diagnose and prescribe care remotely will represent a bigger part of the overall provider arsenal in the next weeks. Many HMOs that can offer both insurance and provider care are already experimenting with enabling their customers the ability to interact with a physician in real-time, send vitals and receive prescriptions all through a mobile app. Mobile clinics are also in scope for investigations to understand how to keep health services functioning where hospitals and other places of care are in lock-down mode. Again, using a mobile app, those in need can schedule a visit like they would an Uber ride with all care being conducted in-home or onsite in a mobile care vehicle.

State and Local Government

According to a segment on NPR, state and local governments are struggling to adapt to the ever-changing recommendations and anxiety caused by COVID-19 resulting in many looking to implement new, or double-down on existing, vote-by-mail capabilities. Vote-by-mail has completely alleviated the need for managing actual voting locations and booths and generally results in higher percentages of voter turn-out.

Key enabling functions such as automated ballot processing which utilize computer vision to record selections ensure that the process is more efficient than physical voting alternatives. At the same time, it is more secure since it uses signature location and verification, which can detect voter fraud through highly reliable forgery detection.

Business Service Providers

For service providers and service departments, the inability to rely on staff to support services conducted in centralized offices has resulted in both a rethinking of work-from-home programs and utilization of automation that can reduce the impact of a sudden reduction in staff availability. Work-from-home options make sense especially where the service staff primarily interact with customers via phone, email, chat or other means where the actual location of that interaction is not relevant.

In many cases, support organizations already operate using a distributed workforce which relies upon a variety of interactive communications. Remote working does have limitations and drawbacks which can prevent permanent use. As identified in many articles on the topic recently, the benefits of work flexibility and reducing commute times don’t always  offset the loss of team collaboration and creativity.

Buffers to Sudden Workload Demands

On the automation front which is more straightforward in terms of benefits, the ability to significantly reduce the need for manual processes not only provides tangible cost savings and measurable efficiencies, but it also provides a buffer to sudden workload demands and bottlenecks that are not forecastable. Automation options include process automation, automation of document tasks such as classification and data entry, and even automation of some interaction through intelligent chat bots.

The reality is that Black Swan events such as COVID-19 always bring with them significant change. In meeting these challenges, we will undoubtedly witness some interesting, new innovations. For all these industries experimenting with alternative operations and service delivery options, only time will tell which ones remain as truly valuable enhancements to existing capabilities versus those that will be kept as back-ups to normal operations and only invoked when the business continuity plan is called into action.