The COVID-19 pandemic has tested accounts payable teams like no other event in recent history. Social distancing measures have ushered in the new era of the distributed workforce—forcing many organizations to reorganize and adapt their processes to ensure invoices get paid and business continues the march forward.
Now, some teams were better prepared to rise to the challenge than others. Take a look at the account payable team at Take-Two Interactive. They were able to make the shift without issue. What is the secret to their success? They have a robust business continuity plan they’ve refined over the years.
To learn more about how they built their plan, I sat down with their Director of Accounts Payable, Rock Persaud, during the Tradeshift virtual summit, Paradigm Shift. We had a great conversation—and here are the steps they took, which you can take as well, to build your own watertight accounts payable continuity plan.
Step one: admit you have a problem
Never assume your company has a disaster contingency plan (or whatever your organization may call it.). Because most just don’t. When Rock joined Take-Two, they didn’t have a plan. It was only when he asked “what happens if” to his manager they realized they needed one.
In fact, a recent study from Mercer found that more than fifty percent of companies did not have a business continuity plan in place when COVID-19 hit.
So that first step is to ensure your business recognizes that it needs a plan – and will invest the resources needed to build one.
Now, that shouldn’t be too much of a challenge given recent events, right?
Step two: think about it
There are many events that can impact the way your team operates. Some are minor and will cause limited disruption. Others, like the COVID-19 pandemic, have the potential to shake your organization to its core and will require more fundamental changes.
It’s important to think through all the risks and threats to your operation as you build your plan, no matter how unlikely. Try to leave no stone unturned.
Here are some threats you might face to get you started:
- Natural Disaster
- Military or Police action
- Zombie uprising*
*Ok, the last one is a bit tongue in cheek, but seriously, the CIA has a plan for a zombie uprising so maybe it’s not too bold to speculate....
Step three: write that down
The next step is to consider what impact each threat will have on your team’s operations. This isn’t an exact science, but try to be as thorough as possible. And think outside the box—who thought that it would be near impossible to get into an office just a few months ago? Take the time to document your processes and how they might be impacted by an unexpected event.
Here are a few questions to get you started:
- What will the threat prevent your team from doing?
- What are the points of failure and why?
- Who in your team will be impacted the most by the event?
- Will the event impact others in your ecosystem (internal stakeholders, your sellers etc.)?
- How long might the disruptions caused by the event last?
- What might the overarching outcome of the disruption be for your company?
Step four: make a plan
Once you understand how the various threats will impact your processes, you need to think about how to adapt them to handle the disruption.
“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win”
~ Sun Tsu, The Art of War
OK - so that might be a bit inflammatory. Preparing your plan may not be as dramatic as going to war. But in a sense, you are preparing to preserve the very existence of your organization. And, truly, the best defense is a good offense.
For example, at Take-Two they print and scan most of their invoices. Rock realized this would be an issue if nobody could get into the office.
To solve the problem, they made sure that at least two members of the team have a suitable scanner and printer at home. However, they also realize that this is just a short-term fix. Their long term plan is to shift away from this workflow and go completely paperless (fully digital) with e-invoicing.
Step five: play nice in the sandbox
Face it, most emergency events will impact the whole company, not just accounts payable. So make sure you consider the various dependencies and stakeholders you have—both internal and external—as part of your plan. And, make sure everyone is accounted for in the plan.
At a minimum, you’re going to need to have various contact information for them—even their home phone numbers. (Yes, some people still have landlines or VOIP.) For those that are especially crucial, you might even want to have both an internal and external shared action plan you can follow to ensure continuity.
Also, consider any compliance or cybersecurity issues that may arise and account for them in the plan. Yes, you want a watertight plan that keeps the business running, but that can’t come at the expense of exposing the company to any significant risks.
Step six: share
Your plan is no good if your team doesn't know about it. So make sure to loop them in when you have a first draft ready. Clearly communicate the reasons for the plan to the team and get their feedback. Let them read it and come to you with any suggestions or concerns they might have.
You’ll learn a lot during this step of the process. For example, Rock assumed that everybody on his team at Take-Two had a computer to work from at home. That assumption was incorrect, and would have led to the plan to fail unless his team members had recognized the problem and told him. Instead, Rock shifted his whole team from desktop computers to laptops so they all had a device they could use at home.
Step seven: if at first you don’t succeed...
An untested continuity plan is a useless continuity plan. Yet only a quarter of plans are ever tested. Make sure you regularly pressure test your plan and be prepared to update it as necessary.
There are various ways you can do this. At Take-Two, Rock asks a member of his team to work under a particular disaster scenario for one day every quarter. They’re asked to document what works, what doesn’t and anything else they may encounter. When the exercise is complete they conduct a full evaluation and make updates to the plan based on their learnings.
Don’t have a plan? Now is the time to make one
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that we must always be prepared for the unexpected. But it’s possible for your accounts payable team to ride out the disruption, no matter what it is, so long as you have a watertight continuity plan. And by following these steps you’ll be well on your way to building your plan.
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