Organizations are re-starting their internal organizational practices and analytics capabilities to inform the business responses to COVID-19, its challenges, and prepare for the future. Online events, structured or not, are now a better part of getting companies and communities engaged. Many executives found they had to overcome hefty cultural and organizational hurdles to perform adequate business priorities alignment through online events, as in a maze of video conferencing meetings. Most have yet to apply some learned core practices, such as event structure, agile delivery, digital network marketing, and strong data practices, necessary to scale online event technologies successfully.

Today, time is a luxury that leaders and executives don’t have. COVID-19 has upended business as usual for communities and companies, which must now seek first to protect employee’s lives and livelihoods. Communities, specifically governments, frontline businesses, and institutions are leading efforts to contain a virus that already has infected millions of people globally and claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

In these uncharted waters, where the tides continue to shift, it’s not surprising that analytics, widely recognized for its problem-solving and predictive prowess, has become an essential tool. Analytics around online events supports numerous tasks facing businesses today: forecasting demand, identifying potential disruptions, targeting niches, services overhaul, and determining the effectiveness of new strategies, to name a few.

We put together six lessons that have emerged from crisis-response efforts here at the IEC through events for Kolektive and other initiatives. Here they are:

1- Events need analytics and business priorities

Our study finds that only 30 percent of organizations align their analytics strategy with their broader corporate strategy, but the events they capture are not necessarily relevant for our current times. The rapid response organizations have waged to address COVID-19 challenges shows that this step is arguably the most critical in achieving impact with analytics.

In the COVID-19 response, the first task for organizations was, of course, identifying the new business challenges that emerged overnight. To that end, many organizations stood up central nerve centers, mobilizing business and analytics resources around agendas and online events to inform and address these challenges by building new data streams, reporting on business-critical issues to guide near-term decisions, and developing longer-term views of data to understand what the future may hold for their company, customers, and suppliers.

With a fully aligned agenda and a clear view of the crucial missions, organizations were primed to stand up analytics-driven solutions that enabled leaders to adjust course amid the daily whiplash of COVID-19 challenges and to prepare more effectively for the future.

Today, we find many business and analytics leaders rallying around new events solutions or redesigning existing ones to support four critical business priorities arising from the pandemic: capturing the data, protecting and supporting employees; informing decisions; managing supply-chain effective; and engaging customers in an increasingly digital way.

2- Internal silos have become more flexible

Prior to the crisis data showed that those realizing higher returns from events and scaling it more broadly were much more likely than others to assemble the data and cross-functional teams to solve business problems (62 percent, compared with 23 percent). During the crisis, many organizations, regardless of maturity, automatically assembled cross-functional crisis-response teams with all relevant stakeholders through online events for faster response.

At one company leaders through promoting structured online events could rapidly adjust production capacity after supply-chain, manufacturing, marketing, and staff collaborated on a forecasting tool that anticipates sales by market and product type across several dimensions, including the macroeconomic impact of COVID-19, consumer acceptance of new technology and trends, and regulatory policies. Before COVID-19, these business units worked independently and had little interaction with each other. Had these teams not gathered around internal online events, even though most were unstructured, such disconnects would likely have slowed their response, potentially causing severe bottlenecks.

3 – Your organization is more agile than you think

Agile delivery methods can enable the creation of a structured online event in weeks. Iterative sprints free teams to test event ideas rapidly, gain user feedback early in the process, and adjust.

During the COVID-19 response, organizations that hadn’t adopted or trained employees on agile practices applied agile concepts through agendas and events schedules to get the quick answers they needed. As the companies mature subsequent event sprints will significantly improve forecasting accuracy and expand insights as the team reassesses every value driver in the business and incorporates real-time data and additional levers.

4 – Frontline teams need full decision-making rights

We find another essential cultural change for events-enabled organizations is the shift from top-down decision making to data-driven decision making by those on the front line. For many organizations, such change can appear formidable, as it runs counter to deeply ingrained processes and business beliefs. However, during crisis-response efforts, organizations have readily empowered frontline employees with decision-making authority.

One retailer mobilized employees using online events to discuss the campaign-management journey, from data owners to campaign and channel managers (another example of interdisciplinary teamwork). These employees and contractors at online events were granted decision rights to address the full customer journey, including who they would target, what to offer, and when and how to contact these target customers. With all relevant roles brought together by the event agenda, and feeling prepared, empowered to act, and with customer-centric analytics, the team could test new ideas and fine-tune offers within a matter of two weeks, improving their engagement with customers in a turbulent environment.

5 – Get comfortable with imperfections and ahead of drifts

The crisis also forced leaders to grapple with new challenges arising from the sweeping shifts in economics and consumer behaviors playing out in both structured and unstructured online events and the data that feed BI models.

Leaders also had to acknowledge that even with multiple cross-functional teams and online events, the existing data was not ideally robust, but they still could generate useful insights, if used with a healthy dose of human judgment. Firm leaders recognized that predictions could vary widely depending on how well structured online events were, or how reliable their data sources and assumptions. They decided there was value in continuing to see the different predictions and, over time, refining their models as they observed which were most accurate. Some big structured online events which were deployed in just three weeks assisted firm leaders in managing risks, such as understanding which assets might face severe financial distress or bankruptcy if closures persist. It is also helping the firm identify investment opportunities, such as mergers and acquisitions, in this volatile market.

In other cases, events geared toward analyzing data sets in conjunction with workforce data on employee segments, regional managers could more accurately share and anticipate when and where they’d need to adjust their workforce plans (for example, hire or move associates) and institute contingency measures, such as shortening store hours.

6 – Standard tooling and technology improves reaction time

Past research highlights the importance of providing common tooling and technologies for events and analytics professionals. In our most recent survey, organizations reporting widespread use of online events techniques were 3 times more likely than others to have standard toolsets.

During the crisis, we saw organizations put the online analytical events principle into action to accelerate data capture and ingestion, standardize data, and ensure consistency during analysis. One company, for instance, is using standard tooling to enable different teams across the supply chain, finance, and human resources to integrate a common language and data set for multiple use cases. Development of online evens and tooling — deployed after just three weeks — requires standardizing data generated by local, national, and global efforts that often differed in how they captured and defined their data. Without centralized events and tooling the efforts such standardization could drag on for years.

The pandemic has shown that unifying events and rapid change are both possible and pivotal for business survival. Certainly, some more complex challenges won’t be solved overnight. But we believe that leaders who pay heed to the lessons from COVID-19 responses, acknowledge that the future will be quite different from the past, and build on the new—and pragmatic—ways of working have the potential not only to survive but to also thrive.

1-RAPID RESPONSE - N. Henke, A. Puri and T. Saleh - @MKLondon
2-KOLEKTIVE EVENTS - E. Mace - @iecpartners