Editor's Note: This is the third of a five-part series on the impact of scenario planning. The Mead Consulting Group has been utilizing scenario planning to help clients build flexibility into planning and execution for almost 20 years. While scenario planning was once conducted primarily with our larger clients, today, over half of our clients (owner-operated, strategic, and private-equity- backed) have discovered the benefits of scenario planning. - DPM
Events that disrupt business occur every day. And while it is impossible to predict exactly where and when these disruptions might happen, scenario planning can help organizations protect revenue streams, increase profitability, and ensure business continuity despite major upheavals.
Disruptions can be sorted into four primary groups:
1. Market disruptions (new competition, market transitions, technology advances).
Many companies have been caught off-guard by market changes such as shifting consumer preferences, significant technology advances, and unexpected competition. Sony, for example, created the market for portable music players with the company's Walkman device, but missed the transition from hardware-only solutions to an ecosystem of products that includes integrated hardware, software, and services.
2. Natural and biological disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, pandemics).
Even though natural disasters are difficult to predict, it is relatively easy to prepare for them, because we know where they are likely to occur. For example, companies based in California need to be prepared for disruptions caused by earthquakes, while businesses located in the Gulf of Mexico and on the East Coast should be ready for the effects of the annual hurricane season. Pandemics, while in the same category, are harder to predict. From history, we know a pandemic is coming, but we don't know exactly when it will occur or how severe it will be. Many companies have not prepared for the impact of natural and biological disasters on the overall business. Businesses must be prepared to answer questions such as:
● How can employees continue to work if they can't go to the office?
● How will we communicate with customers?
● How will we continue to manufacture or source our products?
● How will our business strategies change?
3. Political or social change (terrorist attacks, new regulations, new social trends).
Most terrorist attacks are nearly impossible to foresee, while increasing regulations from a shift in political parties can be relatively easy for which to prepare. As businesses become more global, preparing for political and social disruptions becomes more complex since each region of the world is subject to different political and social forces. Complicating matters further, we tend to think about the world from our own vantage points.
Google, for example, was caught off-guard by China's action to block its service. Google's stock price has dropped more than 15 percent (as of September 23) from its 2010 peak, in large measure over concerns about the China standoff.
4. Unexpected events.
Companies can prepare for and respond to unexpected events by creating business and technology architectures that are agile and flexible.
Impact of Disruptions
The impact of not being prepared includes missed revenue opportunities, increased costs, and even going out of business. The following examples highlight some of the risks of failing to prepare for the types of disruptions just discussed.
● Blockbuster-The world's largest movie-rental company filed for bankruptcy in September 2010 after failing to adapt its storefront model to online technology pioneered by rivals. Conversely, Netflix grew by renting movies online and through the mail, while Coinstar prospered by placing Redbox vending machines offering $1 DVD rentals in supermarkets, drugstores, and other convenient locations. Subsequently, Netflix is now under stress from streaming rivals.
● Encyclopedia Britannica-This provider did not fully envision how disruptive the Internet would be to its business. By the time executives recognized that most customers no longer wanted the company's content in book form, it was almost too late. The company has since done a good job of transforming itself by offering a mix of printed and online products.
● Kodak-Once known as a leading innovator in the photography market, Kodak's business was severely disrupted by the transition from physical media to digital media.
While these examples highlight the risks of losing focus and not preparing for future events, for most companies, the impact is much less dramatic. By not being prepared, however, businesses can expect higher costs and longer recovery time, potentially causing decreased customer loyalty and confidence. It is important to note that many companies have used disruptions to their advantage. Amazon.com, for example, helped transform retailing by enabling people to buy products online. YouTube created an entire business from the positive disruption of inexpensive, prolific video-camera technologies. And Facebook is benefiting from peoples' desire to connect and share information.
Next - Benefiting from Disruptions
Check out the full scenario planning series on our blog - as it unfolds.Comment on your experiences with scenario planning.¹ Excerpts from Scenario Planning: Are You Ready? By Dave Evans and Rick Hutley, Cisco IBSG Innovations Practice