Crisis management in the digital age – requirements for a web-based tool, in S+S Report 03/2019

Crisis is – to put it simply – when nothing is the way it was, or better: how it should be. This is a high-risk exceptional situation in which the otherwise proven management methods no longer apply and even operationally oriented Business Continuity Management (BCM) remains ineffective.

Article from Peter Markovitz

The leadership process as a structural element in crisis management

After all, in a crisis it is not exclusively about restoring normal operations, but rather about limiting the damage to the company as a whole. And it is precisely this aspect that is often overlooked in the first, reactive and “noisy” phase of crisis management.

Hardly anything questions the sustainability of companies and organizations more clearly than a crisis. Especially in the last ten years, companies have been struggling more and more elaborately with the consequences of events that are often networked and unexpected. It is therefore not surprising that in the decade now coming to an end, massive investments have been made in the area of emergency and crisis management in the structural and process organization.

But do these measures derived from classical teaching meet the requirements for successful crisis management? Aren’t it ultimately the acting employees and their interaction that decide on successful coping?

Situation pictures of a crisis situation

What kind of situation is it that characterizes a crisis? Especially in the early stages, chaos typically prevails. Usually without warning, the crisis appears and suddenly changes the demands on the affected companies. Previous rules and processes no longer apply. The relevant managers must first come together in order to work in a coordinated and structured way in one direction.

All this happens under immense pressure, because the time factor is crucial for success. If you wait too long, you minimize your room for maneuver – and your chances of coming out of the disaster unharmed.

But it is easier said than done to take quick and above all correct measures. Because we all know: Excessive stress paralyzes the ability to think and analyze. Under pressure there are often spontaneous reactions that are counterproductive or can even turn an approaching crisis into a major one. In addition, the numerous organizational measures require a high level of personnel deployment.

At this point, the combination of methodology and technology can provide serious support. The consistent methodical approach of a leadership rhythm, as it is used by numerous staffs in the civil defense or military sector, provides the necessary orientation in the structured sequence. If this leadership process is embedded as a structural element in crisis management in a tailored programming, a support tool is created that provides decisive relief for the crisis staff and situation center.

Problem points in crisis management

The problem points in classical crisis management often include the administrative accompanying processes such as order placement, order controlling, writing minutes and information procurement. They are often very time-consuming and tie up disproportionate resources. This also includes problem points in crisis management such as the visualization of the situation, which is often not designed in a way that all members of the staff have a “common picture of the situation” despite the high effort involved. And the loss of time until the staff is able to act before its first meeting is often a serious problem.

A modern crisis management application supports the crisis team in its work, i.e. it starts with these typical weak points of the classic crisis management process, structures orders and their controlling, and simplifies logging and information transfer. It should also help to enable interaction between the members of one or more staffs and provide everyone with a comprehensive overall picture of the situation in real time

Different approaches to management software

The solutions currently offered on the market differ in the technology used. A few years ago, local, database-driven programs were partially developed approaches for different management software with great effort, which focused on the provision of documents or on alerting processes within the own system architecture. In the end, they did not succeed on the market.

On the other hand, web-based alerting tools with their universal access options are now widely used. The alerting software provides the very important real-time basic information for all participants, but at best only rudimentarily takes into account the structure-giving element of the subsequent management process and interaction. However, a crisis management application must combine these two elements in a meaningful way. In addition, suitable interfaces should enable existing solutions such as alerting tools or incident reporting systems to communicate with the application and to be easily and cost-effectively integrated into an existing IT system landscape.

When introducing a crisis management application, some technical requirements have to be met, but these are usually present in modern companies today. In addition, a crisis management manual should be available in the company or should be developed parallel to the introduction. It is advantageous if its methodical approach and the web-based crisis management application go in one direction, i.e. the structure of the documentation and the sequence in the tool follow the same methodical approach, the management rhythm. Typically, the manual is of course also stored in the application and can thus be consulted electronically at any time.

The human factor

In crisis management, however, the human factor with its individual qualities remains the decisive success factor, even when using a supporting tool and the best organizational foundations. In such a situation it is above all important that the acting persons are aware of their own behavior patterns under stress and remain team players. Of course, special demands are made on the leader of a crisis team.

The availability of a tool and working with it must therefore never be an additional burden during crisis management. The user guidance should be designed to be self-explanatory and intuitive so that it can be grasped immediately even by an inexperienced person. Of course, the tool cannot eliminate management deficits, but it can reduce their consequences by its clear structure.

Despite all the progress made, even the best application will probably not be able to solve crises autonomously for the time being, and thus, employees will remain the key factor in emergency and crisis management for coping with unforeseen events with a high damage potential. In today’s volatile environment, companies are well advised to prepare themselves organizationally and technically to cope with such events. In the end, however, the most important step for success should not be forgotten: “Practice, practice, practice!”

Support Tool DEMiOS

Based on the requirements for a technical solution in the field of emergency and crisis management described in the article, the consulting company Verismo GmbH has developed the support tool DEMiOS. DEMiOS controls the entire crisis management process, starting with the recording of the event, the evaluation of the event with regard to its hazard and damage potential, the information and alert management, right through to the actual crisis response work. In doing so, it draws on the proven management rhythm of the Swiss Civil Protection, which has been adapted for use in commercial enterprises.

In addition to product-specific training courses on DEMiOS, Verismo GmbH offers a wide range of further education and training measures at the company’s own Verismo Academy in Haßloch/Pfalz in the field of risk, emergency and crisis management.