Industry Voices--Gold: Intel's COVID-19 model response

Intel recently shared how it is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Its response has resulted in virtually no disruption to its business, even as it had to learn how to deal with remote workers, travel restrictions and diverse geographic regulations.

This is good news. It means the necessary technology infrastructure will not see major shortages for combating the pandemic (such as high performance computing for modeling in the cloud and modules for medical equipment) as well as enabling remote work and distributed workers (such as cloud services and personal computers).

What Intel did to mitigate this crisis could be a valuable lesson to many other industries, and not just in high tech.

One lesson Intel learned years ago was that disasters happen, and you must be prepared for them as they come along. Intel created a leadership team approach that started back in 2002 with a response to the SARS epidemic. It began as an ad hoc team of execs to address the situation, but quickly evolved into a standing team that continued once the initial crisis had passed. It remains in place and has managed through various other crisis situations like Avian Flu and Ebola. Once the current pandemic became a crisis, the response team was able to be activated almost immediately

Intel is somewhat unique in that, although it has many of its 110,000 employees that can work remotely, it must still maintain staffing at its labs and factories so that is can produce the chips we all rely on. Further, it’s truly a worldwide operation with many locations across the globe. It safeguards the wellbeing of its employees by working with local governments and public health officials to implement their guidance. The team does this while also working to limit any business disruptions based on risk and needs at each location. As a prerequisite, any approach to business continuity must not affect employee health and wellbeing.

Intel designed their emergency response system around three primary functions. These are: Business Continuity, Crisis Management and Coordination, and Specialized Response Teams. The Business Continuity portion includes high level execs responsible for the overall strategy, as well as Business Continuity Response Teams to help implement any necessary processes and coordinate with the Crisis Management function.

Crisis Management and Coordination consists of an executive leadership team, as well as a Corporate Emergency Operations Center for cross-company coordination, local Emergency Operations Centers at each facility, and Site Emergency Response Teams at each point of impact.  The final group, the Specialized Response Teams, consist of a Pandemic Leadership Team, an IT Emergency Response Team, and any other teams or functions that are created by need or deemed as necessary. Critical to the success of this approach is that there are cross functional open lines of communication and feedback to adjust as needed.

What makes this work is that the executive teams responsible for these groups are all in place on a continuous basis, and not formed in response to each emergency. During a crisis, the workload for these executives that have other important roles in the company is increased dramatically. But in times of normal operations, the workload is minimal so there is no resistance to the executives’ participation in this activity or negative impact on business operations. Further, since this is an ongoing function in the company, there is a “playbook” in place that is available as soon as an emergency occurs, and is updated or modified as the need arises, even in normal times, if the executives and functions deem it to be necessary.

A further step Intel took to enhance its response capability is to share its emergency respond model and what it’s learned over the years with its supply chain and other strategic partners, and to learn from its partners’ experiences. Any company that has a supply chain or works with partners is dependent on their suppliers and partners to maintain their own businesses if they are to minimize disruptions. Emergency response must be a shared effort, and not a proprietary process that organizations need to keep secret.

RELATED: COVID-19 work from home boosts Intel

So, what should we take away from Intel’s pandemic response? First, all companies must plan for emergency situations on a continuing basis. In this day and age, it’s extremely likely emergency situations will reappear, and the current COVID-19 pandemic will not be the only crisis. Next, it’s important to have an emergency response plan in place, but it’s also critical to have an executive team in place that’s responsible for the implementation and execution of this plan. There is minimal workload placed on executives in normal times, but having the team in place means that the company can react in almost real time, without having to scramble to find competent individuals and form a response team.

 The team must include a broad representation of corporate functions (including line of business, human reletions,, legal, IT, facilities, and others.). And finally, with such a team in place and a playbook to pull from, it’s easy for the proper responses to trickle down the supply chain so that each group and location has clear direction and a clear chain of command and interactions to deal with.

The bottom line is this: We’ve seen too many companies, big and small, scramble with an emergency response to the current COVID-19 crisis. It’s critical that each company learn from this and follow a similar model to what Intel did, so that the next emergency won’t be a repeat of this haphazard response approach. Failure to do so will mean a high impact on organizational effectiveness and may even cause enough disruption for the business to fail.

Jack Gold is founder and principal analyst at J. Gold Associates, LLC., an information technology analyst firm based in Northborough, Massachusetts. He has more than 25 years of experience as an analyst and covers the many aspects of business and consumer computing and emerging technologies. He works with many companies, including Intel. Follow Jack on Twitter and on LinkedIn. 

His views are his own.