Fall 2021 Catalyst
By John Cordier
What is the best way to bring employees back to the office safely? What protocols are most effective? What contingency plans should you put in place? When should you approve business travel for sales reps or host a booth at an upcoming conference? How should you implement the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate? What new local, state, and federal public health guidance and regulations should you expect? How will the pandemic evolve over the coming months, impacting demand, operations, and supply chain?
Whether you run an ice cream shop or a Fortune 500, the pandemic introduces extraordinary uncertainty into your core business. Carmakers are shutting down manufacturing lines because they can’t source enough semiconductors. Some restaurants are failing to adapt and going bankrupt, while others are going gangbusters by reinventing themselves. Book publishers are posting record sales, but don’t have the paper or printers to keep up. Employees are rethinking their priorities and employers are scrambling to secure talent.
We are living through an economic tipping point. The decisions you make today will shape your company’s future for years to come. Those that make the right bets will differentiate themselves and establish defensible moats. Those that fall into the many and varied traps will sabotage hard-earned success.
This begs the question: What calls are the right calls for your business right now?
If there was an easy answer, you wouldn’t be reading this article. Pandemics are complex. They spread through different communities at different times in different ways. They impact different groups of people differently. Variants evolve. Scientists develop vaccines and treatments. Individuals, businesses, and governments respond, changing the underlying dynamics. Actions beget reactions until you decide to throw up your hands and write the whole thing off as unmanageable.
The bad news is that you can’t throw up your hands, because when it’s your business, that’s never actually an option. Leaders know that nothing is truly unmanageable. There is just risk. And the harder the problem, the greater the rewards for those who solve it.
The good news is that there are powerful new tools for managing the business risks of COVID-19. Since the pandemic began, Epistemix has been using computational simulation to give business leaders the data they need to make the right decisions for their organizations. Our platform models the dynamics of large human populations to analyze and forecast the specific impacts of key interventions across a wide variety of scenarios.
A spinout from the Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh, Epistemix’s technology is the result of more than ten years of development with funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and our team has spent decades using epidemiological simulation to combat smallpox, measles, HIV, SARS, MERS, and other epidemics — often in partnership with groups like the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. Now, Epistemix is providing the same tools to clients ranging from school superintendents to state governors.
What does that mean in practice? Epistemix partnered with Freeman — the largest global event management firm — to provide the data to determine what size and combination of events are safe to host and when event capacities can increase in locations across the country. We’re working with organizations like the City of Hartford, Drake University, and the State of Indiana to inform their COVID-19 policies. Leading research groups like RAND and MITRE trust our tools to advance their data science efforts.
And here in Pennsylvania, we worked with Informa to successfully host the Natural Products Expo East at the Philadelphia Convention Center, and the PA Chamber to establish protocols for their Annual Dinner.
Simulating the risks of the hardest choices you face helps you answer that most crucial of questions: What calls are the right calls for your business right now? But making the right decision is only the beginning. The next step is to build a shared understanding of the way forward among key stakeholders. Hosting a conference achieves nothing if nobody attends.
Demanding employees return to the office is counterproductive if they ignore the summons or resign. Trust is a prerequisite for success, and rigorous computational simulation gives you the confidence and assets you need to earn trust from the right people so you can get back to doing what your business does best.
When you reach a tipping point, what you do next will determine your future. COVID-19 has pushed the entire economy to a tipping point, and the path you choose will transform your business. It’s a lot easier to choose wisely if you have a map in your back pocket.
John Cordier is the CEO of Epistemix.
Founded in 1916, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry is the state's largest broad-based business association, with its membership comprising businesses of all sizes and across all industry sectors. The PA Chamber is The Statewide Voice of BusinessTM.