One thing large-business executives could do in the face of the coronavirus crisis and the ensuing “economic catastrophe” is to learn from the military and temporarily import one of their classic practices.

In a few weeks, the Coronavirus situation in North America started reflecting with specular precision what had been happening in Southern Europe.

Since nations, like teenagers, seem incapable of treasuring others’ vicissitudes, the media commentaries and the social net debates in the US today are the same I was witnessing a month ago in Italy.

And it’s mostly rubbish. It will take another month or two, as a minimum, to stabilize. All data are in flux and for the most part unreliable, unverifiable, incomparable across cases, situations and territories.

The subject is brand new: even great scientists are making frequent mistakes.

For executives, one additional and very critical source of misinformation is most of that concerning their enterprise and its entire ecosystem.

The fog of war

Value chains are broken at multiple points: a number of partners, suppliers, clients are no longer there, either because their territory is locked down or because they are cashless or their people are sick.

You have sick people too. And so are or will be your clients if you are on the B2C side.

Entire countries are locked down. You are overwhelmed by an assault of disqualified information, not just by the media, but coming from agents in your value chain.

It is difficult to trust information concerning suppliers, clients, partners, your own organization, and the entire world outside.

This is the fog created by the Covid19 war.

It is not what war looks like in the military academy or business in the business school. This is ‘war’ for real, that is to say, a true business disaster happening right now. The US, for example, “is experiencing an economic catastrophe” in addition to the human one.

And in the midst of it, you should redesign critical business areas, such as factory workflows, or restaurant and hotel layouts, or the safe offering of education or healthcare!

It may turn out useful to exhume a bit of the old ‘Command and Control’ paraphernalia that ceased to be fashionable about forty years ago.

Where to start from?

You need what the military calls ISTAR: Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance.

That is, “the coordinated and integrated acquisition, processing and provision of timely, accurate, relevant, coherent and assured information and intelligence to support commander’s conduct of activities” (Wikipedia).

This is what enterprise information systems do normally. But we are not in normal times, and information systems are not being fed with reliable information.

You need a Surveillance squadron periodically visiting your operations and value chain and documenting the actual conditions with daily reports. There may be useful news or facts from different geographies, domestic and abroad.

Your ordinary line of reporting may not be sufficient for this purpose today. For example, interpreting news and political discussions in various countries requires ad-hoc qualifications and maturity, beginning with more sophisticated language skills than are required to do business.

You need another ‘squadron’ to intercept communications, within the limits of legality, whether telephone or email or person-to-person or on social nets, between agents in your value chain. You share suppliers, resellers, and clients with competitors: their respective links deserve closer monitoring now.

You need an Intelligence and Security Squadron using whatever sensors, human or tech-based, you have access to within the value chain, reporting every day.

It will include consultants, lawyers, auditors, salespeople, warehouse workers, cashiers, security guards.

And it will include Business Intelligence / Business Analytics software, whether ‘AI-enabled’ or not.

And you need a CEO-led All Source Intelligence Cell, producing the business intelligence needed by decision-makers and departments of the enterprise, local or remote.

Who said this will work?

How do I know it will be useful, since humankind has not gone through something like this for at least 80 years?

It is easy: we know it from the military’s collective intelligence. Surviving these emergencies is a challenge that is part of their culture and life. To us, instead, this is new and we have let it catch us totally unprepared.

When did you last see global and local value chains crumble under the effect of asynchronous government-mandated lockdowns, millions of sick people, and prolonged cash flow paralysis?