Lessons from the COVID-19 Outbreak: What History Tells Us
By Joseph Pickel, Vice President, Product Strategy, IPC
Companies everywhere are beginning to pause and take stock of how they have handled the COVID-19 pandemic. It only makes sense to reflect on what has been an exceptional and intense time in order to draw lessons and plan for the future. IPC is no different. For us, the biggest lesson from the past few months is one that has echoes in military history.
We play a vital infrastructural role, one that effectively provides the nervous system for financial markets. So, we immediately knew that how we responded would be decisive not only for our own firm but also for so many others. The relationship we have with our clients is what makes military history so analogous. They depend on us, in the same way that one part of a military operation depends on another.
Take, for example, one of the more dramatic moments from World War II in the Pacific theater. In December 1944, the United States Navy’s Task Force 38 was under the command of Admiral William “Bull” Halsey. The navy’s task force operations were based on aircraft carriers, from which attacks could be launched. Halsey had been told that aweak tropical storm was approaching. But the information he received – about the location, direction and intensity of the storm – was inaccurate. On December 17th, Halsey unwittingly sailed the Third Fleet into the center of Typhoon Cobra. By the time the storm had ended the Third Feet had lost three ships, 146 aircraft and almost 800 sailors. Another 30 ships suffered major damaged. Task Force 38 was as severely battered as if it had been in a major battle.
Flash forward 75 years and it’s December 2019. A mysterious illness is first reported in Wuhan, China, while the Dow Jones is scaling all-time highs. The next month, the World Health Organization issued guidance comparing the outbreak to SARS and other respiratory pathogens. The Dow is still going strong. By mid-February, as the WHO convened a COVID-19 forum with more than 400 experts, the Dow was approaching 30,000.
What links these two stories together? Information. Having reliable, accurate information makes all the difference between plunging headlong into a disastrous situation or averting the worst of a crisis. In the case of COVID-19, the information was there, but few people were watching. Within a few weeks, the Dow would be below 18,600. Those firms that had the right information were able to plan and take appropriate measures. Those that did not, suffered badly.
IPC had no choice but to respond to the information immediately. It became clear straight away that we would have to execute our own Business Continuity Plan (BCP) and Work from Home (WFH) strategy at an unheard-of scale – all while supporting the global financial markets and the world’s largest trading intuitions. By the end of March, the company launched four BCP solutions into the market. In the weeks that followed, our company actually began to resemble a military operation. Gathering client feedback, managing supply chains, making enhancements and rolling out updates all had to be done clearly and precisely. We were certainly tested.
IPC provides solutions that help the market ensure they have access to accurate information for voice and electronic trading. While the electronic markets continued to function, it became clear that voice became even more important for markets to communicate during the worst of the pandemic. In an uncertain global trading environment, voice provided a sense of normality. Millions of people around the world have been affected by the virus. Countries, states and local governments are now reopening. We all know that the world will not go back to how it was before. But we also have learned some significant lessons. We know the importance of acting swiftly on health information. We know that we and our clients were able to survive the most demanding operational test of our lifetimes. And we know that if the pandemic worsens again, we will be ready.