The disruptions to Victoria’s business community by coronavirus meant many small businesses have had to adapt quickly, work with government and re-focus their business in order to survive.
Enter Paul and Cindy Molenaar, husband and wife team and co-directors of regulatory and compliance consultancy, Compliance Experts who, by 5pm on Monday 16 March 2020, lost a year’s worth of business in the space of one day.
“We are a typical SME [small to medium enterprise] in that we look way ahead, working through December and January to get all our work booked in throughout the year. 2020 was going to be a great year, we had a really strong outlook,” Paul said.
Coronavirus took the business, which had been successfully operating for 25 years, by surprise.
“On March 16, the phone didn’t stop. We are health and safety practitioners, all of our retail and logistics customers cancelled their orders because they were instructed to lock down their sites. We had auditors in the air flying to Brisbane and Perth that day. We effectively lost 100 per cent of our professional services, on-site audit and face to face training work in just a few days. We got hit really hard.”
For the Melbourne-based family-run business with a team of 12, it was a knock-out blow.
“Having survived September 11 and the global financial crisis, we were blindsided by coronavirus. You can do all the risk management in the world but no one could foresee that we wouldn’t be able to travel and we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.”
Compliance Experts provides a full range of compliance and assurance services including auditing, consulting, and audit risk and compliance software.
Cindy and Paul support industries spanning retail, transport logistics, the public sector, financial services, healthcare, manufacturing and telecommunications, helping clients to understand and comply with the standards, regulations and codes in their industry.
“We also are an ICT business and we’ve been digitising organisations’ assurance and governance processes for about 20 years,” Paul said.
“It started when we digitised our own assurance process, then we commercialised the technology. The Canadian Government was our first commercial customer when they asked us to help automate assurance in their gaming industries – casinos and racetracks – and alcohol distribution. We now have a strong track record of digitising assurance systems and tasks including audits, inspections and assessments.”
When coronavirus first hit, the pair stepped back to consider how best they could use their team to keep the business alive. They looked at their income to see what could continue and what they might improve.
Technology presented a clear way forward, so Compliance Experts shifted its focus and began working with customers on e-auditing, helping to reduce the complexity in compliance through systematic and controlled digital processes.
An update to International Standards Organisation guidelines for auditing management systems to include e-auditing helped pave the way for negotiations with Australian and state-based regulators to enable assurance programs to continue, replacing physical on-site audits with e-auditing programs using Compliance Experts’ proprietary digital technology.
“Everyone is rethinking their business models, being creative and innovative to survive, and the Victorian Government was really active in working out how they could help. We all started to collaborate and work together to find a solution,” Paul said.
“Locally our state government has been amazing to work with. They’ve been agile enough to see that businesses need assurance and the old method of paper-based collection doesn’t work. We’ve worked with them behind the scenes to create an e-audit technology to enable this work to be done and for all this data to be recorded.
“Digital transformation through e-assurance is the way forward, it’s here, it’s now and not that hard.”
Despite the significant financial hit, Paul said all levels of government were working with the business community to find sustainable outcomes.
“We really are all working together. There is great collaboration between the business community and government, we are having open conversations, and the government is being agile enough to relax the rules or rewrite the rules. They’ve changed the auditing rules overnight and that can take 10 or 20 years sometimes. There is genuine support.”
Paul said introducing e-assurance gives Compliance Experts a chance to “pay it forward”, following years of support from government through federal R&D grants and economic development assistance from the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, by helping other businesses adapt to smarter and more effective ways of working.
“If we hadn’t have had support from the government with R&D we wouldn’t have been able to continually invest and we wouldn’t be in the position to do this now. We are a leader in the tech space for assurance and it will be tough, but we will get through.
“The investment has built resilience in our business, we have benefited from that and now we can pay it forward to our customers so they can get moving again too by pivoting their businesses, mobilising their teams and digitising their assurance processes.
“It’s been disruptive enough for people to let go of their traditional approach and allow them to jump on and go ‘wow this thing is not so bad, let’s do it’. Disruption has caused the opportunity. They’ve had to rethink their business and suddenly they’ve found a whole new market and a whole new way.”
More information is available on the Compliance Experts website.