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Arguably every company around the world has been severely affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Organizations are struggling to respond rapidly to the challenges from employee health and welfare to disrupted supply chains to shift in consumption patterns towards digital channels.
For organizations stuck in the COVID-19 pandemic, technology came as a penicillin shot, enabling them to maintain business continuity and reduce the impact on future revenues. In the future, those organizations that shift investments to advanced technologies will not only mitigate the long-term impact of current pandemic but will also ensure uninterrupted operations during any crisis.
Going forward, organizations should focus on the following four key areas to immunize themselves and navigate through such disruptions:
COVID-19 crisis is a wake-up call for organizations that have deferred digital investments over core operations. Organizations have now realized that digital needs to be an integral part and embedded in their core operations. This is illustrated by the fact that on the one hand organizations are struggling with availability of limited call-center personnel to support their operations, while on the other hand, digital-savvy organizations leveraged the power of self-service tools, mobile apps, artificial intelligence chatbots and social media to keep themselves afloat in this moment of crisis. These digital-savvy organizations backed by their technology strengths are using the current crisis to grow their customer base and create a competitive advantage.
For example, even in the current crisis, Fincare Small Finance Bank successfully used bots to boost business. The use of bots has more than doubled during the lockdown and has allowed customers to remain connected at a time when call center lines are choking. The bank uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) and advanced machine learning capabilities to transform WhatsApp banking from a menu-driven service to a multilingual NLP bot. The customers can type in free text in English, Hindi and ‘hinglish’ and bot provide secure and uninterrupted banking services.
Prepare for Work from Home
For the first time, we are encountering the need for a massive operational remote workforce which will necessitate the development of an ‘inclusive remote workplace strategy’. As organizations are embracing ‘work from home’, they are realizing a host of challenges related to lack of VPN licenses, videoconferencing tools and poor bandwidth. Organizations need to devise a clear technology direction starting with which videoconferencing tool to use to ensure that contracts with VPN and network providers cater to unplanned increased demand at a pre-negotiated rate. As more people would be working from home, organizations need to critically evaluate the current costs of on-premise infrastructure (desks, servers, desktops, bandwidth, etc.) versus new costs related to the provisioning of new laptops, 4G/5G modems, enhanced security requirements and reimbursing internet expenses. Organizations with already evolved IT policies around remote working will have an edge.
During the current COVID-19 crisis, organizations that had already migrated over the cloud realized that they have a huge competitive advantage. Cloud provided an immediate solution to two key challenges—scalability and security. The internal IT team could easily scale up the resources over the cloud for systems in which there was an immediate spike such as website, call center, helpdesk, etc. Moreover, endpoint security is managed by cloud-based providers which leave the already thin IT department to focus on other aspects.
The MACIF Group, a leading French mutual insurance provider, was able to ensure business continuity and quickly maintain a secure link between its employees with G Suite (suite of cloud computing by Google Cloud), already deployed with more than 8,000 employees. MACIFs staff shifted from in-person meetings to over 1,300 video meetings daily and collaborative virtual rooms facilitated important people contact and responsiveness in an unexpected period of initiating remote work.
Using a cloud platform (G Suite), Korean gaming company Netmarble was able to make the company-wide transition to working from home smoothly. They were able to use video conferencing (Google Meet), collaboration (via Google Docs), and access all the data on Google Drive thus eliminating the difference of working from home or office.
This crisis has established the fact that cloud is a necessity and if you are not on the cloud then it`s going to be extremely difficult to compete and survive in the future.
Ensure a comprehensive Business Continuity Plan
BCP plans for many organizations are outdated and they often focus on resiliency and availability of critical applications, and not on total business continuity. Studies show that around 40 per cent of companies globally do not have even the most basic crisis communication plan. Of those that do have such plans, only a third run drills to simulate potential crisis and most often these drills are nothing but check box-ticking exercises. In a recent case, it was suggested to a global manufacturing company that the CEO talks to his employees in real-time over a video to offer support, compassion and boost confidence that the company will come out of this crisis stronger. As the IT team prepared to execute this, they soon realized that factory floor workers do not have access to computers where they can view the video and hence it was decided to stay with emails and noticeboard.
Now is the time to capture such lessons and build a comprehensive BCP and commit to running scenarios that simulate an actual disaster, with all the equipment, supplies and personnel. Future BCP plans would be built around the power and opportunity offered by technology and social media.
Although sometimes, even the best preparations aren’t enough for such a crisis, what is certain is that organizations which plan to use technology effectively will be in a better position to respond in the future. Emphasis on technology will only grow and organizations will need to allocate adequate budgets to be ahead of the curve.