Technology

The Technology response to COVID-19

Trevor Dunne Trevor Dunne

The changes triggered by the COVID crisis, mean that regardless of how companies viewed or prepared for remote working, they must now get to grips with it quickly. In a world that requires isolation, we are reliant on digital tools to connect us and transform our ways of working at a rate that is unprecedented. We can speculate later about how the pandemic will have lasting changes to the way we work – the crisis acting as a catalyst for changes to our capability delivery models that global trends have been threatening for some time – but in the face of the immediate concerns of business continuity, the challenge now is to survive.

For many organisations, much of the tech infrastructure to support this is already in place (if that’s not the case for you, please see section below ‘What to do now if you do not have the adequate infrastructure in place’). For years now, the IT function and digital technology companies have been offering the tools for just such a situation and employees are starting to notice the immediate and surprising benefits. For others, the ‘nirvana’ of when people would choose to work from home, connect with customers through digital channels, to interact and learn remotely, and be able to make decisions based on insights delivered to handheld devices, this is now a crisis.

The challenge for many CIOs in particular, is how to scale quickly and effectively, and to do so with employees who may not have been listening when your teams patiently explained how it would all work (or to management who may not have been listening when you were outlining the business case).

Impacts & immediate recommendations

In organisations where remote working capabilities have not yet been established this now becomes the key imperative to implement in a time sensitive manner. CIOs need to come up with interim solutions in the short term which enable business continuity in an effective and secure manner. Here are some things that should be taken into consideration in the short term:

  • Establish a single source of truth and communicate that to employees. While employees can get a lot of information from their own sources, there are many misleading ones, and organisations have the implicit mission to offer trustworthy information. Organisations can offer curated content, drawn from internal and external sources, to provide actionable guidance to employees. These sources include local governments, healthcare authorities and international organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO). Consider setting up a crisis centre/hotline for employees to obtain all the latest information from trustworthy sources.
  • Identify use-case requirements – What key elements need to be in place for you to run your business or continue to operate your critical services? Consider items like, instant messaging for general communication, access to network drive/ file sharing or access to core enterprise applications such as ERP and CRM. Aim to utilise your data processing maps and impact assessments created during GDPR preparations to identify critical areas.
  • Review security arrangements to support remote working - Ensure remote access to your organisation’s critical applications and data is secure, as users are likely to work from public networks or use personal devices. Use of secure VPN’s, enable multi factor authentication and protect remote hardware with appropriate encryption.
  • Find vendors and test solutions quickly - Vendors offering Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms should be preferred for example Microsoft Teams integration, Webex or Zoom. It is likely that you will need a combination of tools to cover all your use-case requirements. Prioritise solutions that are easy to implement. Note: As of March 2020, a free 6-month Office 365 E1 Trial, including Microsoft Teams, is now available. Microsoft is making this special E1 Trial license available in response to the increased need for employees to work from home (WFH) in response to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak.
  • Work with network providers - assess your current bandwidth for remote working, increase available bandwidth where required, add additional nodes and limit access to critical applications where possible.
  • Conduct workforce planning to access risk and address staffing gaps. Re-allocation of staff, the splitting of teams, the rotation of in-office/home-working arrangements or the cross-training of staff who perform business-critical functions, to minimise the risks of disruption if large numbers of staff, or key staff, are absent. Identify areas in which automation and AI-enabled capabilities can weather the shortage in talent and skills.
  • Keep employees informed of operational plans and strategic decisions. Set up an information portal or direct communication groups to keep the company informed of ongoing developments and instructions. Create a clear route for concerned employees to contact the crisis management committee in confidence.
  • Enable and expand self-service options. Enable customers to use self-service via online, mobile, social, kiosks and interactive voice response (IVR) services.
  • Engage customers using digital tools. Offline face-to-face engagement still plays a big role. As offline channels and mass events take a big hit, organisations need new tools to conduct business. Workplace collaboration tools, videoconferencing solutions and live streaming platforms can serve various customer interactions and business scenarios.
  • Communicate efficiently with customers and partners. Be prompt and transparent about service and process changes and communicate those through a central notification system. Ensuring messages are recorded and reach the targeted audience.
  • Adapt products to the changing demands. Adapting existing products to market needs helps businesses to curtail losses or capture market with soaring demand.
  • Expand selling through digital channels. The value of digital channels has quickly become obvious as people rely on online platforms for business continuity.

These are challenging times for everyone and we at Grant Thornton offer our support should you need it. Issues we may be able to assist you with include:

  • Remote working implementation & training – setting up the necessary technology (MS Teams, Citrix etc), managing vendors and licencing alongside getting staff up and running with new technology is daunting at any stage. We have the experts in how to find the right technology and can guide you through purchasing and implementing this within aggressive timelines. This may be providing support to your IT department through advice and resources to complete the implementation or business unit support in rollout of the technology and how best to organise teams for remote working.
  • Keeping up to date with the changing environment – data has always been critical to business success; in times of crisis, it is vital to business survival. Regardless of the scenario you face, getting timely accurate reports of what is happening in your business is critical and will continue to be well after this pandemic has passed. We can create dashboards, report sets, data structures and much more to help you gain insight to your business that is more valuable than ever. We can provide this service through existing tools and systems or more freely available tools not in use like Microsoft’s PowerBI.
  • We can provide expert resources who can create dashboards and reports that give detailed insight to your business using data from spreadsheets as well as databases, meaning that you do not need to engage in long term planning of reports at this current time. Reporting can be refined as business needs change and as the environment around the business continues to change while COVID-19 continues to spread.
  • Keeping essential services running – The pressure on staff comes not just with remote working but also essential services like child care not running as normal. This means the ability of staff to perform their roles in the normal times will be tested and many companies are already introducing more flexible working hours to accommodate this impact. However, essential tasks still need to be completed and often are time sensitive, this is where automation through robotics can help. As already seen building automations in a few days can offer real value to businesses and allow you to remove pressure from staff. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) services can help deliver consistent service during this time quickly and at a low cost, we can provide expertise and advice how to implement this quickly and cost effectively in this critical time period.
  • Business as usual – many projects will still need to be completed and deadlines met, as staff are redeployed to deal with surges in front line and front office demand. We have experienced project managers, business analysts and system experts ready to step in to support ongoing projects to ensure they continue to run smoothly and are still on target when everything has returned to a semblance of normality.

 

What if you do not have the appropriate IT systems or infrastructure in place to support business continuity?

  • Are you currently lost in a mountain of information being fired at you on what you should and shouldn’t be doing? We want to ensure you do not have to handle these situations alone. We are here to provide emergency immediate support to help plan your next steps with you in a fast and effective manner. In that case just give us a call. Our team are on hand to make sense of the recommendations and help create effective contingency plans for situations like this regardless of your type of business.
  • Regardless of the problem, we are here to help our clients through this the need for urgency and moving quickly on problems is vital at this stage and through our various digital offerings we can work with you to get them through this difficult period of uncertainty.
    • IT project management
    • Business analysis
    • IT operations support and advice
    • Robotic process automation
    • Data analysis and reporting