Getting to grips with doing business in isolation

The changes triggered by the Covid-19 crisis mean that regardless of how companies viewed remote working, they must now get to grips with it quickly, says Trevor Dunne, partner and head of Technology Consulting at Grant Thornton Ireland.

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. 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.

“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”

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 and 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.

Smiling man in navy suit.

Trevor Dunne is Partner and head of Technology Consulting at Grant Thornton Ireland

Published: 31 March, 2019