COVID-19

COVID-19: Businesses have been forced to digitize, adapters will win the game

Technology drives everything around us. More so during a pandemic. As the world slows down outdoors, it’s picking rapid pace indoors. As millions of professionals work from home, in-person communication has been replaced with virtual ones. The application of innovative tech solutions plays a vital role in making this transition a smooth one. Thanks to the rapid change brought about by COVID-19 during a very short span of time, I can say this with absolute conviction – the recent weeks have taught us far greater lessons than the prior years. Especially in the area of technology implementation. I’ll try and list a few of my key learnings and observations.

A digital-first approach

For several years, the industry has been talking about a digital-first approach to doing business. We all agree, the density of smartphones in society has exploded in recent times. Everyone prefers an app to stepping out. If you expect to get a cab at your doorstep by tapping a button, then you surely expect to transact at the tap of a button. We all knew this day was in the making.

To quite an extent, a vast part of the industry had initiated a cosmetic consumer-facing digital layer to their businesses. While this worked out just fine, COVID-19 highlighted gaping holes in the backend readiness of businesses. Who would have ever thought that team members wouldn’t be able to work out of the office? As companies were investing billions in massive infrastructure and swanky offices, they were just rendered useless in a matter of days. Those late to the event, had to hunt for better-suited solutions at the eleventh hour.

Small projects over the years

I’ve seen some similar situations in my own industry. Fortunately, I’ve been part of systems with the collective foresight to implement digital processes early on. It comes down to something as fundamental capability to talk remotely. Remote working and collaboration tools go a long way in ensuring that a workforce can work together anytime anywhere. To the banking fraternity, work from home is a different beast altogether. Each industry may demand a different level of security, which can be addressed through technology tools. But getting the workforce to talk among themselves is the first hurdle that needs to be solved.

Beyond talking, it’s also imperative to give employees the tools they need to go through their entire workflow without any disruption. For instance, some teams may have to work with documents, where it won’t be possible to see physical printouts. In such cases, simple innovations such as AI-assisted OCR can compensate for the lack of postal and courier services.

Similarly, breaking down complex and elaborate processes into small manageable tasks can come in handy when you need it the most. I can recall a great example. Since I’ve had visibility into the banking system, something as simple as a cheque transaction has over 30 steps before the transaction is complete and the payee receives the money. Just elimination, mundane mechanical tasks from that process can reduce the time and effort taken by over half. The result is that in situations like this, employees can focus on increased productivity and accomplish far more. But as they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

The first step is to make small improvements towards increased efficiency. The COVID-19 situation has only made this mission-critical. What was once a technologist’s indulgence is now a key performance indicator of the effectiveness of IT implementation.

A true paperless office

Over the years, many companies have attempted to turn paperless. In the ideal office, there should be no need for a printer, to begin with. With so many computers and cloud services and servers, why would anyone need a printer? When one takes a closer look at the process, it boils down to something as mundane as reimbursement or admin related documentation and filing that requires printing and physical copies. This is where we see the need to democratize processes irrespective of functions.

A digitally-enabled, or rather digitally-driven office isn’t limited to the lack of printed documents. It eliminates showstoppers. I’ve seen evolved businesses, even banks that have realized effective business transformation in highly sensitive operations. If it can work in banks, I’d say it can work anywhere. Because there’s nothing more critical than the business of money. COVID-19 has built the strongest case for a truly paperless office.

Efficient team collaboration solutions coupled with effective mobile device management, IT policy and analytics ensures that sensitive data is well protected, even in situations where employees are working remotely.

The earlier the better

I’d say it again. Change cannot happen in a day. You may be able to take a few steps, but transforming processes takes time. As leaders implement new ways of doing things, they discover that it’s highly efficient to bring one change at a time. This way, systems don’t break down, and the learning curve isn’t steep for the workforce.

COVID-19 is a wakeup call to expedite your digital transformation efforts. IT readiness in move your business whenever you need to will ensure that you skirt the need for system downtime. Or worse, have to hunt for IT support during similar contingencies. More importantly, there’s growing consensus among business leaders that this will transform the future of work. This change that has begun will continue to drive the evolution of business in times to come. If anything, it only underscores the need to adapt to this change.

By Sesha Sai, Head of Technology, Mashreq Global Services

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