Thanks to Covid-19, it is high time that the organizations across India, and the world take stock of things. In future, how will clients’ sales and other meetings take place? Will remote working be the new normal? Are the various workforces ready to WFH?
Remote collaborative platforms rule
Flock is a proprietary messaging and collaboration tool, founded by tech entrepreneur Bhavin Turakhia in 2014. The app is available on Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS and Web. Flock allows users to configure external apps and integrations from the Flock App Store, and receive notifications and updates directly in Flock.
Flock allows users to configure external apps and integrations from the Flock App Store, and receive notifications and updates directly in Flock. The primary features of Flock are direct and channel messaging, video conferencing, screen andfile sharing, and unlimited chat history.
Bhavin Turakhia, CEO and Co-Founder, Zeta and Flock, said: “With the rise of Covid-19, we are witnessing a major change in every aspect of the business. At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw the world working remotely and now after 3 months of lockdown, we have to start chalking out new plans. Interacting with colleagues, client meetings, commute to work, nothing will be the same in the near future. Remote working will has become be the new normal. With more people working from home, the need for real estate will decrease.
“As employees have been WFH to contain the spread of Covid-19, many organisations have invested heavily in workplace collaborations platforms to keep the business running smoothly. All job interviews and onboarding of new joinees is being done virtually. The pandemic has refocused the minds of global leaders on the fundamental value of human life, human potential and livelihoods. This is the window of opportunity to invest in our most precious asset: our human capital.”
Vinay Bhartia, India Head, Lark, said that remote collaborative platforms have brought together people from different groups to work together to achieve desired goals across sectors and verticals.
“Some of the technologies that will redefine the workplace are: digital communications, project management tools, cloud computing, office automation, etc. Lark is a next-generation all-in-one collaborative platform that offers: seamless connectivity, affordability, advanced collaborative tools, and a safe and secured platform.
Slack is a proprietary business communication platform developed by Slack Technologies. Slack offers many IRC-style features, including persistent chat rooms (channels) organized by topic, private groups, and direct messaging. Content, including files, conversations, and people, is all searchable within Slack. Users can add emoji buttons to their messages, on which other users can then click to express their reactions to messages.
Slack’s free plan allows only the 10,000 most recent messages to be viewed and searched. Slack provides mobile apps for iOS and Android besides their Web browser client and desktop clients for MacOS, Windows (versions available from company’s website and through Windows Store), and Linux. The Slack CEO didn’t reply to our mails.
Microsoft Teams with teams!
We have Microsoft Teams as well! Rajiv Sodhi, COO, Microsoft India, said there are three things:
Working from home: Microsoft Teams was made available free of cost in early March, including for organizations that don’t have Office 365. Teams helps deliver the advanced security and compliance capabilities that customers need – with built-in security and management capabilities of Office 365.
Access to business applications and processes: The team has worked round the clock to help the ITeS giants deploy Azure Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) This has allowed large workforces to access internal apps, develop and even publish solutions through a desktop hosted on Azure. They are using different browsers from home PCs, laptops and personal mobile devices in an absolutely secure manner. Moving to Azure WVD also did away with the need to scramble for new devices. Microsoft is also focussing on helping pharmaceutical companies and their partners stay productive and keep medicines and critical supplies available.
Learning from home: Microsoft has imparted training to over 4,000 educators and students across 100 schools and higher education institutions to adopt remote learning tools.
Uninterrupted care for patients: Microsoft has been able to support healthcare professionals. Its engineers are spending time with doctors and management at healthcare institutes to understand their challenges and requirements.
Lenovo’s smart fleet
According to Rahul Agarwal, CEO and MD, Lenovo India, they are staying connected to customers to support their needs. They are going out of the way to support critical customer needs in sectors like software, healthcare, BFSI, etc. by bringing in PCs on priority through chartered flights.Lenovo has partnered with e-vidyaloka to create SmarterEd, a free online platform that matches learners with volunteer educators in one-on-one online learning sessions.
Agarwal said: “We are not a remote working country culturally, which forces the management to rewire their outlook towards employees working from home. Managers need to realize that good people work well wherever they are, as long as they have the right tools. So, my advice would be to trust your workforce and focus on output, rather than activity.The future of digital work entails two parts viz., technology infrastructure and, a digiwork-ready employee base. We are facilitating and leading the shifts in both the areas.”
BCP, and how
Next, we look at the business continuity plans across companies. Safi Obeidullah, Field CTO (APJ), Citrix, said the plan should ideally include:
* Identifying chain of command and key stakeholders when the business continuity plan is invoked.
* Clear communication strategy of how to stay in touch with anyone who needs to know what’s going on. This essentially includes employees, executives, suppliers, contractors, etc.
* Processes for how key business functions will continue to be operate, including the order in which functions should be enabled to ensure high priority services are available first.
* How dependent stakeholders and employees are educated on the business continuity plan so they are aware of how things would operate.
Marshal Correia, VP and GM, India, South Asia at Red Hat, said: “We have learnt about remote collaboration and leadership through our open source communities over the years. We already have strong remote work culture and our IT infrastructure has been built to enable this for both associate mobility and business continuity purposes. To cope with sudden additional load, we integrated the additional capacity for VPN and single-sign on (SSO) infrastructure for users signing on from home.”
CIOs are hard pressed too, in this situation. Major Gen. Amarjit Singh, CIO, Persistent Systems Ltd, said services are delivered from customer facilities, from our own facilities in our global delivery centres, from customer-controlled or customer-specified IT environments in our own facilities, or by connecting remotely to customer IT environments.
Harnath Babu, CIO, KPMG, said: “For digital work, we need to provide the right IT infrastructure to the entire workforce to work conveniently from homes. The next step is to create a team-based digital space environment where they can work together – irrespective of wherever they are. We are providing our workforce with cloud-based communication and collaboration technology tools that help them connect with each other virtually.
“With advancement in AI-driven technologies and robotics, more work will be done by smart machines. Virtual assistants would be there to respond to user queries in real time and perform operational activities. RPA would continue to automate repetitive tasks, data aggregation, analysis, etc., so teams can save time and make quicker, more informed business decisions. Cloud-based technologies will streamline workflow, facilitate collaboration and increase work efficiency. The organizational systems will be aligned to the cloud for improved data security.”
Focus on digital business
There will be an increasing focus on digital business as well. Manoj Kohli, Country Head, SoftBank India, SoftBank Group International said, there will be some shifts. Oil prices came down from $60 to $20 and below. There are electric vehicles. Next, how is China being addressed by the world? The world wants +1 and +2, beyond China. This will happen, with India leading the charge.
The third is digital business. All towns and villages will improve further. Many start-ups and companies are using 3G/4G infrastructure. India will also benefit due to globalization. US, Europe, Korean suppliers will come to India as there is a huge domestic market. India also has a chance to move the unorganized economy into an organized economy.
Digitization will be the big factor. If companies do not digitize, they will be left behind! Many will adopt new business models, online and offline. Models need to be changed, be profitable, and digitized. There should be a new performance culture. Speed, execution, decision-making process of a company will come into play. There will also be rebranding – inside and outside the company.
Karthik Ganapathi, VP and MD, Honeywell Connected Enterprise, India, said Honeywell is offering its diverse set of customers from the Oil & Gas, Refining, Petrochemicals, Chemicals, Pharma, Pulp, Paper, Power and Mining & Metals industries, solutions and a suite of other Honeywell Forge offerings to ensure complete visibility of the essential manufacturing processes, work continuity, remote testing and remote delivery of critical services. The solutions also enable remote operations from anywhere, patch/anti-virus updates and system security monitoring.
Every digital product from Honeywell has strong productivity improvement characteristic. This may be in form of asset productivity, process improvement, or worker productivity. Honeywell Forge drives significant productivity improvements for our customers and brings an end-to-end view on productivity by incorporating AI / ML to create continuous learning systems and with the capability to provide close-looping of recommendations via mobility solutions.
Transformational impact of AI/ML
According to Honeywell, the first is the transformational impact on productivity via AI/ML to solve day-to-day operational problems. Industrial companies traditionally used rules-based decision logic in manual and software-driven decision making. Rapid advances in AI/ML and compute power are enabling creation of learning models (algorithms that evolve/adapt based on new information) that help operators make better and more accurate decisions.
There is close-looping via mobility solutions. Industrial companies, with a majority of desk-less workforce, are already set-up to embrace mobility solutions. There are usually Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for each operator / technician to do a particular job. Each job requires understanding the information (alarms, events), conducting a series of checks on an equipment or process, performing adjustments/change settings/replace parts, talking to experts, getting supervisor approvals, and closing the job. Some of these activities require on-site presence and some can be executed remotely.
Cloud infrastructure enables Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and offers the ability to rapidly scale in a secure manner. Cloud applications allow for secure remote access and enables the mobility and analytics solutions. These applications need to be available ‘all the time’ and cloud deployment ensures necessary availability and support. The market has spoken as well – Cloud has become ubiquitous in the past couple of years.
Ravi Chhabria, MD, NetApp India, said all companies have been forced to re-evaluate their IT models and accelerate digital transformation efforts as employees move to a WFH model. So, technologies that support WFH are the no. 1priority. Companies have rolled out mandatory remote work policies, but not all have the right infrastructure in place to support the influx of users to end-user computing (EUC) and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) applications.
No. 2, as more of enterprises move their daily lives online and employees’ transition to remote work environments, companies are experiencing sudden influxes of traffic and data. This data needs to be proactively protected and optimized over a hybrid cloud infrastructure. So, you need tools that to give you visibility into your complete infrastructure—both in the cloud and on the premises—and to make critical adjustments quickly. AI for predicting and analyzing this data to make business as well as infrastructure adjustments is essential. With all this data moving through multiple end points, data protection is also the need of the hour.
No. 3, application performance and availability challenges depend on where your apps and data live. Storage often plays the most critical role in application performance. Storage technologies that allow for rationalizing your data and application infrastructure, move data between on-premises storage and cloud, and help ensure data availability across clouds. NetApp continues to invest in this space.
Sunit Sinha, MD, Strategy & Consulting, Talent & Organization, Accenture in India, said that leaders must take into account three areas: physical, mental, and relational needs of employees. In meeting the physical needs of employees, leaders empower the workforce to take responsibility for their health and well-being and work in a safe and secure environment. In terms of the mental needs, the organisations need to build and bolster psychological resilience amongst their employees. Relational needs enable the employees identify with the larger mission and purpose of their organisation, which gives them a sense of shared values and belonging.
Teams will need flexibility and permission to work differently. Consecutive hours of uninterrupted work may not be feasible, as many people deal with disrupted eldercare and childcare, difficulties in securing essential supplies at home, and potential healthcare issues. Managers have to evolve work rules for more flexibility, based on emotional intelligence and people’s individual needs. They need to encourage the adoption of digital workplace tools and practices and enable employees to migrate to new ways of working in a remote environment. This will result in employees having more control over their schedules and thereby, enhanced work-life balance.
Hiriyanna Kowshika, Partner and Head of India, Capco, said the access to remote communication tools such as Teams, Zoom or Skype means for many employees, their days remain as structured and busy as ever – if not more so! Pressures and tensions around work/life balance have not really disappeared. Employers should encourage their staff to establish and maintain clear boundaries, whether that involves making a dedicated work area within the home if possible or maintaining regular, contained working hours.
Ms. Sangeeta Gupta, Senior VP and Chief Strategy Officer, NASSCOM, observed that technology has given exposure to companies of all sizes across the industries. The world is witnessing a great transition, with legacy sectors and organisations being compelled to digitally transform overnight; schools are going online, meetings are taking place online.
Software has emerged as a growth catalyst. The online collaboration tools like Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Office365, and others are already seeing increased demand as companies increase their remote-working capabilities. It is forecasted to see a continuous growth in demand for cloud infrastructure services and potential increases in spending on specialized software. We are seeing a rise in digital epidemiology tools, chatbot helpers, EHR guidance tools and rapid response test kits.
Voice-powered health tech companies are going the extra mile in providing telemedicine and conversational applications in assisting patients globally. The banking sector has also urged citizens to stay safe and bank from home using iMobile/Internet banking for all essential banking services.
Ravindra Kelkar, Area VP, Indian Subcontinent, Citrix, noted that enabling employees to WFH using the applications and devices of their choice, while also maintaining the security of corporate systems and data, is no easy task. Leveraging tools like digital workspaces, collaborative technologies and dynamic application control and delivery management has allowed our employees to connect and get work done from wherever they are in a secure and reliable manner.
With the focus squarely on digital working or digiwork, Gerd Hoefner, Siemens Healthcare, said that as the curve flattens, many organizations will shift from questioning the digital future to adopting it seamlessly. The pandemic has made remote working an accepted norm. “We will analyze what we experienced during the lockdown, what went well, and what makes sense to be maintained as a part of our new way of working post Covid-19. Even in the new way of working, our people beliefs, and our commitment to inclusivity and diversity will not change. Also, ensuring the health and well-being of our employees will always remain a top priority for our organization.”
Shraddhanjali Rao, VP HR, SAP India, said Covid-19 situation has challenged us to re-imagine how we look at work and workplaces. This has been a wakeup call for all organizations across industries to shift mindset to not just adapt to the new normal, but also explore possibilities of new workplace realities and alternate talent pools. In addition to relooking at organisation structures to deliver greater speed, agility and adaptability, we should not lose our focus on equal opportunity and representation with inclusion across physical and virtual barriers.
Sriram TV, Head of HR, Robert Bosch Engineering and Business Solutions Pvt Ltd (RBEI), said, online social collaboration platforms are here to stay – Zoom, WhatsApp and a host of others. Online learning has also seen a shift – almost every week there are invites for 4-5 webinars, if not more. To augment online training sessions, next-gen remote working technologies like AR / VR would come into play to aid contactless training / maintain social distancing.
Regarding the future of decent digiwork, Harnath Babu, KPMG, said, with Covid-19, the workplace, is changing into a digital work environment. Some of the leading IT companies have already taken the leap by reportedly taking the decision to reduce the number of employees in the office to 25-30%. This will be one of the tipping points to drive digital transformation of the workplace, and we shall be moving our working lives online – which will be the new normal.
Gig work, which involves working as a freelancer or on short-term contracts, will also play a pivotal role in the future of work for the flexibility as well as cost benefits it offers. We will be focusing on a balanced approach wherein only the required employees visit office while the rest connect digitally. We shall, at the same time, focus on strengthening the security posture and ensuring business-critical and client confidential data remains completely safe and secure.
Ian Shearer, MD, APAC, Park Place Technologies, felt that the sudden switch to remote digital work, overnight and enmasse, is highly likely to accelerate changes in how work is performed and the way we think about working arrangements. Covid-19 may prove to be a tipping point for the digital transformation of the workplace. Many businesses may have had their eyes opened to the opportunities and benefits that remote digital working can offer to both the organization and its workers. While these may include greater flexibility for staff, it is the potential cost reductions which are likely to prove the biggest driver for companies, particularly in a more challenging economic environment moving forward.
Padmanabhan Iyer, MD and Global CEO, 3i Infotech, said that collaboration tools for video conferencing, e-meetings, VoIP, telephone bridges have become the norm today to facilitate remote working. “Our Business Continuity Plan had an allowance for 50% of our staff to work from home in an emergency. To scale to 100%, optimizing and testing with the right tools was the challenge, which was easy to overcome in less than a week. We have increased the Internet bandwidth across all the access points/servers to meet the additional load.”
Hiriyanna Kowshika, Capco, felt decent digiwork should be built around methodologies such as Agile and Design Thinking that look to simplify and accelerate the iteration and delivery processes within organisations. New ways of working can improve the dynamism and effectiveness of teams. It will help them to deliver products and services that are more personalised, flexible and impactful for their customers.
The challenge will be to manage and mitigate the potential downsides of a virtual work environment: over-work, stress, isolation, a loss of focus and engagement. Companies will need to rethink how they enable and empower their employees in a distributed work environment. They need to provide right tools and technologies, ensure clear lines of sight and aligned decision-making across teams, and implementing blended working patterns.
Nitin Kulkarni, COO at Harbinger Group, said they are using some of the latest technologies to facilitate digital work. Zoom and MS Teams are being used actively for collaboration. The enterprise processes are automated via cloud-based systems. The operational processes were already digitized. In most cases, the existing processes have been digitized. The future will be about reimagining these processes to take advantage of the technology. For example, almost every organization has some system to help them do performance management.
In future, technology can help take performance management to the next level by enabling the employee on a real-time basis to track her performance, suggest improvement areas and strategies based on personalized data, etc. We plan to re-imagine quite a few of our internal processes, and bring in data science and personalization to make every process extremely employee-centric.
Ms. Sangeeta Gupta, NASSCOM, said as we start adapting to these new business conditions, digital transformation is demonstrating its value and its impact on the very ecology of business in these tough times. Now, with various types of communication software, it has become easy to work remotely from any corner of the world.
Businesses will need to give up the textbook approach as the situation currently is very dynamic and things that were relevant before may not be going forward. We need to adopt newer models, wherein, we can continue business processes smoothly whether working from office or from home.
Ravi Chhabria, Netapp, added as this way of ‘digiwork’ becomes more prevalent, it is shaping the future of work. Commuting and urbanization are two birds killed with the one stone that is work from home, but there is more. We think technology will shape and drive this, but really it is all about the people. In India we often live in large multi-generational families, with our elders and our kids.
AI and ML to the fore
According to Ian Shearer, Park Place, a major thrust of our business has been the automation of the services and the enhancement of the digital and self-services capabilities available to our customers. Our best of breed, multi-vendor monitoring product ParkView combines AI and ML to deliver both reactive and predictive remote fault detection and automatic ticket generation to ensure more accurate (97% first time fix rate) and faster (31% quicker mean time to repair) resolution, minimizing potential downtime. This, combined with our portal and mobile app provides customers with a single pain of glass view of the health of their whole IT infrastructure (Compute, Storage and Network) along with the ability to receive real time updates on the progress of service incidents, no matter where they are working from.
In the next phase, Park Place is launching a new ParkViewmonitoring service focused on monitoring OSs and Virtual OS environments (VMs). This is a service our customers having been requesting for years and we expect that it will add more revenue opportunities and value to our customers. We are looking to launch a discovery solution that will enable our customers to remotely locate all of their devices and get a real-time inventory of the IT estate.
Sriram TV, RBEI, recommended a disaster recovery plan for the MSMEs and SMEs. He also advised conducting regular WFH / disaster drills, to check how well-equipped we are to handle such calamities in the future. There were suggestions to curtail costs, rethink on the HR policies and revisit the employee wellness strategies.
Marshal Correia, Red Hat, said as organizations across the globe are trying to adapt to new ways of working and trying to define the new normal, they are presented with different challenges. While some are focused on adopting a virtual-first footing, there are some who are struggling with improving efficiency and productivity of their developers then there are some who are trying to push the boundaries of scaling to make remote workforce productive. Organizations who have been embracing agile working like DevOps with infrastructure built on hybrid cloud, mobility for their digital transformation are better prepared to operate effectively during the pandemic.
Shraddhanjali Rao, SAP, India, noted that they have never been so digital in our ‘working’ than we are at this very moment! Technology has already transformed businesses, workplaces and operations to go digital –from HR processes to consumer experiences and beyond.
Gerd Hoefner, Siemens Healthcare, felt that the pandemic has highlighted the need to embrace digitalization. Regarding latest technologies, the acceptance of remote working will increase, which will put the higher demand in ensuring the resilience of systems, with respect to cybersecurity. Current set of collaboration and communication tools, which allow video calls, instant messaging, shared repositories, and communities, have worked well. We will see greater use of such platforms.
The recent crisis has tested a lot of technologies at scale. There have been new technologies created. With that, there may be more opportunities for us to work differently. The new normal may not have everybody in office. We are also interacting with clients differently. There has lot of comfort that has come through as well. A lot of new dimensions have opened up.
The future of how we are working and will work, looks quite interesting. There will be remote collaborative platforms, maybe, more of BCP, and not about one site and one city, much more focus on digital business and decent digiwork, along with the transformational impact of AI/ML.