The Covid situation has popped up as an unprecedented challenge for humankind as different sectors, communities, and individuals look to mitigate the risks associated with it at each level. The impact is felt everywhere, right from the global markets and ways of working, to human interactions and even the way we spend our leisure time. The situation has forced all the sectors into a new era whether it’s how to service their clients, how to manage the minimally functional supply chains, how to minimize the effect of Covid spread through sanitization, storage, lockdowns, inventory, and digital channels, and how to keep their workforce engaged and operational in general.
ICT has emerged as one of the key sectors that is helping navigate this situation. At the same time, it is one of the key sectors affected in terms of spending. The digital channels are emerging as one of the key aspects and positives from the current Covid situation wherein employees, people, friends, and family are all utilizing digital solutions to the fullest, sometimes finding new ways of using them as well in their respective roles. HCL, for instance, is supporting all its clients in a near 100% remote model now. IT services are fast becoming the backbone for almost all the organizations. Huge capacity requirements and ramp-ups are expected in sectors like Telecom and Media, as more and more organizations struggle to remain functional with large parts of their employee-base performing WFH, or people spending most of their time on digital channel engagement. A large part of retail fulfilment or E&U engagement for instance, is now scaling up through the digital channels that are expected to continue in the long run, as more people switch to cashless and virtual ways, this time by force. This is also evident from the fact that IT has been categorized as ‘Essential Service’ by almost all governments across the globe.
There is no denying of the fact that sectors will undergo a negative impact on their overall revenues, sales, supply chain, and operations before they can bounce back from this new normal. Retail for instance, with the closure of stores, minimal human touch/contact, and disruption in supply chain is reeling under the pressure. Similarly, the manufacturing sector is looking at limited raw material input, high inventory costs in some areas, and limited/cautious spending. A long-term impact of these are particularly expected on the BFSI, Oil & Gas, and TTL sectors as the demand supply circle gets broken at various junctures. There are few sectors however, that are emerging as the silver lining with telecom, media, entertainment, heath care, pharma, and life sciences looking to remain positive as the dependency and need on them grows over time.
Organizations are therefore expected to re-calibrate their tech strategies as they see through this pandemic. The level and capability of support, spending, and effort required by the different organizations/ sectors will be inversely proportional to the digital maturity that they would have achieved over time. A look at HCL’s Digital Infra maturity model would tell that organizations who had invested in more self-service, automation, and software defined digital solutions will be able to adapt more quickly to such situations via ICT initiatives, as against some of the others. In general, more innovative, long-term projects are expected to give way to more critical operations management, compliance, operational efficiency, and reporting activities in the short run. Long-term re-bounce will also depend upon how some of these sectors/organizations look at absorbing the stimulus packages and how they craft their long-term digital strategy to handle an unexpected situation like this.
Some guidance on how the organizations can navigate through these tough times and have ICT support and digital maturity to make this pandemic crisis more bearable, as well as plan for future.
Short term plans for the next 3-5 months could include:
- Solutions where customer experience or proximity is required, or a revenue shift is expected, should take the front seat. For instance, digital solutions for customer engagement in retail, telco, and healthcare sectors will have more focus as the load on IT systems for these services is expected to remain high for the course of this pandemic and sometime after that
- Focus should be on security solutions for the digital space that can scale really well as scamsters and hackers will see this as an opportunity to be minted as more and more first timers on different platforms are expected
- Mobile devices are fast becoming the epicenter of such engagement and hence enabling the uninterrupted mobile experience for some of the customer facing sectors becomes more important than ever
- More cloud services consumption is expected as organizations look to be more agile as well as consider cost optimization initiatives due to the global scenario
- Virtual/new/enhanced revenue streams can be expected through more customer data churn via AI/ML models, to make sure consumers are engaged at all times
- WFH processes should be more robust as more and more H2H activities are moved to the digital solutions space
Long term initiatives could span 6-12 months and will be used to absorb the larger impact:
- Cost optimization initiatives via utility models or resource optimizations
- Resource re-skilling and re-deployment strategies as workforce from one function goes idle and the other becomes over-loaded (ex: some of the store employees can act as L2 functional support for digital channels)
- Widening of the customer base and looking at new partnerships (ex: Uber with retail manufacturers directly to minimize the last mile delivery hassles) via tech start-ups or giants
- Devising of new ways of working (remote) and their pricing models, and devising of a catalogue of services so the effect can be minimized. This can however happen if organizations are open and take their service providers into confidence
- Automation Everywhere initiatives to cut on the human dependency and error
- Investment in AI/ML models to make sure demand in such scenarios can be predicted
- Remote working procedures- currently, a lot of companies were caught unaware and implemented this in a haste but this would also mean security, process, or compliance issues at a later stage
- Validated architectures and blueprint-based approach to make sure deployment time for mission critical systems is cut short and organizations remain functional
- More software defined infra investments specially in the network space
- BCP plans to make sure revenue shifts are considered instead of just being operational processes
Most of the guidance can be applied to multiple sectors in their own form. For instance, retail can look at tech start-ups to provide with AR/VR based technology at a faster pace, to enable customers try out clothes virtually and order online. That would ensure at least one channel of consistent revenue for them or enhanced in many cases. ICT services are also helping researchers and scientists around the globe to fight this pandemic via supercomputing power and projects and ML-led models for vaccine and cure search, and paving way for more and more tele-medicine related activities as human contact and touch becomes scarce for now.
Lastly, ICT support itself will continue to evolve in terms of solutions and processes, and according to the renewed needs of the organizations and customers. As we support our customers via ICT services, let’s make sure we are humble, considerate, and dutiful towards their needs, their customers, and in turn, all of us.