8 June, 2020 | Written by: Bill Kelleher
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How British Business Can Re-think for a Brave New Pandemic-Informed World
Some are calling it the ‘new normal’ – but there is nothing normal about it. COVID-19 has permanently changed the way we live and work. Whilst lockdown restrictions are gradually easing in our capital and across the UK, the need to address the implications of the pandemic remains. As the news agenda switches gears with talk of restarting the economy, we must accept that – whilst the circumstances are challenging – the decisions we take today will define the future. There’s no question that this is less of a restart, but more of a ‘re-think’ for a post-lockdown world.
As the tech and business communities come together for #LTWConnects on what would have been London Tech Week, our eyes are firmly fixed on tomorrow. So, what do London’s businesses need to do to make a long-term success of the return to work, and which technology trends will be front and centre of the recovery?
It’s one thing to have the technological capabilities to support remote working, but building an empowered remote workforce goes beyond providing network-access tools and group-meeting software. Empowerment means ensuring employees have the skills, tools and support they need to excel wherever they are based. There is also a cultural challenge to overcome, with leaders required to build trust, flexibility and resilience into an adaptable culture. Some organisations have turned to chatbots with great success; Siemens enabled an AI chatbot for its HR function called Carl that was answering one million employee queries a month.
Turning to customer communications, the surge in enquiries triggered by the pandemic has led many businesses to invest in virtual assistants to field rapid responses. As the UK entered lockdown, TSB saw an urgent need to give customers immediate access to the measures the bank had introduced during the pandemic, so it launched a new Smart Agent function on its website. This gave customers the chance to ‘chat’ live online with TSB staff for the very first time. And now, as face-to-face interactions are being re-established across many businesses, sales and service practices have been indelibly altered. So how can organisations best equip themselves to engage customers virtually? Post-pandemic, we expect to see more companies exploring next-generation contact centres ‘as- a-service’, adopting messaging versus voice as a scalable, lower-cost channel. Coupled with new AI-enabled business models it will deliver integrated real-time personalised experiences and greater customer satisfaction.
Another key priority for organisations is ensuring reliable access to data centres. Infrastructure requires optimisation to support shifts in utilisation. Some operations have added ‘burst capacity’ to cope with surges in demand. Others are fast-tracking the migration of applications to the cloud to guarantee consistent access. The prospect of area-specific lockdowns or quarantine also prioritises the distribution of critical applications and data to varied access points and locations. Physical access can no longer be taken for granted and should be a consideration for any data-dependant business.
In this post-pandemic world, most enterprises now understand that the cloud can deliver a rapid acceleration in agility and efficiency. Organisations across Europe are speeding-up digital transformation initiatives to realise the benefits of cloud-native capabilities. Government agencies have used it to scale the provision of social services. Once on this journey it opens the door to other transformative technologies such as AI and automation that can deliver even greater efficiency. This shift towards digital services also has the knock-on effect of reducing the dependence on travel and physical presence, relieving some of the burden from both employees and business operations.
The radical shifts engendered by the coronavirus have of course fallen particularly hard on health providers and government services. The crisis has put them in urgent need of the added agility that technology provides. As the country comes out of lockdown people are adjusting to a different way of living which includes a growing expectation for instant and remote access to trusted healthcare information. To help answer the flood of information requests and reduce the overload on NHS call centres we have seen a rise in the healthcare industry augmenting its human contact-centre agents with virtual agent technology, a form of artificial intelligence that answers some customer inquiries without human intervention. With common questions answered more quickly through automation and AI, human agents are freer to engage in areas that are more complex or require a personal, empathetic touch.
A great example is Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board which is set to launch an English and Welsh speaking virtual assistant to support healthcare workers, patients and the general public in Wales who need information or have questions on the prevention and management of the virus post lockdown.
Change on this scale exposes organisations to several potential vulnerabilities, including the threat of cyber attack. IBM has identified over 50 different types of threat campaigns related to the pandemic – an issue exacerbated by the shift to remote working. As a result, it’s critical that organisations urgently enhance their cybersecurity capabilities. This demands a holistic approach to strategy and risk, threat management and digital trust. Organisations supported by trusted cybersecurity vendors operating as true partners, not just suppliers, will find they fare better than their competitors.
The crisis has likewise driven home the need for enhanced supply chain resiliency. As we go forward, organisations will increasingly need real-time insights. This means using sensors and external data sources to provide hyperlocal visibility of inventory fluctuations and logistics constraints. Using AI, it is possible to correlate real-time COVID-19 data with supply chain locations, which is proving incredibly valuable for organisations as they try to predict disruptions.
Laura Citron, CEO, London & Partners: “We have been inspired by the resilience and creativity of Londoners and London’s businesses at this challenging time. London’s tech community has been quick to rise to the challenge and there are many examples of businesses collaborating and innovating to tackle the effects of coronavirus. Technology is playing a fundamental role in driving innovation and helping provide solutions. London Tech Week Connects is taking place at a time when that role is more important than ever; connecting London’s world-leading tech ecosystem to the rest of the world when physical connectivity is not possible. With a great programme of virtual events, covering everything from cyber security to artificial intelligence, we will address the most pressing topics facing the sector right now and highlight businesses that are driving positive change.”
As we continue to make our way through a myriad of unknowns, the one thing which is clear is that, by adjusting quickly, investing in the right technology and partnering with trusted suppliers, organisations can build their resiliency for what the future has in store. As a city, London has always rebounded from adversity, each time emerging stronger and smarter than before. This week we will hear many inspiring accounts of pragmatism and accelerated innovation from organisations of all types. IBM is proud to be working with many of these and I look forward working with them to ‘re-think’ for the road ahead.