The COVID-19 pandemic is first and foremost a human crisis, but there will also be a very substantial negative impact on the economy, and businesses for the foreseeable future.

From schools shutting down to a ban on public gatherings of more than 2 people, no sporting events taking place, and closures of schools, zoos, retail outlets, cinemas, bars and gyms the very fabric of what makes us socialise as people is being tested.

The impact being felt in industries such as  travel, tourism, hospitality, entertainment, events, and construction will last for years.  Not to mention other sectors such as charities that have been severely impacted during this pandemic, there are few sectors not impacted and the loss of jobs is already becoming apparent.

During this crisis, many companies have been forced to review their polices and allow people to work remotely wherever possible. Of course, this brings with it its own set of challenges as people need to show self-discipline and avoid the distractions that working from home does bring. The UK is a very social country and this freedom is being challenge and will be very hard for some people to adjust.

Inadequate business continuity

Even though the shutdown is only a few weeks old, it has shown that the business continuity plans of companies do not reflect the requirements for a complete BCP required under the current circumstances. Granted, very few organisations around the world could have prepared this particular eventuality to come into play. But the situation must now create an awareness that more must be done to ensure operations continue as close to normal as possible.

Social distancing is the new norm, and the countries infrastructure itself and the services we use to operate remotely must also look at there own adequacies in the continual push for staff to work from home, albeit for environmental and health benefits.   Too many rural areas do not have adequate connectivity: I myself live off a main road and connectivity has been appalling during this time. It has been an early experiment for home working on a grand scale that needs further investment to become reality. This pandemic has been an early experiment for home working on a grand scale and it has become clear that we need further investment for this to become a reality.

It is imperative that businesses try to mitigate some of these risks by embracing the age of digital engagement. Employees need to have access to the tools necessary to work remotely.

In the contact centre industry especially it is not enough for the worker to have access to a telephone or communications platform as these things need to be done securely and in a compliant fashion. PCI-DSS compliance from home has simply not been achievable for certain sectors such as collections, utility or banking industries.  The technologies are there and available but the investment and implementation needs to be made now, rather than delayed and moved into new fiscal years, only to be forgotten about until the next crisis. (whereas these projects are usually delayed and moved in to new fiscal years).  (This can not be the case) Now is the time to act, traditional “on-site” security which is easier to implement does not account for remote access and businesses are now facing the tough choice of leaving gaping holes in their data security or winding down operations. These industries are realising that if payments can’t be made, even in large organisations, cash flows are affected and can have significant impact on the business. These extra tools required have not been accurately assessed or tested in BCP plans by businesses and this is the wakeup call that all tools need to be encompassed in these plans.

Opportunities for change, Opportunities to improve

Businesses must therefore consider the three key aspects for change and how to increase the companies digital footprint for future eventualities.

  • Security
  • Connectivity
  • Cloud

 Security

To often large organisations ensure security by protecting the edge of the network, well, that edge has just expanded drastically and doesn’t reside just in the protected connected office space. . But how to we encompass home user devices, if you connect them to the companies network then all devices on that network can become part of the companies security policies. Embracing cloud is the only solution to this aspect of remote security, moving away from traditional on-site mentality to hosted cloud solutions or infrastructure.

Connectivity

Users consumption of data has increased exponentially of the years, users now need to be able to transfer large files easily, make video conferences, not just one at a time when there is more than one person working from an household.  Access and connectivity must be geared to support that, not just on download but upload speeds which is often ignored.  Technologies such as 5G might help with this, but then capacity at bay stations may be a bottleneck, ultimately the core fibre infrastructure in the country needs to be able to cope.

 Cloud

A combination of the two above but embracing cloud platforms will already significantly reduce the scope for security with remote working. Unless on net is required, secured cloud platforms that already have the accredited and carry out penetration tests, encrypt data in transit and so on, already cater for the security concerns of remote working.

The Wake up call

Its easy to state the issues in hindsight, but BCP and DR plans need to ensure they are just that.  All too often technical departments can take the easy approach and test what is less of a hindrance to them.  As a director with a technical background, technical staff should be held accountable, they should be raising the concerns and the business should be made aware of them.

Companies can no longer ignore their DR/BCP plans, effective test strategies are needed, and must be carried out regularly.  Projects must not be kicked down the road and ageing technology stacks must be upgraded, new platforms implemented, and a road map put in place to account for what is inevitably coming, the work from home culture.

Otherwise we are in a short race that will show the survival of the fittest in business and it’s not a race you want to lose.

For now, I hope everyone does the best they can, once we are out of this, I implore companies take the opportunity to learn, review and improve. We will be stronger for it!