The Novel Coronavirus pandemic has tested the adaptability and resilience of business and society in an unprecedented way, forcing us to move from our typical workplaces to delivering high-quality services remotely within just a few weeks.
As the world starts to gradually emerge from the lockdowns imposed by governments, a key question is what the long-term impact will be on how we do business.
Every year, the Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) Innovation Forum events bring together more than a thousand senior business leaders in North America, the UK, Europe, Latin America and Japan, focusing on setting the innovation, research and technology agenda for the year.
Throughout this crisis, technology has kept us connected, has kept businesses running. This year’s event was no different, adapting to the current circumstances by becoming global and virtual.
A distinguished panel, comprising different industries across continents, joined the forum in a discussion hosted by K Ananth Krishnan, Executive Vice-president and Chief Technology Officer, TCS, entitled ‘A New Beginning – Purpose-driven, Resilient, Adaptable with Business 4.0™’.
The panel focused on how the events of the past few months have accelerated the use of technology to enhance business’ adaptability and resilience, and the long-term repercussions of this development.
Adaptability and Resilience
For panelist Chris Moyer, IT Vice-president and CTO at US energy and utility provider Exelon Corporation, it was about keeping businesses and public infrastructure up and running.
“Over 10 million people rely on Exelon, and in that group, you've also got hospitals and public services in addition to families. So, the last eight to 10 weeks have been focused on making sure that all our employees can serve those customers whether working in their normal work locations, which many have to, or those who started working 100% remotely very quickly.”
At airline JetBlue, the focus has shifted to retaining customer trust, according to Eash Sundaram, Executive Vice-president and Chief Digital and Technology Officer, JetBlue Airways. Business models were adapted rapidly and trust-building innovations – contactless travel and self-service – were fast-tracked after the pandemic struck.
At Lloyds Banking Group in the UK, one of the challenges was to deliver entirely new services customers suddenly needed overnight.
“There's been a need to react really quickly, to incubate and deliver functionality to customers in a very short timeframe. For example, we've granted nearly a million payment holidays across our loan products,” explained panelist Sara Milne, Chief Technology Office – Skills and Community Lead at Lloyds.
However, there was more to this than updating technology and adapting products.
Lloyds, for example, wanted to ensure that customers did not get left behind. It has worked with charities to help empower those less confident with using technology to get online, not only to access online banking but also to ensure that they weren’t isolated socially during lockdown.
Looking at these developments, the panel highlighted that businesses are unlikely to ever – fully – go back to the pre-COVID-19 status quo. Now that new ways of working have passed the litmus test, their use will expand rather than retract.
What will this ‘new normal’ look like?
“I think it's about collaboration and exploring digital ways of working,” observed Ajit Dhaliwal, Global IT Platforms Director at insurance provider Aviva. “Those small invaluable face-to-face conversations that used to happen in the corridor, those interactions, they don't happen now. For people who may not be technology natives, there's going to be a period of adaptation and getting used to this.”
This will be critical because digitalization and automation will now expand even more strongly.
“A crisis like this drives business change and eliminates some of the normal barriers to change,” Chris Moyer from Exelon told the TCS Innovation Forum. “I've seen new beginnings that really start to take advantage of technology to better support the business changes that we want to make.”
At Lloyds, this technology-enabled flexibility is also a key focus. Jointly with TCS, Sara Milne runs regular hackathons to promote this: “It builds confidence in our engineers to be more experimental in their ways of working, build a better knowledge of new technologies and it really leaves a lasting impression of what can be achieved when we collaborate and embrace DevOps principles.”
Eash Sundaram of JetBlue underlined that the fluctuation the airline market is likely to experience for some time to come will drive the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning; for example, to survey and predict customer demand. “If I said AI and machine learning was important six months ago, it’s now probably the most important thing that we have in our toolbox.”
For many businesses, reinventing themselves in the light of the Novel Coronavirus has also reinforced their organizational purpose and their commitment to their communities.
Aviva’s Ajit Dhaliwal stresses the opportunity to place a greater focus on people, culture and well-being. Aviva’s commitment to empowering staff with new digital skill sets is as much an example of this as Lloyds’ digital training programs for customers. Beyond staff and customers, Chris Moyer of Exelon also highlights the growing importance of companies’ partner ecosystem in driving organizational purpose forward.
“Companies that are driven by strong purpose and build resilience into their fabric will be able to adapt to the future,” TCS’ K Ananth Krishnan concluded while closing the panel, “The immediate crisis has helped us to define the blueprint for the future transformation journey.”