When military strategist John Boyd came up with the OODA loop for organisations to win past any uncertain or chaotic scenario, he certainly wouldn’t have imagined a pandemic of this order. For most organisations and businesses, the four steps of decision-making—Observe, Orient, Decide, Act—had to be made in a narrow window of no more than days. While the outbreak has had the markets and our lives going through unprecedented changes, the Indian IT and BPM industry continues to take on the challenges with sound leadership, resilience, and long-term continuity strategies.

Keeping the lights on while keeping safe

One of the biggest challenges faced by the industry was to keep operations running smoothly while ensuring the safety of a workforce of over 4 million. The IT-BPM industry powers critical services such as healthcare, finance, and telecom—most of which are significantly difficult to process outside a highly secure work environment. Foreseeing the impact of the outbreak and at the same time, keeping employee safety at the heart of the survival strategy, the industry, very early on, pushed for the relaxation of DoT norms to ease “Work from Home” (WFH) operations.

The industry executed this transition with the government’s immense and timely support,   and the ability of its technology and operations teams to handle such a big move within hours to days.  Most companies have been able to successfully rationalise WFH—a logistical nightmare in itself, and maintain a sustainable operating environment without compromising on data security. The synergy between the government and the industry has been clinical, with some states like Karnataka and Maharashtra granting data centres ‘special status’, a lean workforce could also go to office for a brief period to access essential databases.

Safeguarding industry and stakeholder interests

The biggest test of resilience is always during a crisis! The technology sector has stood the test by being agile and efficient in invoking immediate and extraordinary action to manage the workforce, maintain operational and supply chain certainty, protect revenues, and safeguard the interest of its multiple stakeholders.

Transparency around risk and risk mitigation strategies have been critical, with many organisations bringing together response teams to take ownership of planning, decision-making and designing differentiated solutions amid the uncertainty. Many in the industry have safeguarded client interests by tweaking end-point strategies and working through regulatory constraints.

It is heartening to see that most industry players have been running processes to the extent possible and ensuring that the industry is maintaining its core purpose and integrity in the face of this calamity.

Fostering innovative solutions

What we have seen this burgeoning crisis trigger is an evolved sense of corporate social innovation throughout the industry. Industry players are coming together to co-create robust strategies and foster solutions to manage this catastrophe. Take for example the task force created by Nasscom and having companies like AWS, Intel, Accenture, Infosys, Fractal Analytics, Tech Mahindra, WNS, etc, which is working in areas of containment, tracking, testing, and recovery. The industry is bringing together solution-makers on one platform and proactively coordinating with the government to push for larger and sustainable solutions.

The IT Industry is strategically backing and investing in startups and SMEs that are working towards coming up with time-sensitive solutions such as ventilators and testing kits.

SMEs are the lifeblood of the country and along with IT-BPM need quick and smart support to ensure sustenance, as well as growth, once the lockdown and Covid-19 are history. Specific recommendations have been made to the government to support the industry during this time, so jobs are not adversely impacted and the industry roars back in good time.

Re-imagining the future

The crisis has forced businesses to re-imagine the future post the pandemic. Businesses are re-assessing entire business systems to plan for contingent actions over the long haul:

· Shouldn’t 50% of our workforce WFH in normal times too? DoT and SEZ norms to change.

· Will power companies and telcos create new offerings to enable WFH forever?

· How will BPM companies make up for the loss in seat utilisation ratio as each computer operates a single shift from home?

· New risk management and cybersecurity practices to enable new ways of working.

Such times of turbulence are almost always times of radical transformation. It becomes imperative for organisations, businesses as well as individuals to frame this catastrophe not just in terms of what is lost but what might be gained.  This gives us a chance as an industry to re-invent ourselves and make the most of better insight and foresight.  Maybe it is time to change the rules of the game.

Tata Sons chairman N. Chandrasekaran is his book Bridgital Nation talks about a huge untapped workforce that can be mainstreamed with the help of technology. New models will emerge and we have an opportunity to leverage the learnings from this crisis into the next big opportunity.

We will have to re-align our ways to changed preferences and expectations of the consumer, the government and our stakeholders, in the post-Covid era.  A restructuring of order in which organisations have traditionally operated is underway and we will emerge from this stronger, more resilient to shocks, better prepared and be able to better deliver to our consumers.

Views are personal.

The author is Group CEO, WNS Global Services, and former chairman of Nasscom. Views are personal.

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