There is no denying that COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the world. It has changed how we interact, how we live, how we travel, and how we work and communicate. Every aspect of our lives has been affected.
Governments across the world have put strong measures in place to halt the spread of the pandemic. Specific measures, such as lockdowns and shelter-in-place guidelines have shown promise in blunting the spread. However, they have also created challenges for CIOs in managing the implications of the crisis and supporting their organizations.
There are many actions CIOs must take in their response to the pandemic. Actions including supporting a workforce currently working from home and battling potential cyberattacks. Aside from this, they also need to consider whether to manage their outsourced services to maintain business continuity or to manage IT costs better in anticipation of challenging economic times.
The Philippines, which is home to more than 1.1 million call-center workers, instituted a 47-day lockdown. Similarly, India, with an estimated 3.1 million call-center workers, instituted a 40-day lockdown. Because of these measures, companies in these countries were forced to react quickly. Outsourcing providers placed significant volumes of orders for new laptops, while also adopting other tactical solutions. These included shipping desktops to their employees’ homes.
Demands on many outsourcing providers have also increased at the same time. To manage the increased demand for broadband packages as more people work from home, a media company had to hire 500 people to manage the sharp rise in call waiting times.
There is no denying that the outsourcing industry has been integral to the crisis response for many companies across all sectors. As an example, one CIO faced challenges with call-center support with the lockdown in the Philippines. With no disruption to service or quality, their service provider moved more than 50% of the call-center volumes to India – all in a matter of days. This would not have been possible should the business have had to rely on their own internal operations.
With the scale and prevalence of outsourcing in so many industries, CIOs must now work with their outsourcing providers to manage immediate issues. They want to position their businesses well for emerging implications in the long-term.
There are two areas on which we believe CIOs should focus their energies in this time:
- Resolving any immediate issues
- Building resilience for ongoing effects.
Resolve Any Immediate Issues
First and foremost, COVID-19 is a human tragedy, and now is the time to take care of your team – including your outsourced team. Like other companies, outsourcing providers are focussed on trying to remain healthy and taking care of their loved ones whilst doing their jobs effectively. Despite the stressful and difficult conditions. This requires flexibility and empathy from CIOs.
- Ask your outsourcing providers how they are supporting their employees’ well-being during lockdown.
- Work with your outsourcing providers to develop guidelines for the health of on-site employees. This can include dividing the workspace into smaller zones.
- Ask your outsourcing providers to offer appropriate mental-health support for their employees. And, if possible, find a way to supplement that support.
The lockdown and remote-working model are putting unprecedented strain on the infrastructure of every outsourcing provider. Smaller, more nimble outsourcing providers may have given employees the necessary equipment for working at scale. However, internet service providers in areas that are heavily affected by the pandemic are experiencing service degradation. This is due to capacity overload or lack of robust infrastructure. This could compromise employees’ productivity.
There is also the possibility that a provider employee with critical knowledge of your company’s security, process, systems, and infrastructure, could fall sick. With no backup, your business continuity and technological ecosystem could be at risk.
While many CIOs have taken immediate steps with regards to COVID-19, deeper integration with outsourcing providers on crisis-response actions should be considered.
Make sure that employees providing critical services can work effectively remotely.
Though many outsourcing providers have enabled their staff to work from home, CIOs must track their productivity and their ability to work in real-time. Ensure that outsourcing providers scale up key enablers, including:
- Work protocols, such roles and responsibilities, decision rights and issue management
- Processes such as communications and workflow
- Technology, such as VPN, collaboration tools, network bandwidth, video conferences, and security
- People management, such as health tracking and support.
Try to establish a daily crisis-response call with your outsourcing providers until the new working model proves itself.
Plan for any possible capacity rebalancing needs with your outsourcing provider.
Productivity in infrastructure support has been expected to drop by as much as 50%, thanks to a lack of remote infrastructure availability. Work with your provider to understand their current capacity, and to plan for the possible impact of productivity decline.
Design rebalancing plans between outsourcing providers and/or locations. Encourage your outsourcing providers to give you early enough warning about any impacted services or resources.
Safeguard the continuity of outsourced critical hardware and infrastructure services.
Have a detailed day-by-day plan with your outsourcing providers to track, monitor, and address any developments with critical servers, data centers, and network support. This plan should account for both reduced productivity of client and provider employees. It should also look at increased network usage and reduced productivity of both client and provider employees.
Ensure any BPOs, call centers, and help desks are ready for increased volume and any crisis-related customer questions.
Many support services have seen surges in calls, even as their capacity is under pressure. CIOs should share any weekly workload forecasts and identify possible options for addressing potential surge capacity. CIOs should also work proactively to identify and address any emerging FAQs.
Build Resilience for Ongoing COVID-19 Effects
Once any critical needs have been addressed, CIOs should work with their outsourcing providers to prepare for what may come next. Proactivity is key for addressing the likely ongoing effects of the pandemic. This might include planning for possible capacity reductions, dealing with issues surrounding remote work, or developing approaches for addressing emerging needs.
Build real-time crisis-monitoring dashboards.
Work with your provider to build real-time dashboards for tracking necessary metrics. These include service levels, status, capacity, and risk areas.
Assess back-up capacity for critical subject-matter experts.
Identify any critical subject-matter expert roles with your outsourcing providers and build backup plans. This should include documentation and knowledge transition, to back up resources. Assess the possibility of outsourcing providers using or sharing capacity across locations or services in case of shortages.
Reallocate resources to critical projects.
Work with your business partners and outsourcing providers to identify and prioritize technology solutions that are critical for business. There may be common industry solutions that your provider could be able to make you aware of. Consider reallocating any resources from non-priority projects.
As businesses come to terms with the human toll of the pandemic, they will also need to work closely with their outsourcing providers. So as to understand the financial implications, as well as find solutions that could benefit both parties.
Work with your outsourcing providers to improve your financial resilience.
Work with your outsourcing providers to assess how they could help your business to weather the current crisis. This could mean pushing out payments, adjusting the mix of labour in locations, or implementing lean transformations. Understand the needs of each party, and plan any financial arrangements accordingly.
For example, one organisation changed the spend mix with its provider from capital expenditures to operating expenditures. This provided immediate cash benefits to the provider in return for favorable in-year credits. These credits were redeemable at the end of the year or within the following year. Explore any options available for cutting discretionary spending from contracts – even minor spending such as expense-line items and travel.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for strong partnerships with outsourcing providers. And the need for critical technology resilience. The effects of the pandemic may yet continue to shape the industry for years to come. For example, business continuity planning may come to be defined by how effectively a provider could shift workloads across geographies.
Becoming comfortable with remote working could also provide CIOs with the opportunity to accelerate the shift to new operating models. With the ability to work with talent in any location, teams could be empowered to work without in-person face time. They could build support models with the flexibility to ramp up and down quickly across locations, or institutionalize agile methodologies for distributed or remote work at scale. In some cases, working with outsourcing providers offers the capability to accelerate important transformational programs.
Whatever the path, CIOs must work with their outsourcing providers to not only manage the current crisis but to power business forward.
Whether you need to expand your workforce or assess your costs, our BPO services can help you to navigate this pandemic.