Covid-19 shows companies the sad truth in 74 days about their Digital Maturity

With the Covid-19 pandemic the whole business world has found itself in a challenge, which they thought were ready for and sadly they have failed. Let’s see how and why!

I would like to begin this post by sharing my condolences to all who lost their loved ones during the Covid-19 outbreak throughout the world and also wish a quick recovery for the ones going through it.

Illustration of the ultrastructure of the Covid-19 virus
CDC/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

To understand what, how and why went wrong we need to look at the history.

Timeline

The first occurence of Corona Virus (Covid-19) in Wuhan District of China late December 2019 and spread quickly within China. China has responded very quickly and isolated the ground zero and also notified December 31st WHO about the outbreak and therefore the whole world were made aware of the outbreak.

On January 11th China has reported the first death of the virus and therefore the world were informed that this outbreak was lethal.

On January 13th first case was reported outside of China in Thailand and soon after followed by Japan, United States, Nepal, France, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam and Taiwan.

WHO shared on January 23th that the outbreak did not yet constitute a public emergency of international concern and there was “no evidence” of the virus spreading between humans outside of China.

Just one week later on  January 30, the WHO declared coronavirus a global emergency as the death toll in China jumped to 170, with 7,711 cases reported in the country, where the virus had spread to all 31 provinces.

Just after 12 Days WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic on March 11th.

Sadly soon after this announcement the Covid-19 spread across the globe and until today it’s still on-going. While China has announced on March 14th that the last emergency hospital was closed and medical workers were sent home.

When you look at the timeline; it took China 74 Days to gain control of the outbreak.

What companies did in 74 Days meanwhile?

Well mostly all the non-Chinese companies, disregarded this case until until mid February, the business was on-going as usual. By late February companies began to quarantine the travelling individuals for 14 days, but the kept the rest of the business as it’s.

On the other hand I was informed by first hand by a Chinese Companies Country Manager, that they are quarantining employees since January 30th.

Through my engagements I’ve observed that no other company in the country had any cautions nor interest doing so.

Simply put, they did nothing!

Outbreak at their Door!

As of now I’m composing this post it has been nine days since WHO declared it as world wide pandemic.

On the first day of WHO’s pandemic announcement, I’ve engaged my many contacts at various global companies and asked them, what measures were taken. Interestingly the answer was all the same. “Whoever had an international travel should go home and should stay home for 14 days in quarantine.” All other employees had to work as business usual.

Well after a few days after companies introduced new measurements by identifying individuals within the company as “Business Critical” and obligated them to work from home and the others were “expendable” in their view and kept working business as usual.

This “Business Critical Individuals” approach definitely hurts my humanistic values and that the companies are so relentless on sorting out human beings in this way is unacceptable.

Outbreak has arrived – Issues Begin!

When it was clear that outbreak has arrived, suddenly all international and major companies asked their employees to stay at home and work from home.

With this initiative the ugly truth about their digital age transformation started to fail.

1.Remote Access Capabilities:
During that time I’ve spoken with several companies and there were amazing stories.

One of top three Banks in Turkey had sent all their employees home and asked them to work from home, sadly their VPN Infrastructure was not built to manage 15.000+ VPN connections at the same time. The vpn tokens were not working, connections kept dropping or more so ever even when they were lucky to establish a connection, the slow throughput made it impossible to work. So what happened was suddenly no one was able to work. So company called backed several employees back to office to work, while asking them to risk their life.

One of the lead Telecommunication company in Turkey on the other hand did the same and all employees were able to work from home immediately. No one except the facility security staff were allowed to enter the building.

Suddenly an infrastructure as simple as VPN and Broadband connection became vital for survival of two major companies. One of them did invest in to the infrastructure and one didn’t.

If the Bank would have had a scale-out architecture could easily keep up with this.

2.Mobile Workspace Capabilities:
The Bank had several thousand employees did not have laptops at all or their configuration was outdated and incorrect, therefore these employees could not access the systems. They all had to come back to the office to work, until the overwhelmed IT staff could fix their configurations or give them laptops.

Well you might be wondering, how in this digital era there are still companies operating with desktops and not implementing VDI solutions with security measures. I keep asking myself the same thing too.

While on the Telecommunication company, the employees had all up to date Laptops and were able to access the “vital systems” through VDI.

Please keep in mind that that telecommunication companies are harshly regulated to maintain data and voice services up all the time during the crisis like this. But sadly are making much less profits than Financial Services enterprises.

3.Cloud Capabilities:
I understand that they are several applications, databases and systems that companies are obligated to host in their Data centers due regulations. Still there are many applications and systems that could be hosted easily at least on Private Cloud as well many many more applications could be hosted onPublic Cloud.

With all employees accessing through the same VPN to companies Intranet for various reasons, no matter the business priority of their task, they create a huge overload on the VPN connection.

If the company really would have had embraced transformation, all their non operational operations could have been lifted from their VPN infrastructure.

Well on my Bank example you can clearly see that this is not the case and all the work has to be done on their systems with a limited number of the applications running on cloud, creating a bottleneck for employees.

The telecommunication company on the other hand, embraced to transform all their non-operational-critical workloads to private-hybrid-public cloud, enabling enough room for their VPN infrastructure to be used for operational and business critical purposes.

4.Security Capabilities:
As it’s well proven that internal security threads are at least 51%, while externals ones are maximum 49%. So when you send your employees home they have no longer any observer nor are under the protection of the company intranet security measures, instead the VPN security measures are in place. Which does not prevent them to attach a USB drive to their laptops for many reasons (could be for watching a movie) or worse to copy files to external drives etc.

Also because managers tend to monitor if their employees are online on their company messenger systems, to track if they work or not, the VPN connections are up all the time.

Employees access various websites because they are curious of the outbreak and might download files to their company laptops.

Also accessing their several critical systems are only protected by password & username, which is unsecure again. Thanks to the very smart “Single Sign-On” implemented.

If the company would have implemented and understood the security transformation, it would have had a two-step verification for it’s employees, who access critical applications, databases etc. As soon as that employee tried to access such a system, she/he would have gotten a real time SMS sent to his phone to access. But sadly that’s not the case both on the given Bank and Telecommunication companies.

4.Mobile Working Culture Capabilities:
Back in 2009 when I was working at Alcatel Lucent (now Nokia), one of my employees within a team of 17 had to move to a different City, which was 2000km away due family reasons. She would either work remotely or quit her job and she was one of my most valuable team members.

It was a tough choice, we had no office there, no one ever tried this and she was talking to our international clients all the time. We were using VoIP telephony to keep the call costs under control and this was only possible at the office.

Still I gave her green light to do it, although I had to fight hard with HR department over it. Then I went over to IT and enrolled her to be a BETA user for soft VoIP infrastructure and she was the first one to work 100% remotely.

And the best thing was, she even worked performed better at home than she did at the office. So I’ve learned from that lesson and later introduced home office days for any team members. Soon after one of my another critical team members had to move Germany due family issues and we applied the model to her as well and the outcome was the same.

Now looking at the situation the companies still struggle to implement home office work days for their employees and during times like this, they wonder why the productivity is so low suddenly.

Well, if those companies would have had implemented flex-office approaches as a company culture in the good health days, then the employees would have known how to work at times like these.

The employees would have known how to manage their time, how to be productive at home environment and would have made arrangements to create a home office environment for themselves.

Back at Alcatel, I went even further and gave my employees 21” Monitors, Headphones and Meal Tickets for their home office to make sure that feel comfortable working at home. The only thing I forgot back then was to cover their home internet bills.

As you can see this transformation requires company culture transformation and also transformation of the managers mindsets.

Sadly also during these days, I see that the same Banking company failed on this one too, while I’ve heard many more companies from friends within last seven days.

What should have been done in 74 Days?

Coming to the conclusion the 74 Days since the outbreak the companies could have easily implemented and test these solutions in those valuable times. Train and transform the employees, company culture, security, mobile access to a comfortable level at those days.

The only exception would be embracing cloud solutions, which usually requires more time.

I’m not willing to go into how company procedures shadow and block the purposes, but I need to confess that I’m not convinced when a company tells on their commercials that “they have embraced digital age”. No they have not!

Even worse, they cover their backs by hand picking critical employees and protecting them over the others. This is not acceptable and should not be forgotten by any employee working for that company.

If those companies makes billion dollars or losses through the next months, I would not wonder, because they deserved it.

As I always find myself saying: “New technologies require new habits to generate new results!“, buying the new technology will not save companies from the future.

Transformation begins in individual humans mindset and not at the technology.

I hope all the best for the future and while you are read this if you feel that your company has these issues as well, feel free to reach out and we can create a roadmap for you to be ready before the next outbreak happens.

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