Tech Industry Occupies Front Line on Coronavirus Battleground

March 9, 2020 Avani Desai

Tech Industry Occupies Front Line on Coronavirus Battleground

The health threat Coronavirus has forced businesses worldwide to re-evaluate their workforce practices. Schellman President Avani Desai comments on how businesses, including Schellman, are working to find a balance between the needs of clients and the safety of its employees. Read a portion of the article below, or in its entirety on the E-Commerce Times website.

By Jack M. Germain

The coronavirus known as "COVID-19" is posing global threats that are challenging businesses worldwide, forcing them to put new policies and practices into place to prepare for and communicate with their workforces. One of the most critically impacted sectors is the technology industry.

The virus has disrupted global businesses, forcing many tech company workers to cease travel to infected areas. Tech companies associated with major events such as Mobile World Congress, RSA and Google's Las Vegas sales and marketing event most recently felt some consequences.

Many companies in affected areas are straining their tech abilities to have large swaths of their labor forces work remotely. Some businesses are taking steps to prep their employees to work from home.

For instance, tech industry companies with direct exposure to China felt the effects in the very early stages of the virus' appearance there. Disruptions to iPhone supply lines impacted Apple almost immediately.

Closings and slowdowns in China had a nearly immediate impact on Microsoft's installation of its Windows software on laptops and Surface tablets.

The spread of the virus is affecting tech businesses -- both large and small -- that rely on supply chains, conference attendance and transportation in general.

"The coronavirus outbreak is grinding the tech industry down to a crawl," said Michael Bancroft, cohost of Globalive Media's Beyond Innovation on Bloomberg Television.

We've seen industry conferences like MWC Barcelona and F8 called off due to concerns about the virus spreading, and workers are generally being told not to travel," he told the E-Commerce Times.

This crawl is forcing tech companies to rely on telepresence tools to host meetings, which often are less effective than face-to-face meetings for closing sales, Bancroft said.

"We're also seeing the global supply chain for electronic parts significantly disrupted, and companies like Apple have warned their sales results will falter because they can't get access to parts needed to make their devices," he added.

Universal Challenges

The coronavirus is presenting new challenges for businesses. It is forcing them to put new policies and practices into place to prepare for and communicate with their workforces.

There is no question that the impact of the coronavirus will continue to be felt 100 percent in the tech space in terms of the work cycle, remote work access and the overall workforce," said Liz Miller, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

That said, "it could be the technology sector that keeps work flowing in this age of the coronavirus, she told the E-Commerce Times.

"The impact is being felt in ripples as tech companies are canceling massive user group and thought leadership events, seeing both the opportunity to connect with customers and connect with influencers being lost," Miller said.

Spawning New Work Ethics

"We are having to balance the need of our client visits and the health of our employees" 

The coronavirus is driving a surge in remote work and opportunities to work from home. This introduces new challenges for businesses that are not used to supporting a remote workforce or even doing the majority of their work digitally, suggested Rita Selvaggi, CEO of ActivTrak.

"One of the most important things is for employees and employers to understand that we're all in this together and have to make remote work productive," she told the E-Commerce Times.

Tech company or not, the spreading virus is forcing companies to adapt their procedures and use technology to overcome hurdles. For tech-based companies, that probably will mean scrambling for more equipment, suggested Avani Desai, president of Schellman & Company.

"With the issues already seen with the supply chain, we are having to order laptops and phones by the bulk in preparing what it is going to look like in the next one-to-three months," she told the E-Commerce Times.

The use of telecommuting is expected to increase initially where clients are outside of the U.S., but that trend is likely to continue as the virus spreads within the U.S. as well, Desai said.

"We are having to balance the need of our client visits and the health of our employees," she noted, adding that conferences and required ongoing training in large groups is forcing his workers to find other venues such as online training.

Viral Changes Abound

To better understand the extent to which COVID-19 is impacting business functions, VoIP phone systems firm 8x8 conducted a survey in partnership with Dynata. The survey asked businesses how they planned on supporting employees as the situation unfolds.

The results of the research have not yet been made public, but a summary was provided to the E-Commerce Times. The survey polled 483 American consumers with a full-time job.

For some 44 percent of respondents, the coronavirus already has impacted the way they do business. Despite the relatively small number of cases reported in the United States, businesses -- especially those with an international presence -- have begun to feel the effects.

Fifty-five percent of survey participants have canceled travel plans and 50 percent are having fewer meetings with employees, customers and prospects.

Eighty-six percent of respondents said their businesses have established and communicated a plan of action for times of crises. Also, 72 percent have reminded employees of behaviors to avoid, and 52 percent have restricted travel.

Companies are increasing their reliance on remote work to keep businesses operational, the survey revealed. For instance, 15 percent of respondents said they already were working remotely as a result of the coronavirus. Another 40 percent were increasing their use of video conferencing.

Furthermore, 90 percent of respondents said they were either confident or very confident that they would remain productive if asked to work remotely as a result of a crisis.

Technology Traffic Overload

Global health concerns created by the coronavirus have led to the largest remote workforce in human history. This is creating massive overloads of Internet traffic, as VPN systems are flooded by tens of millions of employees trying to log in, usually across crowded, long-haul public internet lines, according to Aryaka.

The company on Tuesday announced a solution for eliminating VPN overloads. Aryaka's Secure Remote Access leverages the company's global private backbone and requires no architecture changes by the customer.

"Most companies offer some type of remote VPN solution, but they were never designed for 'peak capacity' -- that is, to scale for the present situation when nearly all the employees in a region are working remotely, said Shashi Kiran, chief marketing officer of Aryaka.

As a result, local VPN servers are getting overloaded with the number of connections and amount of traffic required to support such a large increase in demand, impacting employee productivity, he said.

The company is offering a free VPN concentrator domain license with new qualifying purchases of the Aryaka SmartSecure Remote Access solution. The promotion is valid until April 30 for both new and existing customers.

Continue reading on the E-Commerce Times website >>

About the Author

Avani Desai

Avani Desai is the CEO at Schellman. Avani has more than 15 years of experience in IT attestation, risk management, compliance and privacy. Avani’s primary focus is on emerging healthcare issues and privacy concerns for organizations. Named as one of the 2017 Global Leaders in Consulting by Consulting Magazine she has also been featured and published in the ISSA Journal, ITSP Magazine, ISACA Journal, Information Security Buzz, Healthcare Tech Outlook, and many more. Avani also sits on the board of Catalist, a not-for-profit that empowers women by supporting the creation, development and expansion of collective giving through informed grantmaking. In addition, she is co-chair of 100 Women Strong, a female only venture philanthropic fund to solve problems related to women and children in the community.

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