Necessity brings innovation: …ICT can help to overcome coronavirus challenges and grab the opportunity to innovate

It is a sad reality that some of the biggest innovations come from periods of war, when governments, armies or people in need were forced to push hard in finding solutions to very pressing problems. For instance, the Second World War is said to be a big source of new inventions like penicillin, programmable computers and mass radio, just to mention a few.

In the same way, the current pandemic is challenging us. As a businessperson, you may have concerns on the continuity of your company while many public lives have stopped and business is slowing down to avoid the spread of the virus. This is a good moment to look at opportunities to make the best out of this situation

Technology can help to continue your business remotely. In the last two weeks, multiple companies have asked their personnel to work from home. For some, this has been challenging – not all of their staff know how to do that. Moreover, a big concern: how do you know that they are actually working?

Go digital and online with your staff – quick wins

Move your files and documents to the cloud and authorise the right people to use them. You will probably be able to quickly install a free tool like Dropbox or Google Drive to share documents with particular people, so they can work on these documents together remotely.

Equip your personnel with laptops and an Internet connection to work from home or reimburse them for the costs that they incur with their private equipment and data bundles.

Use video-conferencing for meetings: Here too, there are various tools that can be used for free as a quick win, like SKYPE, Google Hangouts or Microsoft Teams. Note that some of these services have been overcrowded lately, but still work quite well.

Introduce an agile way of working: The scope of this article does not allow us to explain in depth how SCRUM or other agile project management methods work, but some key elements can help you to keep track of what your staff is doing while they are not in the office, such as the use of a joint planning board (www.trello.com) to track people’s tasks; short daily standup meetings to get clear what everyone is going to do during the day; and weekly online demos. Project management applications like SLACK or ASANA can also help to manage your remote teams.

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Next steps of digital transformation

Your current sales, customer contacts, and supplies may be affected badly by the current situation, as it has become difficult to have personal physical contact and have meetings. The current crisis may tempt you to speed up some good practice in digital innovations.

Service your business processes with SAAS (online software as a service) IT solutions: For most common administrative processes – such as financial accounting, human resource management and inventory – there are affordable or even free software applications available online. For example, www.wave.com is a financial accounting application that can be used for most small and medium-sized enterprises, and even takes care of sending out invoices automatically for you with email. www.hubspot.com can also assist your sales team professionally online. Both tools have a free version, too. Some of the business processes unique for your company may require a simple web-application tailor-made for you.

Step into digital marketing: While your target audience is staying at home, they may still be listening to the radio or watching television. However, this may be the right time to replace your billboard, posters and flyers with a good social media presence. A good digital marketing strategy takes time, but a good Facebook or Instagram page for your product or service is indispensable…and you can start that today.

E-commerce and home-delivery are good alternatives for your real-life shop and can reach many more customers. It is actually not too expensive to get a simple website and a web shop running to showcase and sell your products online. Currently, in Europe and the US, companies which are into home-delivery are getting massive turnovers while ordinary shops and restaurants have to close their doors to the public.

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Do not waste your time but equip yourself

While you are facing down-time in your business activities or suddenly have a lot of extra spare time at home, you can grab the opportunity to update your digital skills and be prepared for digital transformation on a personal level. There are multiple courses online that you can use to enhance your skills; either by watching YouTube instruction videos, or getting free or very affordable courses via Udemy, Coursera or EdX where the best universities of the world allow you to follow their classes for free.

Beware of ‘wardriving’ and phishing

While many people work from home, new risks emerge too. Cyber criminals are driving around to look for vulnerable Wi-Fi networks to hack. Virtual private networks (also known as VPNs) provide all staff who work from home with online protection by creating a secure connection with another network, such as the office network, and then encrypts traffic between those two points. So, getting a reliable VPN service for your company is very important.

Of course, VPN credentials can also be stolen; for example, when your employees fall for phishing attacks. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) can help protect these VPN accounts from unauthorised attacks.

The author is a Sales Director at Trinity Software Centre, Kumasi and director at Maxim Nyansa IT Solutions Foundation in Tantra Hills, Accra – a training centre for ICT professionals. Member, Institute of ICT Professionals, Ghana.

For comments, contact (www.trinitysoftwarecenter.com; dianavanderstelt@trinitysoftwarecenter.com)

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