AI, Cloud and IoT-based Remote-First solutions in the post-COVID-19 era

Seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic as businesses struggle with uncertainties, there is one clear trend emerging—remote work, automation, self-service, online transactions, and contactless operations are the norm now and for the longer term. Even when recovery sets in, the world is very unlikely to return to old ways of working.

A Gartner study says that “74% of CFOs are interested in increasing the remote work after the pandemic to optimize the costs and the study further states that 90% of Agile teams will include remote work as part of business continuity planning by 2022”. All of these show one thing: Companies need to embrace being remote-first as a means to do business henceforth.

Businesses have no choice but to go digital to survive and thrive in the new paradigm. In fact, many that were already implementing digital initiatives before the pandemic stepped on the pedal to accelerate digital initiatives. These are now reportedly doing well on the all-important new metrics- resiliency, business continuity, and productivity.  Others have had to quickly get off the digital fence and digitalize as much as possible in a short period.

Digital at warp speed: This unprecedented shift to digital has been so rapid and at such a scale that what would have taken enterprises more than five years has been accomplished in less than two months. Overnight, workforces turned virtual. Banks and financial services companies moved all transactions online, retailers are now entirely online and relying heavily on home delivery, healthcare service providers deliver via telemedicine where possible while manufacturers are leveraging IoT sensors and blockchain solutions to track and trace goods. Schools have moved to online classes.

The swift changeover also implies faster decision-making powered by data and rapid application development, an accelerated move to the cloud and agile ways of working. It has meant re-imagining core processes (in other words, digital transformation) and new operating models and organizational change to manage the new normal.

Of course, many are still struggling or have shut shop, especially in the aviation, shipping, tourism, and hospitality sectors, and in other industries where businesses couldn’t pivot fast enough in the face of almost negative demand. But for many others, there is still hope.

Focus on customer and employee experience: Such companies could take two specific cues from those who have stayed afloat.  Firstly, they need to focus on two overarching segments: clients and employees to become ‘Remote First’ enterprises. They need to ensure that business continuity is maintained, and SLAs are met, customers remain happy and that employees are engaged and productive. Secondly, adopt solutions based on advanced technologies such as AI, ML, and IoT because only these technologies can ensure the speed, agility, and scalability needed for the post-COVID era.

So how can enterprises become ‘Remote-First’?

Managing Back-to-office and WFM: Let’s take employee experience first. While work from home (WFH) has been the norm in the past few months, some companies are allowing employees to return to offices as lockdowns are lifted. However, according to a Gartner survey, 82% of respondents intend to permit remote working some of the time as employees return to the workplace. The complexity of hybrid workforces will be a challenge for companies as they will need to find ways to enable collaboration between remote workers and ensure safety for the employees working in company locations.

Creating a contact-less ecosystem: Solutions that use Deep Learning, AI, ML, and computer vision can help enterprises ensure that employees maintain the mandated social distance in the office or on the shop floor. These solutions constantly monitor the distance between people and set off alarms when the mandated distances are transgressed. The IoT capabilities in the social distance app also detect office occupancy in real-time. Additionally, contact-tracing apps could be used to contain the spread of the virus in case of infection.

These solutions (such as the Back2OfficeTM developed by Innominds) are a necessary first step to manage the return of the workforce to physical locations. They also include contactless authentication methods using biometric technologies such as facial recognition to ensure the safety of visitors and workers. Biometric facial recognition technology can create seamless and less-intrusive identity management at workplaces and in high-security zones and thereby improve visitor experience also.

Another hygiene measure would be to eliminate contact with potential areas of contamination such as printers, sharing of laptops, and office stationery by becoming an entirely paperless office and moving most operations to the cloud.

Re-imagining HR processes: A concurrent step would be to use digital workplace solutions such as Workspace-as-a-service, Digital Work Hub, enterprise mobility management solutions and Secure Workplace analytics for enterprises to securely deliver apps and data to any device, offer video conferencing and business messaging features to connect employees on the go, develop mobile applications, and detect suspicious activities in the office, respectively. These contribute to better employee experience—a critical area of concern, especially as special measures are needed to keep employees engaged and efficient whether they are working from home or elsewhere during the pandemic.

Several enterprises that survived the disruptive impact of lockdown did so because they were able to reskill workers quickly as they pivoted their business. Retraining solutions such as those leveraging AR/VR could be used to create immersive training experiences.  Along with an AR/VR solution, HR could use conversational AI-based solutions such as learning bots to provide employees with training material and learning videos to make learning more intuitive.

Among the HR solutions being deployed by large companies that are still hiring include onboarding apps that help to quickly get new employees integrated into the company. These solutions can be built easily using low-code platforms that allow anyone to build applications rapidly with little coding experience.

Enabling efficient fieldwork: For workers in the field, IoT-based sensors in wearable devices will provide the added benefit of safety and productivity. These rugged field devices with NFC functionality among many other features are best for remote work in, say, oil and gas sites, as they efficiently enable monitoring and maintenance of equipment, providing reliable, uninterrupted work performance. Such devices can also be used for asset tracking and fleet management.

Enterprise could also use solutions based on Ari Mobile Device Management (Ari MDM)  which enables device management and monitoring with a simple yet intuitive management console. It enables policy enforcement with configurable restrictions across individuals and device groups based on roles, locations, etc. Similarly, Over-the-Air (OTA) solutions help enterprises distribute software, configuration settings, and encryption keys.

Enhancing client/customer experience: Apart from the solutions discussed so far that were focused on engaging employees and improving the productivity of hybrid workforces, successful enterprises are investing in next-generation digital initiatives to improve efficiency at scale and at speed. These are largely led by investments in AI and ML and cloud but also include other advanced technologies such as blockchain and IoT as well as hyper-automation tools.

Banks, for example, are augmenting their customer service desks with conversational AI or chatbots and RPA solutions to automate the repetitive parts of their business as almost all transactions have moved online. They employ both simple questions and answer bots and cognitive bots to manage customers in intelligent ways that improve the service experience. This frees up the front-end staff to focus on customer-engagement related tasks.

Increasing investments in automation will help ensure business continuity and maintenance of SLAs even during disruptive times. Manufacturers need to digitalize their supply chain and leverage the blockchain to track and trace raw materials and finished goods and optimize inventory costs amid unexpected fluctuations in consumer demand or in case of supplier shocks.

Stepping up cybersecurity: Among the top organizational concerns with remote operations has been cybersecurity. Those that haven’t stepped up their cybersecurity measures need to do so and must consider using state-of-the-art solutions to stay a step ahead of extremely sophisticated cyber attackers.

As all these measures described so far imply that enterprises need to be more digital, it cannot be emphasized enough that speed and scale are essential to thrive in the new normal. And what better way to do that than modernize legacy applications, migrate to the cloud, and use rapid application development (based on low-code, no-code platforms) to achieve digital strategy objectives and the digitization of supply chains.

Cloud investments will help enterprises stay in the game because that’s the only way to optimize advanced technology investments. Undoubtedly, the benefits are phenomenally good—faster time-to-market, rapid innovation, quicker scalability, reduced risk, and superior customer experiences.

Conclusion: Many enterprises have had to pivot in the new normal and adopt digital solutions for core processes and functions at warp speed to be Remote-First businesses. They have focused on investing in solutions that monitor and regulate social distancing at the workplace, create seamless and secure ways to enable remote work productivity, and automate end-to-end application infrastructure and ecosystem. Remote-First solutions also enable faster go-to-market, product development, and testing, enhance the consumer experience with Conversational AI, manage new data challenges, forecast demand fluctuations and streamline supply chain processes, and guarantee cybersecurity.

The possibilities are endless and platform-led engineering companies such as Innominds with deep engineering expertise across devices, apps, and analytics are best placed to build and deploy these solutions, helping companies avoid vendor lock-in in most cases, and optimize costs.

Sairam Vedam is the Chief Marketing Officer of Innominds.

Innominds is an AI-first, platform- led digital transformation and full-cycle software product engineering services company headquartered in San Jose, CA. Innominds powers the digital next initiatives of global enterprises and software product companies with integrated expertise in devices and embedded engineering, software apps and product engineering, cloud, analytics, DevOps, data, security, and quality engineering.

To know more about Remote-First solutions from Innominds visit https://www.innominds.com/solutions/remote-first-solutions

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