As the coronavirus pandemic takes hold, enterprisers are becoming increasingly aware that the world as we know it is going to change irreversibly. In this situation, lots of companies face the need to shift to remote working.

Marcin, how has intive’s transition played out?

That’s right, the pandemic is certainly forcing companies to embrace remote setups. At intive, we’ve made a very smooth transition to the home-office-first approach and we’re now operating on a fully remote basis. We have been working like this with many of our customers for years so it’s fair to say we’d already been well prepared even before the outbreak.

As far as the technical aspect, we had everything in place: reliable infrastructure, the right tools, and the best working methods. Being a digital powerhouse is an advantage in such a situation. For example, we already had a contract with Microsoft, we’d been using Microsoft Teams daily, so when the lockdown was announced, we didn’t have to think about acquiring new tools.

Still, we had to face a couple of administrative challenges. For example, how were we going to adjust our recruitment process and introduce new employees to the company? Signing a contract is hard if a person doesn’t have an electronic signature. However, we usually quickly come up with workarounds.

Most companies realize now that some new approaches might be needed to ensure their business continuity – including a new digital strategy. What are some of the solutions they should consider given all that's happening?

First and foremost, they should switch to cloud computing. It has been an increasingly significant trend for a while now, but in 2020 it might dominate the market. It can become a game-changer especially for companies conducting business operations in the US, Europe, and Asia at the same time. The real value and benefits of the cloud show when you have to face increased processing demand - a challenge for lots of companies in the current situation.

However, even if a company already has its systems in the cloud, it might not be fully prepared for an unusually heavy traffic. In that case, companies should quickly seek help and upgrade their systems. It would seem the easiest way to achieve it is to buy additional servers - but it's not always the best solution. Cloud-based systems bring enormous benefits - but only if designed and used wisely.

The current pandemic situation has revealed the importance of yet another crucial issue – cybersecurity. Phishing activities have now intensified: the number of incidents and attempted hacker attacks is getting dangerously high. Scammers look for vulnerabilities in security systems, so enterprises have to pay extra attention to prevent such threats. If they don't have their own IT departments, they should consult specialists as soon as possible: the earlier the breach is discovered, the less damage it will inflict.

It would appear that business with the most flexible and seamless access to cloud platforms might have the biggest advantage in the nearest future. Are there any industries where this kind of connectivity is more relevant than elsewhere?

Perhaps it’s not so much about a specific industry as a business model. All companies relying on “Software as a service” (SaaS) such as startups, fintech, insuretech. For example, at intive we're working on a project for a British challenger bank Tandem - they use Amazon Web Services for storing and processing all the big data to maintain sufficient functionalities and capacities. Using the cloud results in improved resilience, scalability, and, most importantly, security.

Another field which can’t operate properly without cloud solutions is media industry. Take Netflix, for example. Netflix doesn't have its own data center, they operate via AWS. Now, when we’re seeing this huge spike in demand for streaming services having a digital network on the cloud offers a chance to broaden the scope of processing ability quickly and efficiently.

Cloud is also important for modern industry 4.0, where there is a large number of IoT sensors generating lots of data. All major cloud providers - AWS, Azure, Google Cloud offer cloud-centric back-end architecture for IoT applications.

We can’t predict how long the current situation is going to last, but it will affect users’ expectations one way or another. What types of tech solutions will consumers need the most?

As the coronavirus outbreak continues and people remain at home, they are using mobile devices much more often for various purposes — information, work, study, relaxation. With limited shopping opportunities, more and more customers switch to e-commerce. We’re also seeing a significant increase in the demand for food delivery apps. We’re witnessing a shift to mobile channels in nearly every industry, and customers’ expectations of mobile apps are very high – especially when it comes to usability, performance, and reliability.

Secondly, there will be a higher demand for products with touchless interfaces. Embedded sensor-based solutions as well as voice assistants might become an important life-easing tech. That also applies to the contactless payments for e-commerce – they will no longer be seen as just an option, but an inseparable part of the payment process for every company. More and more consumers may opt for quick mobile payments and make transactions through digital wallets to avoid handling cash and credit cards during the outbreak.

For some time now AI has been marketed as an ultimate response to many businesses’ needs. When thinking of running a business remotely, how does it enter the picture?

There is no doubt that now AI is a very powerful and forward-looking force, particularly important in three aspects. Firstly, I must mention the intelligent process automation – especially for industries where great customer service can make or break the business. When quarantine policy requires employees to stay at home, such businesses can use intelligent chatbots to automate some service processes – e.g. provide customers with information, answer claims, etc.

For example, the Russian branch of Raiffeisen Bank has introduced such a solution – intelligent chatbot available through WhatsApp. The customers don’t even need to install an additional app – they can just add the chatbot agent to the contact list.

The second thing is the use of voice- and face recognition technologies for simplifying daily life and improving security. I assume that companies will increasingly use multi-factor authentication and leverage AI-based biometric authentication mechanisms.

And, last but not least - data science. There are a lot of data that can be analyzed and processed using machine learning. Businesses will certainly use data for monitoring and improving their processes, but there’s also a huge potential in using large amounts of data for the greater good. Some projects are already employing AI to help diagnose the coronavirus, develop drugs or work on vaccines.

Technology is changing rapidly - yet we can still see so many poor quality products and services out there which fail to focus on users. Why do you think that is? How long before UX truly takes the central position within organizations?

A crisis usually exposes businesses’ weak points. I guess the current covid-19 situation might prove how important good UX is. Before, companies may have ignored the usability issues, but not anymore. Now, when people are staying at home and spending lots of time online, they aren’t going to put up with slow loading, poor navigation, etc. Users might decide to drop your app and choose another one instead because it’s faster, more user-friendly, safer. That’s why the great UX design is a significant factor for success.

Besides, I very much encourage companies to take a holistic view of their business with a general design mindset. Innovation workshops and design sprints can help enterprises revise and improve their products which is particularly crucial in today’s challenging circumstances. Design services like these have been the focal point of our organization for some time now. With current business needs in mind, we’ve just upgraded them to a more flexible, remote format.

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