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INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY | Contributed Content, Hong Kong
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Han Chon

What Facets of Technology Have Powered Businesses During the Pandemic?

BY HAN CHON

The coronavirus pandemic has vastly altered the way businesses operate. From physical meetings and seamless access to company servers, businesses worldwide have been forced to shift to virtual and remote working models. This paradigm shift has changed how people work, collaborate, access data and view work-life balance. Hong Kong was amongst the first cities in the world to enforce social distancing measures and many organisations were left scrambling to enable remote working to minimise operational disruption.

Moving forward, there is no doubt that working from home will be viewed as de rigueur. 51% of Hong Kong employers have expressed plans to review and upgrade their digital infrastructure and ecosystem of tools to further improve working flexibility. The forced digital transformation has also highlighted the importance of having a robust cybersecurity framework and infrastructure that can handle the deluge of remote workers and new data streams. But more importantly, this forced digital transformation also exposed the short-term outlook that many businesses in Hong Kong had over their transformation goals. Business continuity is a long game and firms have to look at costs, capacity and security not just 5 months from now but five years from now.

Even as some cities emerge from lockdowns, others like Hong Kong which effectively reduced local cases to 0, have seen a resurgence of cases and reinstated social distancing measures for the third time. These measures can be implemented and lifted on a dime and that uncertainty must spur businesses to use their pandemic-induced transformation as conduits for business continuity, springboards to sustained recovery and catalysts of future growth.

The sweeping changes that have taken place as a result of COVID-19 add to the argument that there really is no going back. Take for example the huge shift in consumer payments behaviour that we’re seeing in Hong Kong. Traditionally, Hong Kong locals have been reluctant to adopt fintech or digital payment solutions but amidst the pandemic, they’ve been quick to embrace online retail and safer, contactless digital payments. E-commerce and other digital services are also in higher-demand than ever, for example HKTVmall, a Hong Kong-based e-commerce platform, reported a 165% increase in order numbers in February 2020 compared to the same month in 2019, and over half of the city’s population signed up for the Monetary Authority’s Faster Payment System (FPS) to freely access inter-bank transfers via mobile.

Businesses big and small have had to adapt and ride this wave and admittedly, many have even made strides in recent times with their forced transformation. Brick-and-mortar stores have made quick moves to open more online sales channels and even small kiosks and street stalls are now accepting payments via QR codes. But as quickly as they’ve adapted, what should all businesses continue to do in the longer term as they face the realities of this new ‘Smart Normal’?

Stay Safe and Secure
With the ever changing situation it is important to monitor developments related to the pandemic and let your employees telecommute until authorities are 100% confident in allowing regular
working arrangements again. Technology can still help workforces remain viable, effective and productive if employees can easily access company files and data remotely. A tried-and-tested solution delivering on its promise is Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), where a desktop is digitally cloned, hosted on a central server, and delivered over a network to be accessed by any device, anywhere.

Whilst equipping your workforce is one aspect, security has to be baked into every solution and decision. Just like the health and safety of your employees, their security and that of your business’s data cannot be neglected.

Cyberattacks have also increased as cybercriminals look to capitalise on the chaos. Rising reliance on remote operations demand that businesses invest in solutions that improve overall security and compliance to protect their workforce, corporate intellectual property and support secure access regardless of the device used. Within this security framework, businesses can cater to customer needs without compromising and ensure that their data remains safe.

Augmenting and Optimising Capacity
With safety and security of remote workers handled, businesses can then shift their attention to capacity and resources. Businesses should assess where they can find efficiencies in their current set up and how they can enhance capacity to cater to an increased demand on computing resources - such as increasing the number of VPN users or supplement their existing cloud infrastructure with the public cloud. These might help businesses maintain continuity by addressing their immediate concerns, but will only be a short-term fix.

Businesses should also use this period as an opportunity to analyse their technological capacity with a fine-toothed comb and look at repurposing some of the infrastructure - it could be a case of migrating employees to the edge, or even other data centers. Consumption-based subscription models are also rising in popularity. Instead of paying a fixed fee for a fixed amount of storage, technology vendors are allowing their customers to pay for data center hardware and services they actually use – either on-premise or at their preferred location–without having to purchase any
equipment. This flexibility to scale up and down as needed can help manage CapEx and OpEx concerns so businesses can better prioritise and manage costs to account for unpredictable cash flow.

Planning For The Long Term
We may be confined, but our thinking is not. As businesses the world face this uncertainty, rather than focusing solely on racing to recovery, we should also think about business continuity now and the future.

Technology played a crucial role in helping us weather this storm. However, looking into the future, we must think of more innovative ways businesses can use technology to complement this permanent change in how we work - be it helping employees set up workplaces at home, monitoring productivity of virtual employees or elevating the experience provided to clients and customers.

We are already witnessing mindsets slowly shift as decision makers in even the most traditionally conservative industries, such as established banks, are more willing to embrace innovation and the changes it will inevitably bring.

This new ‘smart’ normal - one deeply rooted in leveraging technology in all aspects of our daily lives - will be de facto, there’s no two ways about it. Our priority as technology providers has gone beyond merely offering interim solutions to help customers maintain business continuity by going digital to withstand the constraints of social distancing measures. Now, we also have to be trusted consultants and partners as we prepare them for the future by mapping out their long-term needs; further fine-tuning implementations made and shifting their business outlook from mere “riding out the storm” to embracing innovation, realising opportunity and sustaining growth.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Hongkong Business. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Han Chon

Han Chon

Han Chon is General Manager, CAP, at Lenovo Data Center Group. As the leader for Lenovo’s Data Centre Group (DCG) for the ASEAN region, he is responsible for overall business performance, fiscal outcomes and growth within one of most dynamic regions in AP.

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