Mass migration to home working, a barrage of cyber threats, business continuity plans that didn’t account for the fact that contingency premises were not an option, the outage of offshore administrative support…
COVID-19 has thrown a lot even at the businesses which could remain open, and the challenges which unfurled as a result could have easily been interpreted as disastrous. But, perhaps surprisingly, they haven’t been.
This much has become apparent as many countries across the world have found their operational foundations being upturned, shaken, and put into a new version of normality for the foreseeable future.
Almost every pipe dream of advancement in working processes and systems has had to become a reality. We’ve heard how aspirations forecast for several years have been forcibly crunched down into a matter of months, or even weeks.
Satya Nadella is the CEO of Microsoft, the company behind Teams which a wave of businesses have relied heavily upon in the last few months to communicate and collaborate, including the staff at Broker Network.
Technology giants have had a clear viewpoint of the phenomenal acceleration in digital compatibility as businesses have had to take that leap of faith they’d been avoiding, as Satya explained on releasing the company’s performance results back in April,
“We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months. From remote teamwork and learning to sales and customer service, to critical cloud infrastructure and security – we are working alongside customers every day to help them adapt and stay open for business in a world of remote everything,” he said.
The remote-working hurdle hasn’t just been faced by UK-based brokers. Insurers who had found a low-cost solution to ancillary claims and information support offshore years before had precisely the same issues in remote working that reverberated around the globe.
Automated solutions that seemed viable, if pricier and difficult to implement, in the future were suddenly on the table for more immediate consideration if they were able to communicate with their customers and brokers at all.
“We will see a huge reduction of back office administration being outsourced,” MD of Networks and Products, Jaime Swindle predicted.
“The impact of lockdown in countries such as India, where a huge amount of outsourcing was taking place, resulting in the need to bring that work back onshore – it is very likely that this will not go back to anywhere near the scale it was previously and there will be an accelerated drive to even more automation.”
While bringing ambitious developments forward, the crisis also highlighted a big gap in traditional business continuity planning as not many had thought about having to mobilise their whole workforce and have them working from home.
“You never imagine there will be anywhere you can’t go, so the challenge of not being able to switch on live chat or not being able to get some of these technology-driven centres up and running is because most people’s plans assume you have another site that you can go to,” Jaime explained.
“The business continuity plans are going to change dramatically, and the technology enables it.”
Aside from insurers exploring automation much sooner than anticipated, many brokers have had to bring VPN onto their radar for the first time in their working history to accommodate remote working. This in itself can be incorporated into future business continuity planning, alongside an increased threat – cyber phishing.
Without the safety barrier of a company firewall, educating employees on the risks needs to be front and centre of any robust cyber security strategy, as Richard King, Head of Group IT explained,
“It’s making sure that people are educated enough to know the difference between a genuine email and a phishing email. 70% of breaches are down to human error.” He said.
He, like others working in the IT sector, began to see practices and tools that were not new, but which carried great benefits for businesses, such as multi-factor identity verification, suddenly being more widely and more willingly adopted. But it’s been more of an adjustment for some,
“Covid-19 has moved the conversation on very quickly in terms of IT. People have realised they need to invest and if they’ve not been investing it comes as a bit of a shock.”
Richard has seen system elements and methods which were previously absent from many brokers’ working operations being implemented to get them up and running from their “home office” as soon as possible.
“Remote VPN set up was a first for a lot of members. They were so office-centric it wasn’t even a consideration.” Richard noted,
“In an office environment you’d normally protect people with a firewall and that would be your edge. With a move to a home working environment that edge is disappearing and making sure you have a proactive and resilient security system in place by using identity is where every business needs to be.”
Systems Consultancy Manager at Broker Network, Carl Chapman, agreed that many hadn’t factored in the possibility of remote working.
“This whole situation has got them thinking about how they utilise technology to produce documents electronically and email them out. That’s a massive habit change.”
The systems providers, however, were ready to lend their support for the switch. In one instance, Open GI came to the aid of a broker who had no remote connection capabilities and arranging this on their behalf within a week.
Having managed the increased volume of queries and seen a return of a level of normality in both the number and nature of support requests, Carl and the team are looking at their own processes with regards to training, and how essential changes to ensure they can continue to deliver training sessions will work out for the best.
Plans to revise day-long sessions that required travel are underway as shorter training modules using virtual conferencing tools that many more are familiar with now than at the start of the year are currently being explored. Taking out the travel and the intensity of a full day becomes a solution with a lot of perks, and it’s not the only example.
Whether it’s building an entire service around zoom conferencing, giving brokers the flexibility to take their work with them, evolving a business continuity plan, or providing education around staying safe online which people can carry into their lives outside of work, businesses of all sizes have come out the other side of the upheaval and are beginning to make proactive decisions about how technology can work for them moving forward.
Insurance products that weren’t previously viable will be enabled by automation, while others will be switched off due to the associated offshore costs.
Insurers, already are, as Jaime says, “being smarter, more proactive and more digital in their interactions.”
Brokers with a new-found confidence in previously unchartered remote working territory, are returning to the office with a refreshed view of what’s possible, and where they can save costs – such as getting rid of the franking machine and sending policy documents in a digital format.
And the wider businesses that work with both brokers and insurers are looking at how to support these grand transitions with the same proactive energy born out of change. The digital shift may have seemed a scary prospect, but not when compared to a global pandemic.
Now the industry is better prepared and has proved its adaptability, the question is, is there a limit to what’s achievable?