It has now been over a month since the islandwide curfew was declared. Like many other countries, Sri Lanka too followed the strategy of a strict lockdown to keep the coronavirus at bay. Almost overnight, it forced several businesses to adapt to their employees working from home. However, with each passing day, the challenges are multiplying. In turn, forcing entrepreneurs and other corporate leaders into an uncomfortable corner. Offering a helping hand to overcome this, Blue Lotus 360, a cloud-based ERP solutions provider active in several industries, together with Business Machines, an experienced office automation and enterprise software provider in Sri Lanka, organized a webinar under the theme of, “Reset. Recalibrate – Businesses re-imagined after COVID-19.”
Challenges and opportunities
The discussion began with Imran Furkan, CEO at TRESYNC, laying out the economic impact as a result of COVID-19. Imran pointed out the impending negative impacts, how the challenges that Sri Lanka face as a country are also felt across the globe. He also noted how the situation opens the business environment for digitization and other opportunities. A few examples, Imran pointed out were the automation of the Colombo Tea Auction and apparel retailers exploring augmented reality.
Ramesh Shanmuganathan, Group CIO and Executive Vice President at John Keells Holdings PLC reflected a similar opinion. He went onto state, “Companies need to hold down the fort, stabilize things, and then look at the new normal and remodel themselves.” Yet, Ramesh reminded that the Sri Lankan economy is heavily dependent on services. Hence we will still face great challenges in the coming months. Overcoming them requires taking steps towards self-sufficiency.
He added that COVID-19 has become a net neutralizer. It has allowed anyone with the capability to rapidly execute business ideas to seize opportunities. “A new MVP is being launched every day. If you look back at the last few weeks, you’ll see all kinds of apps. Even Sampath Bank through PickMe is now delivering cash to your home. Entrepreneurial thinking is overcoming barriers to meet burning needs,” explained Ramesh.
Nevertheless, Lakmini Wijesundara, Cofounder and CEO at IronOne Technologies & BoardPAC, added that IT could be one of the fastest industries to bounce back. However, she cautions that the industry will still find it challenging. As many IT companies cater to other industries. Thereby, the situation still affects the IT industry. So the notion that “IT is doing well while the rest of us are suffering,” is false.
Embracing technology to do more
“Everything we are seeing happening now was inevitable,” stated Joshua Kanakaratnam, Senior Consultant at Zendesk. He highlighted that prior to the coronavirus, businesses were reliant on tools like Zoom and Slack. The coronavirus simply accelerated existing trends. Some companies were primed and ready for this shift towards tools in the cloud. As a result, they’re positioned to serve clients anywhere in the world. Whereas, other companies that merely had considerations of remote working have been forced to adopt it.
Ruwanthi Fernando, Chief Process & Delivery Officer at N-Able, added that companies must also consider scalability when going digital. Over the years, IT has become an integral part of businesses. Their leaders have understood we’re living in a digital world. Hence, many had a digital roadmap that offered them continuity. Yet, if they’re to be truly digital then they must be ready to scale to meet future demand and secure from all manner of digital threats.
Shifting away towards the public sector, Oshada Senanayake, Director General at Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka, shared this has been the case as well. We’ve previously covered how the government organizations have been utilizing technology to combat the coronavirus. “With contact tracing and several other efforts, there’s a lot of technology being utilized behind the scenes. It’s played a crucial role in supporting our response against the virus,” he said.
Winners, losers, and transformation
Looking towards the future, Imran predicted that there will be two types of winners that will emerge from this crisis. The short-term winners will be those that can connect with existing customers virtually. The long-term winners will be those, irrespective of their industry, that will make smart decisions on digital. This doesn’t simply mean throwing money at technology. Rather it’s a mindset change, “And that’s not something we’ve seen,” he said.
Ruwanthi echoed these views, stating that many digital transformation projects fail simply because businesses don’t go the full-length. Rather, it’s limited to simply eliminating a piece of paper and replicating existing processes digitally. Yet, transformation is so much more than that. It’s a fundamental shift in the manner we work, utilizing automation where needed, and optimising workflows. “It’s not just one solution but a journey. Companies that view it as such are the ones that’ll win,” she stated.
Describing their own transformation story, Jiffry Zulfer, Co-founder and CEO of PickMe said, “We were focused on keeping the company alive. So we pivoted really quickly into deliveries. Most of our employees were at home!” He added that balancing the needs of all stakeholders including investors wasn’t easy. Hard decisions had to be made. However, businesses able to weather this storm will be able to prove their strength and resiliency. Therefore, businesses should be open to new opportunities.
Surviving the coronavirus crisis and moving forward
Jiffry went on to argue that as a nation, we need to work towards self-sufficiency. That includes not only in areas such as food but also technology. Nevertheless, he remains optimistic. Sri Lanka is a nation that has weathered several crises. In those chaotic times, several large companies were born. We’re a resilient country that’ll ride through this storm.
This optimism was shared by Lakmini as well. She agreed that 2020 will be one of those unique years. For the coronavirus pandemic is nothing like we’ve ever seen. While the challenges are real and mean we should tread cautiously, we should remain open to new opportunities. With this focus, Ruwanthi too highlighted that it promises the creation of new business channels, products, and ways of working.
Yet, Joshua warned the dangers of wasted effort to reinvent the wheel. “Don’t be afraid to lean on existing technologies. Everything you want to do has been done in some shape or form elsewhere,” he explained. A very real trap that larger businesses, in particular, are known for falling into.
Ultimately, it’s clear that the world immediately after the coronavirus will look very different. A glimpse of this change can be seen in the city of Wuhan – the original epicentre of the virus. Despite the lockdown being lifted, temperature sensors, smaller meeting rooms, and other social distancing measures have become the norm.
So whatever measures businesses thought were temporary, might be around for a lot longer than planned. As such, they must now hit the reset button and start asking what needs to be done to survive. In the process, they should be open to new opportunities. Yet, to seize them requires rapid execution, which is where technology comes in to recalibrate businesses. Those that fail to develop this ability may not live to see another new year. But the ones that do, will become the resilient winners of the future.