Amit Tiwari, chief operating officer at Xceedance, the Boston-based insurance consulting, managed services, and insurtech company, explains the challenges of enabling business continuity plans in the face of a global pandemic and moving an international workforce of well over a thousand people to work from home in just over two weeks — while still addressing the daily needs of a global portfolio of clients.
The rapid spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus took the business world by surprise. Like most companies, the Xceedance business continuity plan did not envision all personnel working from home for an extended period — while still functioning and supporting clients at optimal productivity levels. But when we made the decision on March 4 to move our entire global organization — to a work-from-home (WFH) environment, we gave ourselves two weeks to make the transition.
With more than 1000 employees, Xceedance has offices in seven countries with significant teams in Boston and Marlborough, Mass., London, Krakow, Liechtenstein, Munich, and Sydney, while our largest contingent of personnel work in India — in the cities of Gurgaon, Noida, and Bangalore.
To execute a WFH plan quickly, the company identified several immediate challenges that needed to be addressed, including:
- Not every client contract allowed WFH conditions and connectivity for our service and support teams, so we needed client approvals and to make necessary changes in their network infrastructures.
- Some client networks did not support an additional load of devices connecting remotely over virtual private networks (VPN), which meant those capacities had to be increased in tandem.
- We needed to procure more than 1,000 laptops and faced fierce competition from many other businesses worldwide also looking to make contingency plans.
- Many of our people only use desktop computers, but due to processing power and dual screen configurations, some desktop users would likely become less productive as interim laptop users.
- Some users have specialized software installed on their desktops, and it would be a daunting task to reinstall their specialized applications on laptops in a matter of days.
In mid-March, our IT team rapidly categorized our people into client-facing functions, and prioritized their criticality to arrange delivery of the right equipment to their homes — so we could ensure seamless service and productivity. Each day, we made decisions on which technology components had to be prioritized for delivery the next day. We identified who needed a desktop at home and planned all the logistics for this remote set-up activity.
Several mock connectivity tests were done for all business units, and client accounts and results were analyzed to understand the gaps and shortcomings. We stress-tested our network by coordinating the various test activities. At all stages, we communicated updates very clearly to our staff and clients, ensuring everyone was in the loop and minimizing surprises that could impede our services.
In just three days over the weekend of March 20-22, we secured and configured several hundred laptops for our teams, enhanced our internet bandwidth, coordinated with clients to ensure their networks were ready for the extra load, secured their approvals for our business continuity activities to support their operations, and delivered laptops and desktops to our staff members.
By March 22, we completed the delivery and installation of all vital equipment and enabled our staff to work from home — just as the government of India announced a three-week lockdown. Our Poland and U.S.-based delivery centers were executing some of the same WFH and client connectivity activities, though the timelines were somewhat different based on local conditions and guidance from government and public health authorities.
The following week of March 23 was also very demanding for our IT teams as they worked remotely and around the clock to troubleshoot a large and scattered workforce. We continued to inform our clients about business continuity developments at Xceedance and updated them on our productivity levels.
By the second week of the lockdown in India (March 30), and ongoing shelter-in-place and emergency conditions in other countries, we were able to operate at full productivity levels with the entire company in a WFH environment.
Meanwhile, our teams swiftly adapted to collaborate with colleagues — for work as well as personal interactions. They are celebrating special occasions over video conferencing, and have set up time for virtual interactions over coffee or lunch breaks, or just for general chat. We continue to recruit talent in our various locations through online connections, and new team members are undergoing virtual induction and onboarding.
The WFH transition is working well. While our teams are not physically together, they are working efficiently and continue to collaborate by video. WFH conditions have strengthened confidence across our enterprise and among our clients. The remote work arrangements have also encouraged even more ownership, teamwork and innovation throughout the company.
And, fortunately, up to the time of this writing in the second week of April, no one at Xceedance is reported to be infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Here are five lessons Xceedance learned during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Business continuity plans require continuous review and reevaluation. It’s hard to anticipate and envision dealing with a worldwide pandemic, but the current crisis is a dramatic reminder for timely due diligence on business continuity planning.
- Reassess and reconsider supplier relationships. As part of business continuity procedures, potential points of disruption or failure in the supply chain must be identified. Critical resources — in this case laptops, connectivity equipment, licensing, security tools, and more — may be in short supply or unavailable if many organizations are seeking the same items at the same time.
- With the right tools and guidance, staff will rise to the challenge of working virtually and proficiently. Even big teams — where people are used to working in close proximity and enjoy personal interactions and physical teamwork — can work in a virtual setting quite seamlessly and without loss of productivity, as long as appropriate technology, supportive leadership, and sound guidance are provided.
- Virtual business workflows and conditions can be productive. The industry now has compelling proof points that re/insurers and their partners can work remotely and be productive. For example, cloud-based systems can be used to securely store data, as a viable solution to continue business operations as seamlessly as possible. The experience raised confidence in the industry that we can all adapt to work virtually and efficiently with stakeholders anywhere in the world.
- Open and frequent communication is critical. As soon as a business-interruption event unfolds, it’s essential to communicate transparently and often with staff, clients, partners, and suppliers. The key is to clearly articulate the significant challenges, change-management best-practices, and organizational requirements to continue business as seamlessly as possible.
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