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The IBM GBS story to scale WFH post Covid-19
The world changed overnight and the new abnormal is here! The one critical but obvious lesson is to be safe, not sorry. In the post Covid-19 world, Business Continuity Planning and Disaster Recovery (BCP/DR) will become a differentiating factor for businesses. As a client of IT and business services, it is no longer sensible to prioritize cost savings over business continuity and strong IT infrastructure. The IT/BPM industry responded admirably to Covid-19 enabling Work From Home (WFH) for 75%+ of their workforce within weeks, but not all service providers are the same (see exhibit 1).
Exhibit 1. Global WFH-enabled employees for the IT/BPM industry post Covid-19
In this piece, we will focus on how IBM GBS leveraged a combination of robust BCP/DR (Business Continuity Planning and Disaster Recovery) processes, employee-centric mindset, and early buy-in from clients to scale from 5% of its workforce working from home to 99% in just a few weeks.
IBM GBS scales from 5% to 99% working from home around the globe
While the global IT/BPS industry average for working from home (WFH) is around 77%, IBM GBS was able to move 99% of its workforce to work from home (See Exhibit 2). IBM enabled its delivery teams to shift to WFH across its 60 centers in 40 countries within 10 days. Three characteristics helped IBM Global Business Service (GBS) handle this transition as countries when on lock-down due to COVID-19:
Exhibit 2. How IBM GBS executed employee safety and continuity of clients’ operations
Source: IBM, 2020
The business units formed their own global task teams to ensure necessary hardware and software were mobilized for a smoother transition to working from home. The teams also monitored, and continue to monitor, the situation on bandwidth availability in some geographies to see what they can do to address any issues. Additionally, as part of the ongoing effort to handle the situation, the company distributed around 10,000 dongles ahead of the lock-down period in India and Philippines. Around 300 clients have been covered as part of the efforts to ensure safer operations. All this movement happened with ZERO degradation in delivery of services or Service Level Agreements (SLAs), which, in itself, is very commendable. The leadership has daily calls with the delivery partners and team leaders across the world to discuss early warning indicators, orchestrate change in real time, and develop iterative and proactive change management.
Internal processes, AI, and automation helped IBM GBS handle COVID-19 in the initial phase
IBM leverages its artificial intelligence-based knowledge management tool “CoBee,” for seamless transition in the current environment where in-person interaction for knowledge transfer / cascade is a rarity. One of IBM’s business units is successfully running 23 transitions in the current situation around the globe. Interestingly, a large bank with a global presence recently approached IBM GBS for services when it realized that its finance business processes were suddenly threatened by this challenging environment and an overwhelmed provider in the wake of COVID-19. The IBM Services team quickly stepped in to help avoid service interruption for the large bank. This collaboration would not be possible without IBM’s global presence, integrated infrastructure, robust transition processes, and knowledge management tools. Additionally, the company has historically been a successful transition partner for most of the clients across different business units. Moreover, IBM is one of the key proponents of Agile methodology in the industry. IBM has Agile champions spread globally, working closely with clients and in-house teams. The teams have adopted Agile ceremonies in virtual mode which includes daily stand up, mood marbles, retrospectives, etc.
The Bottom Line: IBM GBS managed the crisis well, setting high standards across the industry. It now needs to plan for the new abnormal.
Exhibit 3. Four phases of the paradigm shock.
Source: HFS Research, 2020
The COVID-19 paradigm shock will unravel in four phases: 1. Crisis, 2. Stabilization, 3. Realization, and 4. Unleashing People as described in exhibit 2. In the crisis phase, businesses need to focus on critical client processes and the safety of their employees, which IBM has done well. Stabilization is the phase in which businesses will gain clarity on which aspects they can and cannot handle. This is the key phase to ensure enough cash flow and that the company is protected, so that it can survive. IBM has already started working with its clients in this phase. The realization phase is when companies will get to know the financial impact as their clients make decisions based on their business situations. What remains to be seen is how IBM identifies the emerging needs of its customers as the world marches out of the COVID-19 environment. IBM will need a thorough analysis of its customer base across the industries to identify focus clients and their needs. After this, the company has to assess its capabilities and create an action plan to address any gaps. While this task will depend on lots of factors, how much IBM can take control and devise a sound strategy will be interesting to watch and worth the wait.