Accelerating Digital Transformation in Challenging Times

By Pramod Venkatesh, inq. Group CTO

Digital Transformation as a topic has been on everyone’s mouth for the last five years. Every CIO, CTO, CEO must have attended countless presentations on why their enterprise should undergo Digital Transformation, but it rarely moved on the ground as internally it was challenging to quantify this, and most of them followed the option of “Do not fix a process if it is working “.

All of this came to a grounding halt in early 2020 when the Novel Coronavirus started to spread across the globe, leading to lockdowns in almost all parts of the world.

Suddenly, for executives, the world moved beneath their feet on how to handle all employees working from home, and with the inability to travel to their different operations, it now dawned to many enterprises who were resisting or procrastinating their digital transformation process that it was no longer an option but a must if their business had to survive.

And this transformation is not just giving employees laptops or just moving the Meet, Teams, or Zoom meetings. It was about transforming an entire enterprise that had never worked in this fashion before.

For example: Once lockdown was announced, many enterprises faced VPN outages, as their VPN servers did not have enough capacity to operate with almost all their employees connecting remotely. This is just one example of how such companies’ IT staff had to work day and night to scale their VPN servers to ensure business continued.

Even in our organization, we had just recently acquired operations in Nigeria, Zambia, and Ivory Coast. With new executives such as myself joining the organization, we were hoping to travel to these countries to meet the team and familiarise ourselves with their operations, but lockdowns made it impossible. At inq. however, the default strategy has always been Digital-first. We had ensured that we could not just operate in this challenging environment but also drive value to our operations remotely.

The pandemic is not going to go away (anytime soon), even after one and half years, we are still seeing countries getting impacted with multiple waves and subsequently lockdowns by nations and states to protect their citizens. So in these challenging times, what does Digital Transformation look like, and what points of Digital Transformation stand out which will add immediate value to enterprises operating in these times.

Below are few aspects of Digital Transformation which needs to be considered.

1. Access

Access for employees is one of the most critical aspects of this pandemic; as many employees worked from home in the lockdown, enterprises had to provide them with either laptops or thin clients, which previously were only given to a select few. In addition to providing laptops or thinning clients, it was essential to provide on-demand IT support as not all employees are well versed with technologies. Here, companies had to provide self-help or digital tools to self-diagnose the issues and provide steps to fix the problem, and scale their IT support. In addition to this, having an excellent secure meeting platform and providing access to all is equally important. While providing all these tools it is also essential to provide employees with On-Demand training to be able to familiarise these tools and understand how to operate them seamlessly.

Since employees are unable to meet each other and reduce the load on emails that can be missed, investing in an enterprise chat platform such as Teams or Slack is necessary. Otherwise, employees would switch to unsecure platforms such as WhatsApp, Telegram to share company data.

At inq., we use Google workspace, which gives us an extensible set of toolsets, enabling us to scale quickly and seamlessly without investing a lot of resources. In addition, inq. also has an AI-enabled self-paced LMS which employees used to get resources on these toolsets and be able to scale up their knowledge.

2. Security

Security is one of the critical issues many enterprises have faced due to this rapid expansion of employees working remotely. There have been several instances in the last year where multiple data leaks have happened because of this change. Enterprises have been unable to keep in sync with their Cybersecurity policies when undertaking these massive Work From Home (WFH) exercises. Hence, it is essential to focus heavily on CyberSecurity because many employees working from home, the threat vector has expanded significantly.

Enterprises should ensure every employee’s laptop is scanned for malware or viruses and ensure their remote access is not compromised. Enterprises should also add more resources to their SIEM tools to assess and predict any threats that might come about. In addition, employees should be trained to handle, identify and ensure they do not fall prey to phishing, social engineering attacks.

Enterprises should ensure all their Apps are enabled with Multi-Factor Authentication to ensure an additional layer of security.

In inq. we have scaled our endpoint security using Elastic which provides AI-enabled threat detection capabilities. In addition, we have ensured most of our Apps are single signed on with Google Workspace to ensure our employees do not need to remember multiple usernames and passwords. We have encouraged most of our employees to move MFA for their Google Workspace access to add further security to their system.

3. Scale

Due to the massive number of employees working from home the scale and load on platforms have to be well understood. Typically there are three aspects to consider for Scale

  1. Networks
  2. Applications
  3. Security

For the network aspects, enterprises now have to understand that the incoming bandwidth into their DC would increase significantly and ensure the correct bandwidth has been allocated and managed and monitored the same.

From an application’s point of view, it is important to know those specific applications will have a higher load, such as Remote Desktop servers, AD authentication, email, DNS. Essential care needs to be taken to auto-scale these applications. These applications should also be considered to be migrated to the cloud or burst into Public Cloud providers if procurement of servers is taking longer for scaling.

From a security point of view, using Network Function Virtualization (NFV) solution for all networking services such as routing, switching, load balancing, security, can be scaled immediately without waiting for procurement as it would take a long time, specifically in this pandemic, where every shipment has been delayed by a couple of months.

At inq. as we are an ISP our networking bandwidth is something we could easily scale. But for other areas we had a cloud-first strategy, hence we never had to worry about scale as most of our critical applications were either SaaS or hosted in the public cloud with automatic scaling. For our Security specifically, we have used NFV to be able to expand our services instantly and be able to scale our security very quickly. In addition, our SIEM is again built on Elastic running on the cloud, which enables us to expand and contract on-demand.

4. Visibility

Due to executives and employees unable to travel as many countries have either stopped international travel or are in lockdown, it is very important to be able to take quick decisions remotely. The only way to ensure this is possible is by providing an in-depth single frame of glass visibility of all metrics of various business units spread across different countries. This enables executives to get detailed real-time metrics across the organization, enabling them to make data-driven decisions remotely.

To achieve this, enterprises should invest in a centralized business reporting platform and ensure real-time metrics are gathered from various tools and provide visibility to the executive team. Enterprises should first ensure that all their business toolsets provide Northbound API, through which data can be extracted securely and presented in a centralized platform. Providing visibility to all layers of the business is one of the most critical factors which has to be thought about during this pandemic

At inq. we have invested heavily in digital platforms for Sales, Finance, Support, Human Capital, Training, and Monitoring. Through this, all business units can now access a single source of truth data that can quickly identify issues and take actions and enables us to provide value when operating remotely across multiple countries.

5. Automation

Automation is a key and principal area for Digital Transformation. Almost all Digital Transformation processes speak about automation bringing value to the enterprise. The need for automation has given new light to the state of the pandemic, where workers are remote and manual and paper-driven processes can no longer work.

Automation has to be driven in all business units to quickly reduce manual processes, which would take longer as employees work remotely. In addition, as companies scale their business, it is also a fact that hiring workers also becomes a challenge in this environment.

Also, most enterprises in various sectors are seeing declining revenues in this pandemic. Hence to maintain their EBITDA, there is a heavy focus on controlling costs either in Cost of Sales or Opex. The only way to achieve this flexibility is through automation which immediately reduces Opex or maintains it at the same level as the business scales.

Companies should invest in automation platforms and train their staff in automation toolsets such as Python, Go, etc. In addition, companies should try to use Robotic Platform Automation processes to further reduce multiple layers of approvals and increase the speed of execution. Companies should also try to provide where possible self-service capabilities to their customers as well.

At inq. automation is heavily driven into our employee mindset. This has enabled us to transform ourselves during this pandemic to quickly identify places of pain and automate where possible. As automation is a continuous process, we at inq. continuously assess various business processes and try to automate as much as possible.

To Summarize, the pandemic is not going to end soon and enterprises need to scale up or accelerate their Digital Transformation process. As across the world, remote working has seen wide-scale adoption, the post covid world would see many companies after seeing the advantage and savings of remote working would continue in this mode. Hence it is imperative that to be relevant in this day, it is very important for companies to not only adopt but also ensure it in a scalable and secure manner and be ready for the future.

At inq. we strive to work with our customers to use our experience in our internal digital transformation to be able to replicate the same. Digital Transformation should never be seen as a fixed project, but rather as a continuous process to learn, improve and transform to be ready to handle any other challenges that may come about.

inq. is a pan-African cloud & digital service provider re-imagining a better future through digital solutions.