Companies are either flailing or thriving in the pandemic and recession. Technology companies can't iterate their offerings enough to scale with consumer and enterprise demands, while retailers struggle with attracting customers back into their stores.
Across sectors, companies are facing a crisis, from financial distress and layoffs to the uncertainty of indefinite remote work. The companies that best leverage technology to achieve real-time demands are best-suited to withstand what's next.
As a board member of Verizon, Nordstrom, Roper Technologies and Okta, Shellye Archambeau witnessed firsthand the varying degrees of preparation for crises. Even with preparation, customer, societal and health-related demands have indefinitely unraveled long-term plans for some companies.
"What you have is a situation that, frankly, despite all the risk work that was done, was still not addressed properly by most companies," said Archambeau, while speaking during the virtual GRC Summit last week. "Most companies did not foresee where businesses would literally shut down," she said.
The initial risk-based questions companies were asking addressed the immediate crisis. How safe, according to Archambeau, are a company's employees, customers, and suppliers? The next step was digging into operational impact, and reevaluating cash and capital spending. "Given all this new data, no matter how you're being impacted, the process that you go through is actually very similar," regardless of industry, she said.
The new customer
Companies are past the point of crisis mitigation and are now looking to potential, advantageous trends that will keep them from falling behind a crawling economy.
Comcast, for example, formed a "COVID[-19] steering committee" that included personnel in cybersecurity, operations, HR, and a medical officer to ensure employees remained engaged in their job, according to Kenneth Bacon, board member for Comcast and Ally Financial, and co-founder and managing partner of RailField Realty Partners, during the panel.
Prior to the pandemic, Comcast customers were conditioned to think when something goes wrong, such as hurricanes, they want a human voice instead of a digital solution, said Bacon. But during the pandemic, there are customers who don't want a service person in their house. This was an opportunity to sharpen the company's digital services, or accelerate the ones already underway.
Companies spent years dedicated to understanding their customers and preferences, but with COVID-19, "people have been on lockdown for long enough for new habits to be formed," said Samantha Ravich, chairman of the board at Center for Cyber and Technology Innovation and vice chair at the President's Intelligence Advisory Board, during the panel. It's only supposed to take about two months for people to establish new habits.
"How they behave, how their behaviors are going to change, and how that impacts how they want to interact with each of the different companies is also going to be a challenge," said Ravich. "The companies that figured it out faster and got in front of it, indeed will win."
Ally Financial is one company dealing with pandemic-induced headwinds from consumer behaviors. Because of the recession, consumers have asked for increased support in forbearance programs on loans. Ally had to scale customer support to meet new call demands.
"Usually at a bank, when you make a change in a program, you take months to do that," said Bacon.
The company used technology to track bottlenecks where productivity stalled or where usage errors arose. Risk management, or the second line, had to work "hand in hand" with Ally's first line employees than what it normally would be, said Bacon. But the first line employees, because of COVID-19, have been involved in a more regular basis, all without meeting in person.
Selective risks with payoffs
Though an enabler, technology presents risk with every new deployment. The "more positive" side of adopting new technologies is finding nuances in smaller developments, such as AI that is dedicated to small sample-sized data.
The smaller data amounts means companies "don't need tens of millions of data points, perhaps you can have computers learn consumer behavior from a much smaller sample size, and it can be anonymized," said Ravich. The process could allow companies to understand their customers quicker.
Ally has to make credit decisions faster as its customer base faces economic uncertainty. "And it's often harder to get data, because so many people are shut down," said Bacon. "We've had to become more expert in the use of alternative data."
The change has accelerated certain processes, the bank has tried to avoid "coming up with entirely new policies," so it wouldn't threaten the integrity of its policies, he said. All risk-based changes have to have the approval of its regulators and internal auditors.
"Companies are looking to technology to actually help them get through not only this period, but frankly, position them for their strategic plans," said Ravich. "Even if overall budgets decline, technology will not decline as much."