Our agility in going digital was exemplified during the COVID-19 induced lockdown. In less than 24 hours, a huge portion of our workforce was equipped with working from home. Sudhir Gupta, Head - IT Country Integration in India talks about how we ramped up our IT systems, strengthened our infrastructure and how our employees quickly adapted to new ways of working and collaborating. This pandemic put IT at the forefront, and Sudhir is convinced that the current changes will have a long-lasting influence on how we work together in the future.
Born and brought up in Mumbai – a city that never sleeps, that’s always resilient and ambitious, we never dreamt it would be impacted by a lockdown, let alone one that has now continued for over 100 days. The crisis triggered restrictions by the Government to shut offices and initiate enforced work from home. This brought to the forefront the concept of remote working – something that already existed partially in select industries but now fueled by the pandemic spread wide across borders.
As an IT lead for India, the immediate question that kept running through my mind was how could we continue providing support to all our employees amidst the lockdown, how would people get in touch with us and how effective would the service desk be? Our second biggest concern was supporting desktop users to continue to work from home during the lockdown – this was more relevant to the non-admin staff based at remote locations like the sales depots and warehouses. While the senior leadership team remained focused on rolling out strategies for business continuity, IT played a vital role in enabling the execution of ideas. Of course, we didn’t have all the answers and solutions, but as a team we worked together swiftly to plan and implement immediate measures within the first week of the lockdown.
Implementing this new way of remote working within a short turnaround time meant being prepared and immediately ramping up for a barrage of online meetings, video conferences, faster working amidst weak internet connections, etc. – all of which play a key role in ensuring that employees are able to stay in touch with their respective teams. We had to equip and empower users who had no immediate access to company devices and for them, we worked on a cloud infrastructure so that they could continue to seamlessly access corporate applications through their personal laptops. With MyCloud enabled, we were able to onboard more than 80 new joinees who were scheduled to begin work with Bayer during the lockdown – from personnel in sales, HR, finance and customer service to new contractors, auditors and even those in senior management roles. We arranged for delivery of around 150 standby laptops for various remote users. Additionally, we had to rejig our support services with new models like setting up communication via personal mobile calls and chats to deliver the best optimum support model.
What were the major challenges we faced at this time?
Primarily the digital shift called for an immediate change both in infrastructure and mindset of all employees. Our colleagues were accustomed to using certain technologies over the last 10 years. However, with technological upgrades, we had to get people to transition immediately to Microsoft Teams that had been rolled out just prior to the onset of the pandemic. We organized quick virtual trainings for over 600 employees across departments at the head office and the Commercial Business Units to promote Microsoft Teams as a tool for digital collaboration.
Another key shift was with the usage of VPN (Virtual Private Network) for accessing business applications outside the work environment. Since most applications had been moved to the cloud, colleagues could now work without having to connect to the company network. However, decade long dependence on the VPN system led to continued usage of this old way of working resulting in slower system performance and an increased strain on the IT infrastructure. We created multiple notifications to make users aware of these facts and change their way of working. Our focus was on getting employees to adapt to new digital systems while constantly addressing business needs through the communication campaigns.
I personally believe that supporting an organization of around 5000+ full time employees as well as contractors and many other stakeholders in India with a flexible and strong IT infrastructure and consistent support services has been a huge accomplishment for our team. In this period we also managed to facilitate our first completely virtual Investor Meet for our listed entity – Bayer CropScience Limited by catering to an external audience from over 80 locations. Of course, considering the importance of the meeting, we had around 8-10 hours of mock exercises to ensure smooth deliverables. Internally, we managed a completely virtual Leadership Reach Out session for colleagues across India, Pakistan and Bangladesh where our management could address colleagues and answer live questions during the lockdown. Another feather in our cap during this period was the ability to fast-track the digital transformation of our pharmaceuticals division for whom we had procured IT devices prior to the lockdown with the intention of promoting virtual interactions with doctors. Since our sales reps were also stuck at home, we managed to configure and distribute iPads for over 300+ employees so that they could use the global integrated channel management systems.
Overall, the pandemic truly served as a catalyst for digital transformation of many industries offering many innovative and new channels to stay engaged with customers, farmers, doctors, patients, investors and other stakeholders. For us in IT, what remained a priority throughout this transition was taking care of our people, enabling clear communication, stabilizing critical infrastructure and operations, being proactive on security, driving adoption of new technologies as well as staying on top of key business and customer priorities. And at the end, I’m happy to say that ‘we delivered’.