Written by Matt Gallen, Business Development Manager at Ackama, NZRise member.
The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting everyone around the world through impacts to health systems, government mandated shutdowns, travel restrictions, and supply chain disruptions. All industries are affected, including the NZ Technology sector, although we can be better equipped than most to handle disruption caused by social distancing and remote working.
For the NZ tech sector, these challenges can also present opportunities to be proactive in supporting our clients’ Business Continuity Plans, and provide leadership in ways of working. There is also the opportunity to provide more digital services to support business as un-usual, or whatever that may look like in the short-to-medium term.
None of this is easy and we expect more than a few road bumps as organisations and staff deal with the uncertainty of what the coming weeks and months will bring. By being proactive and supporting our customers we can at least help soften the pain caused by disruption.
At Ackama, one of our first responses has been to look after our staff’s health and well-being as they are the most important resource we have. Some of the steps we have taken are:
● Encourage all staff to work from home (and help flatten the curve)
● Supporting remote working through existing tools and remote working guides
● Setting up daily check-ins on Slack / Hangouts
● Providing online spaces for people to socialise and share (our #fuzzy-animal-corner Slack channel has been getting a lot of extra activity from folks and their pets!)
● Experimenting with different ways of working and sharing company updates such as video updates from our CEO, (Breccan MeLeod Lundy)
While our team is relatively used to working from home, working within a fully remote team is a new experience for most of us and we will need to collaborate in order to figure out how to make it work for us.
Some of the tools we use every day to help us work remotely:
1. Instant messaging platform – we use Slack
2. Video conferencing – we use Google Hangouts
3. Collaborative document creation and editing – we use Google Docs
4. Project management tools – we use Jira and Trello
5. Design sharing, prototyping and more – InVision
Secondly, we have been very focused on proactively managing existing projects and communicating with our customers. As a trans-Tasman business that operates in both Australia and NZ we have been forced into a head start on COVID-19 response measures as the outbreak has already had a greater effect than in NZ. The main practicalities being supporting staff and customers working remotely.
The biggest risk for all Tech Sector businesses is for digital projects and purchasing decisions to be delayed or canceled which can impact on cash flow. Ackama is a services business providing custom software development of apps and websites. To minimise these risks we are:
- Communicating regularly with customers (in times like this its almost impossible to over-communicate. Silence would be the worst thing you could do)
- Putting plans in place for in-progress work or projects kicking off soon. Every customer has their own unique challenges and we work with them to tailor approaches that means we can continue to deliver successful outcomes.
- Sharing our remote working practices – a lot of customers are less practiced than we are and appreciate guidance.
- Offering additional services to customers. Many organsiations will need additional technology support from their IT vendors at this time from services or products that support BCP.
- Providing empathy and flexible arrangements with customers who are also experiencing financial uncertainty such as; flexible payment schedules, temporary billing reduction, or even reduced bare-bones services to help them get through.
We would also like to encourage government agencies and private companies to continue to engage with and support your technology providers as they are likely to be your best enablers to help innovate new business models, continue to deliver services, and build back up once the pandemic situation is resolved. The easiest way to do this, particularly for government organisations, is to offer upfront payment for goods and services. We are truly all in this together. Many services companies are not entitled to government support so prompt payment and continued commitment helps independent companies whether the storm and be well placed to grow through current challenges.
What is the outlook for the NZ tech sector? Crystal ball gazing is even more difficult at this time as we haven’t seen anything like this during the internet age. So how this impacts technology businesses is yet to be known. What we can infer is that any recession will affect the amount of new projects, short-term capital investment and available business. For technology companies there will be winners and losers – SaaS product companies and cloud service providers would expect to be in more demand due to Business Continuity practices for distributed remote workforces. In the short-term, new spending on technology projects are likely to be put off until there is more certainty.
For Ackama we expect a 30%-50% reduction in new business in the medium term. However, due to our proactive communication with customers, many of our projects are still on track to continue and many of our most loyal customers need our service more not less. Innovation will pay dividends to get any new business as the pandemic response measures slow the global economy, although it can also represent some new and greater opportunities. As New Zealand firms shift from BCP to an ongoing period of disruption, core business needs to be delivered. Digital innovation and responsiveness will be the keys to enabling that.
We see the biggest opportunities are:
- Technology services to support BCP – cloud services, remote desktop etc
- Digital innovation for business to engage with customers – online channels, website, chatbots etc
- Communication products – video conferencing, instant messaging, live streaming etc
- SaaS products – for any still reliant on on-premise/desktop software
- Online services – eg. Education, Retail, government services
We continue to reference useful creative strategies – in late 2018 we hosted an intergovernmental Virtual Climate Summit leveraging a livestreaming partnership and cloud infrastructure to run a 24 hour global event ahead of the COP24 negotiations. Both business and government organisations will need to be agile to continue to perform and thrive.
Most importantly, the biggest thing to remember is that we are all in this together. As a group, the NZ Technology sector is very well connected to each other, and now is a time to reach out and support each other and NZ businesses. As Aristotle is quoted as saying” The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. We can get through this together.
Kia Kaha NZ!
~ Matt Gallen.
Matt is part of the Business Development team at Ackama. He brings over 10 years of experience in roles covering software development, account management, and business development in the UK and NZ.
Matt is a fan of most sports, but most especially the beautiful game (that’s football), and exploring the local craft beer culture in Wellington.
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