Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Remote work will diversify talent pool, include more women: Cisco India exec

Supporting those working from home at scale is as much about mindset change as about policies and processes

Harichandan Arakali
Published: Apr 16, 2020 04:39:11 PM IST
Updated: Apr 17, 2020 11:17:29 AM IST

Remote work will diversify talent pool, include more women: Cisco India execDaisy Chittilapilly, managing director, digital transformation office, Cisco India and SAARC

This is part 2 of a series on how India’s biggest tech firms are helping companies deal with the Covid-19 lockdown, and what their biggest challenges and opportunities are. Read Part 1 here

 The work-from-home paradigm will transform the global economy, says Daisy Chittilapilly, managing director, digital transformation office, Cisco India and SAARC, in an interview with Forbes India. Edited excerpts:

Q. What are the biggest challenges (and any opportunities) your customers are facing because of the Covid-19 pandemic?
For our customers, the safety and security of their employees is the biggest challenge and foremost priority, and to ensure that they enable work from home across their organisations in a very short period to minimise the risk of exposure.

The current crisis is unlike any we have ever faced, and the disaster recovery plans that most companies had were not designed keeping a pandemic in mind. For example, during the 2015 Chennai floods, organisations moved their employees to Mumbai or Delhi to ensure workers’ safety while continuing operations, but today’s crisis is ubiquitous and necessitates remote working at an unprecedented scale. This requires a change in mindset as much as a change in policies and processes.

With their employees working from within the safety of their homes, the next challenge most of our customers are facing is ensuring productivity and business growth.

Q. How are you helping your customers to tackle those challenges?
Keeping our customers safe and productive is the top focus area for Cisco, and we are committed to ensuring their business continuity. In an endeavour to achieve this, we have enabled free cloud-based services and offerings across our collaboration and security portfolios to keep newly remote workforces running productively.

Additionally, while remote working is not new to Cisco, many organisations are experiencing working from home for the first time. In times like these, know-how is your biggest advantage. We have made our policies and processes on remote business continuity available to everyone, which gives companies access to several best practices we employ ourselves and with customers.

Beyond business, many schools, hospitals, and government offices in India are using our solutions to help students prepare for exams, train nurses and hospital staff on handling ventilators, critical care, safety aspects around Covid-19, connect and interact with frontline workforce, remotely manage agriculture produce markets, etc.

Q. Which products and services from Cisco are most in-demand during these times? Why?
Since the Covid-19 outbreak, we have been working closely with customers, partners and the industry to equip companies with tools and technologies that can quickly, easily and securely facilitate work from home.

As a result, we have seen a massive surge in demand and adoption of our cloud-delivered solutions, across collaboration tools such as Webex, security, communication management and analytics. In March, we registered over 14.3 billion minutes of Webex usage globally. In only one week in March, our security trial requests increased as much as 40 percent of last year’s total requests. These numbers indicate the rise of a new way of working, which I believe will become a norm in the future.

Q. How well were your customers prepared for the work-from-home scenario?
The current crisis is unprecedented, and the disruption caused by it is unexpected. However, over the years, everyone, from small businesses to global enterprises, has been preparing for a digital disruption. Even so, it is imperative to recognise how we could have been better prepared. For instance, some of our customers were faced with the challenge of data security—having to extend existing security infrastructure very quickly to support remote working.

However, I believe the bigger challenge that many companies are facing is facilitating a company-wide mind-shift, as traditional workspaces give way to virtual ones in response to the crisis. Here, leaders must lead the charge and set an example for others to follow, especially in adopting technology to keep pace with a dynamic situation.

Q. What are the biggest opportunities and challenges during these times?
In addition to companies collectively shifting to new working models, we also see a lot of new business models emerging, enabled by technology. For example, in healthcare, India has just eight doctors per 10,000 people compared to 41 in Italy, and over 75 percent of the medical facilities available in India are in urban areas. Remote healthcare and telemedicine can play a crucial role in bridging this gap. Many private labs and hospitals are changing their non-critical consultations to remote consultations. Covid-19 has fast-tracked the adoption of remote healthcare and could lead to widespread adoption of e-health services in the long-run.

In education, there are over 1.4 billion students globally locked out today, and many of them are now continuing to learn online. However, I don’t expect traditional schools to go remote, but they are trying to find a balance between cloud and classroom.

Likewise, many in-person meetings and events across different verticals will give way to virtual conferences and meetings, enabling new business models across banking, education, healthcare, retail, consulting, marketing, etc. The ease and pace at which companies are adapting to the new change is impressive.

The world is transitioning and getting used to working from home. It will impact the way we look at talent, expansion and growth. For employees, there is a direct impact on their daily lives, giving them more flexibility and time with families, while working in an environment where they feel at ease.

For companies, apart from the obvious benefits of reduced operational costs, this would mean having a more diverse pool of talent, which will have a positive impact on revenue and innovation. For example, as companies start getting used to the idea of work from home, they will become open to employing gig workers who can contribute from anywhere. This trend could also bring more women into the workforce.

Lastly, the economy—as companies start actively building a geographically agnostic and diverse workforce, the economy will benefit from this transformation. For instance, if the Indian IT sector, which employs over 4.5 million people, could become more dispersed, rather than concentrated in  Bengaluru, Hyderabad or other IT hubs. This could drastically reduce pressure on city infrastructure and lead to balanced economic growth across the country.