• Shalini Pillay, Leadership |

This article is part of the GBS point of view series providing perspectives and insights into the sector post-COVID-19. While Global Business Services (GBS) organisations / Global Capability Centres (GCC) in India have been impacted by the lockdown due to COVID-19, the good news is that most organisations are managing to continue to deliver services at reasonable to good levels of productivity despite initial hiccups – with most GCCs meeting greater than 75 per cent of their service levels.

While most GCCs in India had Business Continuity Plans (BCP) and measures at the floor/building/city/country level written for 20-30 per cent capacity, almost none took a total global lockdown into consideration, due to which many came up short through the initial couple of weeks. More than 85 per cent of the GCC staff has been entirely working remotely barring about 10 per cent of the skeleton staff that essentially needed to be in office.

In this article we offer commentary on how GCCs have been dealing with the situation, as well as suggestions on what could be things to consider as the sector emerges from lockdown. 

GCCs that put adaptive measures in place well in advance were in a much better position

  • Some GCCs learned from the COVID-19 situation in China and took proactive measures at their centres in India starting in early February. Post the lockdown announcement in India, they immediately operationalised – delivering laptops/desktops home and redefining security protocols
  • The GCC of a large Australian financial services firm started deploying the remote working operating model from the last week of February. This helped it to manage capacity issues for both the offshore as well as support additional operations at the parent organisation
  • Those that used cloud-based infrastructure were able to move to remote working relatively easily. A few such organisations continue to work towards scaling their GCC up further, while others are currently evaluating their cloud strategy

GCCs ended up using innovative alternatives to manage day-to-day operations

  • Some organisations had innovative infrastructure ramp up plans – some sent hundreds of desktops to colleagues’ homes, others bought out employees’ personal devices and deployed the organisation’s security protocol/policy, paid Wi-Fi allowances, etc.
  • The GCC of a European pharmaceutical company has been conducting interviews and screening tests through video conferencing, while others are using remote ‘virtual’ onboarding and induction methods to honour recruitment commitments
  • Use of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) while working remotely has helped to address the issue of latency in bandwidth. Perhaps this may even become a permanent part of the organisation’s ways of working, such as in the case of the GCC of a financial services firm that has been using VDI for several years now

Some GCCs were able to pick up additional activities to support the parent entity

  • GCCs in the consumer markets sector dealing in everyday essentials were particularly swamped with high volumes due to people stocking up on various items, stepped up to support on customer analytics and order fulfilment
  • In a few cases, sales of a few non-essential products/items went up significantly in specific geographies for which the GCC played a starring role in preparing and delivering to plans
  • A financial services GCC was picking up additional work in its retail banking space because the onshore organisation was heavily impacted while another peer GCC in the same sector picked up cash management analytics to respond to the cost pressure from the onshore.

For most GCCs, the past few weeks has demanded revisiting a bunch of HR policies, and perspectives on workforce management

  • Most GCCs have defined and/or amended their agile working policies to align with the new norms, enabling their workforce to work remotely, stay closely connected and maintain service delivery levels
  • Many GCCs are closely re-examining their promotion and compensation policies, along with special incentives structures, work from home allowances, etc.
  • Employee engagement and learning formats have been significantly rewired, witnessing a surge in online content consumption over video calls and a host of mobile, collaborative tools
  • Reinforcing the security environment while in parallel driving remote training to all employees to ensure heightened awareness of the new protocols has been big on the change agenda
  • There is a new-found openness to exploring how the gig workforce can plug in, given an increased demand in specific skills around the new emerging technology areas
  • There is now a growing focus on managing and monitoring productivity and effectiveness in this new remote working environment, while balancing with employee wellness

Key takeaways and points to ponder

While there are plenty of positive GCC stories around us, all GCC leaders need to reflect on and review their GCC journey with the benefit of hindsight that the pandemic has afforded us.

Globalisation in general will be put to the test in the coming months, however we believe it presents the Indian GCC community with a window of opportunity as well.

  • India’s response and resilience of its services sector has been a case study of sorts. The focus clearly needs to be (and is already) on how we can be better prepared the next time this happens. Business continuity planning shall be examined very closely. This saw the government and private sector come together to enable seamless working through this COVID-19 environment
  • Efforts to accelerate digital initiatives to reduce dependence on people will need to be made. With revenues taking a hit, there is bound to be significant cost pressures on the GCC from parent organisations
  • The nudge towards remote working could result in the sector not only accepting colleagues who work from home, but also in them moving/expanding delivery centres to emerging Tier-2 cities to keep costs down
  • GCCs and service providers working shifts and sharing desktops and other hardware have been hit harder than others. Technology-enabled remote employee performance monitoring will be key demonstrators (and differentiators) of abilities going forward
  • Persistence of the current lockdown scenario may lead to organisations deferring short term incentives and scheduled promotions of their employees at the senior and top management levels, and will also merit review of longer term structures allowing for more flexibility
  • Risk and controls, especially in financial services, will see a major rise in prominence with sensitive data ‘going home’. Sustaining these new ways of working will need new thoughts and different controls that work in the new scenario. Security protocols need to be relooked to address various cyber threats, fraud attempts, server/network compromises, etc.
  • Last but not the least, COVID-19 has shown us that almost any role can be performed remotely. Will it change the way we think about offshoring?

Indications are that Global Business Services organisations and service providers will need to adopt major changes in their ways of doing business and create a ‘new normal’. This global pandemic has undoubtedly questioned long standing norms of the Indian offshoring industry and will set the foundations to define ‘The Future of Work’

The following six imperatives could be key themes/thought-starters which we are looking to cover as specific subjects to delve deeper. Feel free to reach out to us to develop thoughts better:

  1. Operating model: revisit sourcing model (in-house vs. outsourced mix, nearshore vs. offshore)
  2. Delivery footprint: reduce ‘concentration risk’, leverage global talent pool and enhance resilience
  3. Digital infusion: rearchitect delivery platforms for remote workforce enablement and increased automation
  4. Risk and compliance: ensure pandemic preparedness and redefine controls, protocols and policies for the new normal
  5. Workforce shaping: embrace flexible working policies, agile models and gig workers
  6. Frugality: unlock cost savings opportunities with a frugal mindset