7 questions to Giovanni Bellucci, Chief Information Officer.
1. The spread of Covid-19 has triggered a great deal of turbulence: what is the overall situation at the moment?
The Covid-19 emergency has generated an unprecedented break with the ordinary for us all, on both the personal and professional level. The sudden shift in the approach to work resulted in entire company functions transitioning en masse from working face to face to smart working. We have had to make immediate changes to our habits and priorities and to the way we interact with colleagues, customers and suppliers. After being accustomed to moving through large spaces with very little time to spare, we now have to work in small spaces but often have more time to dedicate to aspects of our private and professional lives that might have been overlooked in the past. Despite the unpleasantness of having this all imposed upon us by the emergency, the experience has led to several considerations: we can safely say that the smart working emergency didn't catch us off guard. Our company was prepared both in terms of the technology and of the organisational aspects and procedures. We learned that the IT solutions we have produced over the past few years have far more potential than we were aware of: options that we were often too busy to exploit fully, or too conditioned by cultural barriers to adopt.
That same technology and those same tools have allowed us to interact efficiently and effectively with our colleagues, despite distances. We have been able to share information and remain aligned with company activities and initiatives and make decisions rapidly. We made the most of the emergency by seizing on the opportunity to activate and test smart working on a massive scale within a very short time span. Being "One Company" enabled us to face the emergency as a tight-knit team and adopt a standard approach across all areas of the company. Facing new situations from a different perspective awakened our creativity and the ability to develop new ideas and rethink our business.
2. How did the Information Technology area of the Biesse Group respond and what tools and strategies were adopted?
The services provided by the IT Area are critical for the company, since they provide support for most business processes both in Italy and at our branches.
We took timely action, even before the various government decrees came out, to determine what risks Covid-19 posed to continuity of service and worked with Human Resources Management to develop a Business Continuity plan, which was based on smart working for most of the people in the area, in order to mitigate the risks posed by the possibility of people being infected.
At the same time, we worked to ensure that, within less than a week, over 1,000 of our colleagues in Italy would be able to keep working from home, providing them with the devices they needed in order to constantly remain connected to the company systems. This was possible thanks to the IT equipment (laptops, tablets, smartphones, collaborative platforms, cloud applications) already used by the company, along with the safety and connectivity infrastructure. A robust set of IT policies and procedures formed the basis for the needed governance.
3. How did the global branches respond?
As IT Systems, we immediately provided support for Sales Management and for our branches, to implement the Business Continuity plan across all core branch processes. These too were based on the use of smart working, which was possible thanks to the ease of remote access to all IT applications and services. Here too, our IT infrastructure enabled over 1,000 colleagues to work from home or from other remote locations.
This enabled our branches to guarantee technical assistance and spare parts logistics services with no interruption or major inconvenience, being supported at all times by a Corporate IT Desk powered by smart working. The collaborative tools available meant that colleagues in Marketing and Sales were able to constantly remain in contact with our customers and arrange demonstrations of our products, training and continued learning sessions, and marketing campaigns. The group-wide standardisation of IT processes and solutions played a critical role in our success, allowing us to address the emergency created by Covid-19 in a timely and effective manner.
4. What needs did customers communicate with the company over this emergency period?
I think what our customers expected most of us in this situation was reassurance that our company would remain present, living and active while complying with the restrictions imposed by the lockdown, which kept us from being present in person. Our solutions based on Cloud Computing (Salesforce) and on the Internet of Things (Sophia IoT) helped us remain very close to our customers, monitoring the status of their connected machines and providing all the necessary support through our remote services.
5. Biesse Group is perfectly grafted into the business 4.0 world. To what extent can the digital services and IT solutions offered compensate for the emergency situation?
The level of digitalisation of our company processes and of the digital services we offer our (Sophia) customers are such that we can rapidly respond to important changes in critical situations, such as the one we are currently experiencing. We realise that our business is now less stable and more vulnerable to shocks compared to the past (pandemics, cyber threats, etc.). We are able to face such large-scale interruptions because we have implemented the digital transformation of our processes and are able to access our data systems and the crucial information we need when making rapid business decisions. This also permits us to manage customer relations with an approach that is different from the past, but nonetheless effective.
6. This is a global situation, and everyone is being impacted. What advice would you give to medium and small businesses to help them better address the situation?
I believe it is imperative for medium and small businesses to invest in the "digital transformation" of their systems and processes. The best strategy is to adopt cloud-based IT solutions and leave behind the dated idea of developing on-premises solutions.
More to the point, interventions must enable cooperation at all levels, between company teams and with the outside world. This can be achieved by adopting robust cloud collaboration platforms that offer the social media experience and simplify the task of working at a distance by allowing users to share information and interface directly (chat features, online meetings, web conferencing...).
The Covid-19 emergency has also had an unprecedented impact on the supply chain. To mitigate future risks, we need a new approach to the supply chain, one supported by end-to-end digital systems that offer full visibility and control over the process, improving efficiency and flexibility.
7. How will the future of enterprise change?
It's highly unlikely that things will return to the way the were before Covid-19: we can't know the exact type and number of changes the future has in store, but this situation will certainly have a lasting and possibly revolutionary effect on our way of thinking and on how we interact with customers and colleagues.
The many solutions we are developing as a company – to provide “virtual” live demos of our machines, offer webinars covering topics that are of interest for our customers, set up virtual trade shows and even arrange remote installation and testing sessions – will not disappear once the Covid-19 emergency is over. This wealth of consolidated assets and resources will provide an addition to, rather than a replacement of, approaches that call for a physical presence at the customer's premises. We are now entering the most difficult phase, preparing for recovery in a new economic scenario. The break with the past must no longer be dictated by the emergency, but by our ability to innovate and do things differently. We need to reinvent the way we do business: being digital is no longer an option, it is now a necessity.
The many ideas that our company has been working on over this period will help us take a disruptive approach to the future, completely rethinking the way we've managed certain company processes to provide a faster, slimmer approach: the company's IT services will always make change possible!