AMEinfo has conducted a series of interviews with notable regional and international tech companies of different sizes, trying to get an idea about how they're all coping and adapting during these challenging times.
Today, no business has been spared the backlash from the global Coronavirus pandemic. Entire industries have been brought to heel - massive industries like the hospitality sector, travel sector and even the oil sector.
So, in an effort to try and assess the situation across the affected sectors and businesses, AMEinfo has conducted a series of interviews with notable regional and international companies. In this article, we will be looking at tech companies across the spectrum - from big tech and SMEs all the way to startups - trying to get an idea about how they're all coping during these challenging times.
You can access the full individual interviews by clicking the #COVID19Tech tag here, or above.
Tech companies among the best-positioned firms during the crisis
While their business has certainly been affected, as Indices in the US and elsewhere have shown, market reports, as well as tech firms themselves, have both boded with good news.
"Despite the current situation, our daily operations have not been impacted," Claude Schuck, Regional Manager, Middle East at Cloud Data Management firm Veeam, told AMEinfo. "This is largely due to two reasons."
"The first is, at a time like this when regional organizations are mandated to have employees working from home, technology solutions like Veeam that address cloud data management and data security are seeing increased interest. Secondly, within the Middle East we are fortunate to have an established and experienced team. We have an in-depth understanding of our customers’ specific needs and requirements for them to drive success and business continuity, which is why organizations continue to rely on us."
Schuck's comments echoed a trend we noticed was recurrent among other IT firms like Veeam: they are among the best positioned firms during this crisis.
"Organisations have begun to rapidly deploy work-from-home initiatives," Mena Migally, Senior Director, MENA at Riverbed Technology told us. "Technology is a key enabler of these programs and as a market leader in solutions that optimise and accelerate the performance of digital applications – irrespective of where they are hosted, and what device they are accessed from – Riverbed has seen a surge in the number of enquiries around its solutions from businesses across verticals including manufacturing, consulting, finance, healthcare, energy/oil and gas, and large accounting firms.
"Naturally, as more people are resorting to digital solutions, networks are seeing unprecedented traffic, which is increasing the demand for network infrastructure and support services. Charles Yang, President at Huawei ME, had this to say, in an exclusive interview with AMEinfo.
"In light of the current situation, people around the world are spending a lot of time shopping, gaming, and having meetings online. This has caused a dramatic increase in network traffic, and presents huge challenges in terms of network stability and security."
According to Yang, Huawei is providing network services to more than 170 countries and regions, "working closely with customers and local governments to ensure networks remain stable and secure."
"We are doing what we can to help meet the rapidly growing demand for networks."
A major supporting role to play
But that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to tech firms' contributions during this era of social distancing and diminished economic activity. As the world locks itself at home, it falls to these companies to bring us together for work, education, family and simple human connections.
"We are working closely with schools and universities to provide the necessary tools and network infrastructure to support distance learning," Yang said. "In markets like Saudi Arabia, Huawei has joined the 'Kolluna Attaa' program, a new charity initiative being sponsored by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT). Our contribution will provide students who cannot afford to have digital services with smart tablets for them to access to online education platforms."
Currently, our focus has been on enabling our customers to optimize their networks and efficiently manage the surge in the number of work-from-home employees while ensuring they are equipped to be productive. - Mena Migally, Senior Director, MENA at Riverbed Technology
"We have an extremely important part to play as the solutions we deliver help our clients, people and communities stay connected and navigate through this time," Redouane Gaouar, Director Go-to-Market Practices and Strategic Partner Alliances at Dimension Data, said. "Every day, our people are supporting clients, both onsite and from our service and operations centres, in critical services industries such as healthcare, supply chain and food retailers."
"While the long term social, economic and health impacts of the COVID-19 virus are still unknown, these incredibly difficult times are an important reminder that what we do as a company can make a big difference in people’s lives," Ronaldo Mouchawar, Vice President of Amazon MENA and Co-Founder of SOUQ.com told AMEinfo. "For now, we are focusing on supporting the community and providing people with the products they need as they stay safe at home while also safeguarding our associates and operations network."
Have tech firms adapted to remote working?
With the lockdown in place, tech firms, like the rest of the economy, have had to close off their offices while asking employees to work from home (WFH). Once more, given the nature of their business, many tech firms have found themselves in a strong position to continue delivering their products and services even while employees are telecommuting. We've seen this with Silicon Valley companies like Facebook, Google and others, which had urged their employees to work from home early on, even before a lockdown had been put in place, while maintaining their usual quality of service.
Among the companies we interviewed, we noticed that enterprise tech firms were among the companies to make the most out of WFH practices.
"At Veeam, we have imposed a work-from-home policy to limit the potential spread of infection," Schuck said. "This is not unusual for Veeam as the majority of our employees work remotely anyway, but to ensure everyone’s health and well-being, we have closed our offices until further notice and asked everyone to work from home."
I make sure as far as possible that we connect with each other regularly on the phone or via video conference and not just talk about work but also about everyday life and world happenings. This mirrors the chats that we have with each other at the coffee machine or water cooler in the office which fosters good working relationships. - Claude Schuck, Regional Manager, Middle East at Veeam
"Given that as a company we have always focused on accelerating the performance and visibility for networks and applications, which includes software-based solutions that specifically optimize remote working, we are very fortunate that we can leverage our own technology so that our employees can continue to be highly productive and the performance and access to the networks and applications remains unprecedented whether in the office or working remotely," Riverbed's Migally said.
"It is not a challenge for us to work remotely whilst at the same time maintaining that efficiency - especially during a time like this, where digital activities are on a constant rise." Artem Rudyuk, Region Manager of global affiliate network Admitad MENA, told AMEinfo. "We are continuously looking at novice ways to streamline our business processes. I would even go as far as to say that remote working has saved a lot of time for our employees in commuting back and forth to the office, and any other unproductive activities that might have risen from being at the office."
On the other end of the spectrum, smaller tech startups like UAE robo-advisor firm Sarwa find themselves in a similarly advantageous position.
"As a technology company, we were already built to be resilient to the change in the working ‘space’ as we already operate fully online," Mark Chahwan, Co-founder and CEO of Sarwa, told AMEinfo. "Our team is equipped from the get-go to handle remote work. We use many tools for daily communication and have regular meetings to align on tasks and overall direction."
Still, not all tech firms are able to pull this off. Amazon.ae, for example, whose business involves a major brick-and-mortar component, is among the companies that cannot commit to a 100% WFH shift.
"Every team is different and not all jobs are conductive to working from home," Amazon's Mouchawar said. "In fact, much of our work cannot be done from home, but safety comes first. With guidance from local health authorities and the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MOHAP), we've implemented a series of preventative health measures at our sites around the world to help keep our employees, partners, and customers safe."
As for Huawei, their situation is different. Headquartered in China, where life has returned to normal for the most part, Yang informed us that they "have fully resumed all production activities." As for Huawei's office employees, media reports state that most of them have resumed their regular duties, though some continue remote working.
"Ever since the first signs of an outbreak in China, Huawei has taken an active approach to ensure the safety of our workplaces," Yang continued. "This has included deploying prevention measures across our campuses, implementing a daily employee health check system, and procuring protective materials." Additionally, "we have put in place many practices for online meeting and work, using our own products and solutions such as video conferencing, WeLink, eSpace among others."
Challenges and a future past COVID-19
Regardless of whether they're well-positioned to weather the storm of COVID-19, there's no denying that these companies have been impacted when all's said and done. It might be easy to dismiss the threat to Big Tech, but at the end of the day, they're just businesses like any other, and the after-effects of a crisis such as this on them will often be visible not in the short-term, but in the long-term, as these corporations tweak and adjust to position themselves for the future.
"As COVID-19 continues to spread, we may see lasting global effects for some time," Huawei's Yang said. "Our supply chain department is providing daily updates about how our suppliers around the globe have been doing, so that our company can do everything we can to help partners along the supply chain combat the pandemic and continue production. We can't say for sure how the pandemic will evolve. If the measures being taken to combat the virus are not effective, it is possible that some of our suppliers won't be able to continue supplying us. In this case, we will face challenges to our supply continuity."
Naturally, the outbreak has caused the company to lower its financial targets for the year, as Yang confirms. This was reflected in the company's Q1 2020 earnings, which the company released this week showing some diminished performance amid falling demand caused by the lockdown.
As for startups, they're often high-risk victims of economic crises such as this. Often juggling little capital at their disposal, while busy growing client bases and working to navigate their way in their respective markets, these small enterprises find themselves prone to the market's every ebb and flow. As such, those that make it through are often destined for success.
Today, Sarwa is facing these very same challenges, but has a trick or two up its sleeve to survive the pandemic.
"We were lucky to have closed a round of investing recently and we have runway," Chahwan noted. "That said, the pandemic is putting the livelihoods of many startups at risk and we are conscious that we need to be careful with our operating costs. As a startup, you can look into creative ways to cut costs and hold on to any spare cash without having to drastically change the way you operate."
He continued: "That being said, we also ran readiness scenarios to see what the best and worst case projections of the impact on the business and what we can do to mitigate. We did a budget reduction exercise, and relooked into our strategies and kept the focus on core projects that serve the long term growth to the business."
Tech's time to shine
Purchase decisions that would have taken months or quarters are now happening in days or weeks, and customers are acting quickly. - Mena Migally, Senior Director, MENA at Riverbed Technology
Luckily for these tech firms, the demand for their services has rarely been this high.
"Riverbed has seen a surge in the number of enquiries around its solutions from businesses across verticals including manufacturing, consulting, finance, healthcare, energy/oil and gas, and large accounting firms," Migally said. "Furthermore, purchase decisions that would have taken months or quarters are now happening in days or weeks and customers are acting quickly because they can roll this solution out to employees globally over the course of a weekend."
"During these times, we are seeing an increase in digital activity as more and more consumers prefer to do all of their shopping online in order to stay safe," Admitad's Rudyuk said. "This provides online businesses and retailers a great opportunity to put focus on driving online sales."
"With the COVID-19 pandemic widespread across the world, ICT infrastructure has become a fundamental and essential lifeline for all countries," Huawei's Yang said. "ICT infrastructure has emerged as the most reliable pillar for societies, and a vital component to address the increasing requirements of healthcare networks worldwide. ICT infrastructure and services are now a fundamental enabler of economic activity, social interaction, and developmental interventions. Therefore, the sector’s first priority now is to take responsibility to combat and mitigate the effects of COVID-19."