by Shankar Venkat, Founder/CEO, Azure Digital

Covid19 has  upended our  lives like nothing else we know of !   Airports have been shut, planes have been grounded, workplace restrictions have been imposed, people have been advised to stay at home and work, and to go out only if absolutely essential. Supply chains have been disrupted. Nobody on this planet could have imagined anything of this scale and impact when we entered the New year of 2020 !  Nobody is sure how and when Covid19 will be effectively contained and when  life will return to ‘pre-Covid19’  like times.  In these dire and uncertain conditions, can work continue ? However,  there is growing evidence from around the world, that cities, towns and villages are learning to cope with Covid19 crisis – managing with ‘Social distancing’ , which is the only effective response to contain Covid19 from spreading.  Even after Covid crisis has been tackled, some form of ‘Social distancing’ will linger.  There  is aggressive global scale effort to invent a vaccine and to find an effective cure . But  this is not expected to happen anytime soon. For now, the world seems to be dragging itself, in the best possible way forward . Governments are being burdened with ‘Bail Outs’ and ‘Cash outs’ to help people and businesses to survive and get along. In such an uncertain environment, can businesses really do business ? Can businesses plan for the future ?   

Whilst  many businesses have been severely impacted like airlines, railways, travel, tourism, events and event management, etc ;   there are many other businesses which are thriving such as online stores for almost all products and services,  online learning, online education, and many more. The most important development  from this Covid crisis is the switch to ‘Digital’ that is taking place and  is certain to continue. More and more  aspects  of our lives are hastening the switch to digital ! Thanks to technologies like Zoom, which now facilitates instant video calls – bringing many people from anywhere in the world, on to a single screen, and interact as if all are in ‘ONE’ online room !  Online learning and digital classes have also taken off, with more students learning online than at any point in recent times. Online shopping has picked even more, while shopping malls and brick & mortar shops remain shut !

Businesses – big or small, must be forward looking, which is imperative at all times.  Businesses must focus on the scenario  beyond Covid crisis.  This is an opportune time for businesses, specially small and mid-size businesses to explore digitally  transforming their business. But, can businesses  work on digital transformation projects, 100% remotely ? Can projects be implemented without consultants and resources being on site, engaging ‘face-to-face’ ? Is it possible to implement projects  ‘100%’  remotely ?  At  Azure Digital, we believe it is possible to deliver projects 100% remotely, because we have executed projects – 100% remotely !  We can say this for sure  for Small & Mid-size businesses . 

We share a case study on 100% remote delivery of an Ecommerce project that Azure Digital delivered remotely.      Azure Digital was invited by a client – a family owned fast growing food products distribution business based in  San Jose, CA in USA to advise on eCommerce strategy and implementation.  

The client is  a fast growing wholesale importer and distributor  of packaged food products to retailers. The client is also in the manufacture of  packaged food products, with  manufacturing facility in San Jose, USA.  Bulk of client’s business was concentrated in the state of California and Seattle in Washington.  The client wanted to explore going direct to consumers via Online store to all of USA. CEO of the client reached out to the author for advise, which was then followed up with a proposal after discussing the scope of the engagement. The CEO of the client had  concerns about the execution – client was based in San Jose, California, USA , the consulting firm – Azure Digital  was based in Sydney, Australia and Azure Digital’s  Technical  team was based in Chennai, India, and whether there would be need for travel , which will impact the cost of the project.  The blog author,  also the CEO of Azure Digital, assured the client’s CEO that the project will be executed with ‘Zero Travel’! With this assurance, the client signed-off on the project.            

Azure Digital set out a Agile project framework to execute the project. It was agreed that meetings will be over  internet video calls and that the client’s project team members must be available to participate. The meeting timings were organised factoring various  time zones. The meetings were to be planned and intimated in advance with clear agenda.

The Project had three distinct aspects as focus areas, viz

  • Strategy and business direction
  • Technology and deployment
  • Business process, Operations and Logistics

Strategy & business directions : This aspect of the project focused on the strategic considerations, which will have long term implications for the business. These discussions  led  by  consultants  were in the realm of  the CXOs. These related to the broad directions for the business – share and mix of  Online business vs traditional distribution business,  pricing related policies  for online vs pricing for Retailers, marketing spend for online business, etc,

Technology related considerations :  This aspect focused on choice of eCommerce platform, Cloud deployment platform, payment gateways, logistics gateway,  internet security, website, changes to ERP and CRM, and integration of  eCommerce to ERP and CRM systems. Customisation of the Ecommerce platform versus implementing standard  ‘Out-of-the box features and the implications on business operations. This is the area of expertise that Azure Digital as external consultants contributed significantly to the project and to the business. 

Business process, Operations and logistics related considerations:  This aspect focused on the internal business process, operational and logistics related issues, as these have direct bearing on the implementation of the eCommerce solution and changes to the business processes and operations. This aspect also covered warehousing and inventory management in view of the proposed addition of the eCommerce line of business.   

Many aspects of the project and the related decisions often flowed across various layers and domains. These needed to be effectively managed, specially in the context of 100% remoted implementation.

The chart below shows the project focus areas – its impact on the project and the effort & resources associated with the project.

For instance, the CEO & COOs time, views and decisions  were most valuable and had the most impact on the project. However, their actual involvement and association with the project  was about  10 % in terms of overall share of time.

The client’s IT team’s, involvement was nearly 60% , which would be expected.  Operations & Logistics team’s involvement was 30% .   

When implementing projects ‘100% Remote’, it is important to have a perspective of the involvement & the effort of the Client’s project team.  Unlike On-site projects executed from client’s location, where ad-hoc meetings can be called  to discuss aspects of the project, or seek out resources to check on aspects that require clarification, in ‘Remote implementation’, these are not entirely possible.  

The key to implementing projects successfully is by ensuring  consistency in use of project related productivity technology & techniques –  cloud software, platforms for video calls, meeting protocols, project progress monitoring, besides project management, governance and controls.

When projects are being  implemented 100% remotely, it is very essential early on , to ensure that the channels of communication and protocols are well laid out.  In this day and age, there are communication  tools  such as Whatsapp, Skype, Slack, Jira, Microsoft Teams, Goto meetings, Zoom, TeamViewer, Dropbox,  collaboration software tools like Monday, Asana etc. that can be very effectively utilised.

The future is clearly ‘Digital’ and the implementation of these projects are most likely to be  ‘100% remote’ !