Mitigating the Business Risks of COVID-19 with Mobility
The significance and value of digital business channels are immediately apparent to companies everywhere right now. This is a wake-up call for organizations that have placed too much emphasis on daily operational needs at the expense of investing in digital business and long-term resilience. It’s becoming exceedingly obvious that the wide-sweeping effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are fast-tracking digital transformation initiatives and forcing companies to adjust business models to keep operations running.
No one can predict when this crisis will stabilize, or the extent of the economic toll it will take on the business community. The time for identifying operational efficiencies, strategizing how to restructure business models and expand technology infrastructures to accommodate enhanced mobility is now. Companies that can shift technology capacity and investments to mobile platforms will mitigate some of the business risks associated with the COVID-19 outbreak and keep their companies running now, and over the long-term.
This article will explore how mobile solutions are allowing businesses to keep operations running and the important technology considerations they need to make in order to monitor and maintain digital platform performance.
Working from home is a hot topic of discussion right now. Even the companies that have been resistant to the concept of remote work have been forced to implement a work-from-home business model. An article from Forbes cited a survey indicating that only a third of the U.S. population worked from home prior to the pandemic. Now, some of the world’s largest organizations are enforcing remote work to slow the spread of the virus. While the option to work from home is a benefit many employees value, many companies lack the technology infrastructure needed to support that ability without some sacrifices to “business as usual.”
As more employees log on from the comfort (and safety) of their homes, numerous challenges are presented. The situation prompts certain questions: how are IT professionals handling the change? And what will this response dictate about corporate culture in general?
While most companies have some sort of technology system in place to allow remote work, (VPNs, cloud-based services, applications like DropBox or Google Drive) some companies haven’t been able to make a seamless transition since the pandemic hit (i.e. businesses that are working with outdated equipment and legacy systems). Even companies with the right technology to support remote work are feeling the strain of the sudden change. Having to transition quickly to a work-from-home model puts tremendous pressure on the infrastructure and the people who support it and also introduces new security risks.
At the same time, once employees know it’s possible to work from home, maintain productivity, and still fulfill the needs of their companies, it’s going to be difficult for organizations to pull that option back. Some companies will eventually go back to work-in-office policies, but Burke Autrey, CEO of Fortium Partners says, “It’s going to be hard to put that genie back in the bottle.”
This feels like a lasting shift. Despite all the challenges caused by the immediate transition, companies can’t ignore that this change could possibly disrupt the status quo. Remote work could easily become the new norm and companies must prepare to maintain this type of business model, which includes addressing the technology and security requirements that allow people to work remotely.
Self-service applications refer to the use of mobile apps that allow users to initiate interactions or access information. People use self-service apps to avail services, order goods, request information, pay bills, register a complaint, connect to support, or get answers to their questions. The processes these apps facilitate become simpler, leaner, and much more enriched than traditional customer support methods. In this case, self-service apps are much safer, as well.
Self-Service Applications Facilitating Advancements in HealthTech
These types of services are especially prominent in the healthcare sector right now. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was significant progress in healthtech; however, public officials are now urging healthcare providers to further expand systems through smartphones and other mobile tools.
Forbes acknowledged that technology can assist with triaging patients and in diagnosing those without the illness but are worried they might have it without having to seek treatment in overcrowded facilities. Using healthtech systems dramatically reduces face-to-face contact which is vitally important for slowing down transmission. COVID-19 is certainly facilitating the advancement of healthtech solutions, which will continue to be a benefit after the pandemic stabilizes.
The Proliferation of Self-Service Applications in Other Industries
We can’t ignore the fact that some industries and individual businesses are suffering a major financial hit from the outbreak, but with more people self-isolating, self-service applications are growing in popularity (and necessity) in many other industries. Digital food and grocery delivery services are seeing an unprecedented surge in use, as well as streaming services, e-commerce platforms, digital fitness brands, and communications solutions.
Supermarkets and Online Grocery Services
Data from Rakuten Intelligence indicates that online order volume from full-assortment grocery merchants rose substantially from March 12 through March 15, compared to the same period a year earlier. Using the data from email receipts, Rakuten Intelligence reveals that the dollar value of online orders is up by 21 percent and the number of orders escalated by 151 percent. Between January 1 and March 15, online sales increased by 61.3 percent and the number of orders grew 57.6 percent compared to a year ago.
What’s happening; however, is widespread unpreparedness for the sharp increase in demand. Supermarkets and grocery delivery services are not only experiencing more online orders than usual, but the average order size has increased as well, as customers panic-buy and stockpile goods. In one response, Loblaw Companies Ltd. supermarkets and Shoppers Drug Mart have posted a large number of job openings to keep up with orders and keep stores stocked. Similarly, Amazon has opened up 100,000 new job opportunities to support people who are relying on their digital services during the outbreak.
On top of supply and demand problems, some retailers are also experiencing technology complications from the sheer volume of users trying to access digital platforms. Ocado, a popular online-only grocer that launched in 2002, has seen the volume of traffic on its website increase almost fourfold since the beginning of March. David Shriver, Ocado’s group head of communications says “It’s the highest peak we’ve ever experienced in the history of business.”
Ocado had so many digital orders last weekend that it had to stop taking registrations from new customers and take its mobile app out of service completely, forcing customers to wait in a “virtual queue” to access the service. While these actions are entirely necessary to keep Ocado’s digital platforms running as securely as possible, their inability to completely protect their mobile channels from the impact of COVID-19 is also a terrible disservice to user experience and customer satisfaction. As the situation unfolds, issues of scalability, digital performance, and user experience will continue to be issues for many online platforms.
Overall, streaming services are a substantial contributor to cultural output, but no one could have anticipated that they’d become one of the only sources of content overnight. Now, as the outbreak progresses, streaming services may become, for the foreseeable future, the main source of collective cultural experience. Schools are closed; movie theaters and performing arts venues are shutting down; sports are on hiatus, and suddenly, the content libraries of Netflix, Crave, Amazon, Hulu, Apple, Disney+, Spotify, and so on, are the junction of humanity’s artistic consumption.
Media companies and entertainment studios that are able to push their content and live performances to streaming services and digital platforms will definitely be able to mitigate some of the business risks of COVID-19, but the speed at which they’d need to act will pose issues. Again, this is another industry being forced to realize the importance of digital channels for maintaining a business, and will absolutely have to put a mobile strategy in place for the future.
Even the major technology companies in streaming are not immune to the technological threats of rapid scaling. In Europe, the European Commission is putting pressure on Netflix to switch from HD streaming to standard definition—at least during periods of peak demand. This switch is to prevent and mitigate the impacts of impending network congestion. While it may not seem like much, switching to lower resolution content does impact the user experience.
Zoom, Webex, Microsoft Teams, BlueJeans and other video conferencing apps help enterprises communicate quickly and seamlessly. Video conferencing solutions help organizations save time, resources, and money by organizing large meetings with only a few clicks. Now, with large parts of the world shut down, these same apps are becoming a useful tool for a variety of sectors, including social networking. Zoom has even turned into a virtual gathering place for parties, dates, and concerts.
Since COVID-19 started closing schools and offices, Zoom’s usage has skyrocketed. Over the weekend, nearly 600,000 people have downloaded the app, the New York Times reports. While the stock market crashes, Zoom shares have exploded, valuing the company at $29 billion—more than airlines like Delta, American Airlines or United Airlines.
Considerations Mobile Platform Scalability & Performance
Scalability is defined as the property of a system to handle a growing amount of work by adding resources to the system. Regarding digital channels, scalability refers to the ability of your platform to handle a growing number of customers, clients, and users. It also pertains to the ability of your current or future development team to maintain the platform.
Mobile app performance is defined as a user’s perception of how the application performs. This means that the performance of your mobile app is measured by how responsive it is, how quickly it starts up, how well it uses device memory, how well it uses device power, and how smooth the animation or interactive elements behave.
Your app needs to perform all network calls and complex computations in a background thread, and if you need to wait for a server response, it’s best practice to display a loading indicator to inform the user that the application is working. Your mobile app should load just enough data to draw a screen so the user can start interacting with the product while the remaining data loads in the background.
A related aspect of responsiveness is your app’s startup time. How many mobile apps have you stopped using because they take an excessive amount of time to start? If your application needs to perform several tasks before starting, it’s essential to determine the best way to mitigate the time it takes to perform those tasks and present the user interface in a timely manner. Startup time can be modeled in three ways:
- First Screen: the time it takes to show the user something on the screen
- Usable: the time it takes for the application to become usable and interactive
- Fully Functional: the time it takes for the application to load all of its resources and become fully functional
Test for Multiple Bandwidth Scenarios
There will likely be times when your users only have access to limited internet connectivity or none at all (times like these are a perfect example). In such cases, you need to consider multiple bandwidth scenarios and think about the local networks in your target users’ demographic region. Often, low-speed internet connections will frustrate users and cause them to stop using the product. It also impacts the overall user experience (UX). For this reason, you need to consider the worst possible internet connection while developing mobile app architecture.
Be Aware of Memory Consumption
It’s vitally important to be aware of how much device memory your application is using. The formula for managing memory is to maintain the user state that you need in memory, but no more. Technically speaking, you want your app to use as little memory as possible, but it’s unrealistic to expect an app to use a small amount memory if it’s functionality requires it to do a lot of things, like playing a video stream, running processes that rely on large data sets, or heavy graphics processing, for example. There are certainly valid cases for an app to use a lot of memory but unfortunately, not all mobile apps use large quantities of memory for good reasons.
In some cases, developers will use a lot of frameworks (for authentication, animations, image processing, communications, data storage, data retrieval, data processing, UI workflows, and this list goes on), but these frameworks are usually general-purpose packages. The appeal of these frameworks is that they can adapt to the needs of many, many things, and as a result, they require a lot of memory to work, even though the app will only use a portion of the framework’s functionality. The more of these frameworks you use, the more likely it is for your app to use an unnecessary amount of memory.
Be Aware of Battery Consumption
The leading causes of battery drain are:
- CPU (central processing unit) intensive calls and complex video rendering
- Network calls
As CPU power increases it is easier to write less efficient code and still achieve tolerable results but at the expense of CPU usage. If you expend effort to optimize the product’s code and choose the best performing algorithms for your goal, then you will minimize the use of the device’s CPU usage, and improve battery life overall.
Network usage is another cause of battery consumption. The cost of making network calls is high, so high in fact, that it can drain a device’s battery in only a few hours. Consider queuing multiple network calls and sending them together in a single request, and optimize the number of messages that are passed between the mobile device and the server by using more succinct messages, such as opting for JSON over XML and gzipping your payload. You should also give thoughtful consideration to the advertisements you display and the frequency at which you display them because ads are a primary cause of excessive network usage and battery consumption.
Keeping Businesses Running With Mobile
The pace of technological change will never be as slow as it was four months ago. Customers’ changing preferences are not likely to go back to pre-outbreak norms. Even before COVID-19, digital experiences, and particularly mobile experiences, were entirely ingrained in day-to-day activities. Looking ahead, mobile apps and digital experiences will become more prominent in the way we carry out our lives. With that said, companies need a plan to handle the risks that have been identified during this pandemic.
In the face of performance and usability issues, people experience stress, frustration, anger, and anxiety. More importantly, 55 percent of consumers explain that the emotional impact they suffer from digital complications affects them for much longer than they would like. For companies, these types of reactions are disastrous, mainly because 63 percent of consumers will actively try to discourage others from using a service or a brand if they’ve had a sub-standard experience. Customers are unforgiving and are becoming increasingly inflexible when they encounter mobile app problems.
Stay close to your customers. Companies that navigate disruptions better often succeed because they invest in core customer segments and anticipate their behaviors. People are dramatically shifting towards online channels for all types of products and services. Companies need to invest in mobile as a part of their push for omnichannel distribution; this includes ensuring the quality and performance of the digital platforms customers are accessing.