Coronavirus has presented a situation most geeks probably didn’t anticipate: what happens when even the disaster recovery sites and business continuity plans are rendered useless. You can fly resources to alternative locations. But how do you run a global business when flights are grounded and countries regulate who can come in?

For the $190 billion IT services and BPO sector, Covid-19 poses the twin challenges of business continuity and business growth. Sangeeta Gupta, senior vice-president, Nasscom, says, “You can’t shift people from, say, Chennai to Delhi (like it happened during the Chennai floods in 2015) to keep a business functioning. Besides, travel, hospitality and aviation verticals might see a dip in growth in IT spending as coronavirus has directly impacted all three due to travel bans and grounding of flights.” This could lower the overall sector’s growth by a few notches from the 7.5% estimated by Nasscom for 2019-20.

Infosys on Saturday evacuated one of its buildings in Bengaluru as a precautionary measure after one of its employees came in contact with a suspected Covid-19 patient.

A challenge for IT services companies is that asking employees to work from home raises the risk of leak of sensitive information and data thefts. Besides, the Department of Telecommunications’ rules don’t allow office virtual private network to connect to home IT infrastructure. “We are asking DoT for a four-week exemption to this rule,” adds Gupta. On March 14, the DoT relaxed this restriction for BPOs, KPOs and medical transcription services alone till April 30.

The US market, which accounts for almost 65% of the business of Indian IT services companies, is better cushioned to a large extent as the companies has hired more local staff. Gupta says, “There is enough staff keeping the lights on. There is no doomsday scenario.”

An option is to use bots for more work, like software testing, though this course is not entirely risk-free from virus attacks, of the virtual kind.

Even as risks mount, companies are educating employees, offering relevant information and keeping a panel of doctors on standby. Harshvendra Soin, chief people officer, Tech Mahindra, says, “We have advised employees to work from home if they have symptoms of Covid-19. We have also postponed all events that require large gatherings.”

Multinational tech companies in India are also taking precautions and depending more on remote collaboration tools. An employee of Dell India who returned from the US tested positive for Covid-19 and has been quarantined. A Dell spokesperson says, “Team members who may have come in contact with the employees are working remotely.” The company has increased the frequency of deep cleaning and sanitisation at offices and has encouraged employees to work from home.

Microsoft has seen a 500% increase in usage of its collaboration platform Teams. It has also seen an increase in the use of conferencing facilities and remote working systems among its employees in China and elsewhere. Companies are also using Skype and Zoom, among other facilities, to work remotely.

“This is a time to test blended work environments, using physical and virtual collaboration tools,” says Nasscom’s Gupta. “If Covid-19 persists, companies could depend more on such tools.”

Tech companies have their task cut out to remain on top of the game and safe from viruses — both online and offline.

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