Leadership legacy in the pandemic
Social distancing imposed by the Covid-19 context has made technology, media and telecommunications companies even more important to society. To capitalize on the crisis’ legacy, these sectors still have to lead many other challenging transformations.July-September | 2020
From 2019 to 2020, the sea view was replaced by a computer screen for the participants of one of the annual events of the Brazilian Lymphoma and Leukemia Association (Abrale). Last year, the institution gathered around 300 people at the Museum of Tomorrow, a building overlooking the Guanabara Bay, in Rio de Janeiro, in a forum to discuss ways to improve the fight against cancer in Brazil through the smarter use of data on the disease. This year, the face-to-face seminar with the same theme was canceled due to the new coronavirus pandemic and gained an online version in June. What the meeting lost in landscape beauty it gained in accessibility. “We anticipated a much larger audience, since many people interested in this discussion and who were unable to travel to participate in the previous edition will now be able to follow the conversation easily over the internet”, says Abrale’s executive director, Fábio Fedozzi.
Like the association that Fedozzi runs, thousands of organizations and companies around the world have had to find ways in the past few months to keep going, while respecting the physical distancing needed to prevent an explosive spread of Covid-19 . In this unprecedented effort to adapt, technology, media and telecommunications (TMT) organizations have found themselves playing a fundamental role in offering society the means and messages necessary to maintain some degree of functioning in the economy.
For Abrale, for example, the migration to the virtual environment was possible thanks to a donation from Cisco, which granted a license for Webex Events, a tool that allows presentations for up to 3,000 people.
The offer was part of a set of actions by the company in the face of the pandemic, which included the temporary release of Webex Meetings paid functionalities for any user and the triplicate of the network infrastructure to support the traffic intensification. In fact, in the first three weeks of March alone, the global use of the meeting tool was 250% higher than that of the entire month of February. From the business point of view, offering support to tool users makes sense both as a mission and as a business strategy. “It is important that all customers suffer as little as possible, so that they are strong when the crisis passes and can return to the market soon” says Giuseppe Marrara, Government Relations officer at Cisco.
Rapid and massive reaction
Dozens of other technology, media and telecommunications companies also responded quickly to the pandemic declaration. At the same time that billions of people got used to a seclusion routine, companies were taking measures such as breaking down barriers to access collaborative programs, helping NGOs and governments involved in protecting the population and sharing information and entertainment content for free. Audience statistics show that these measures were not only essential for the corporate world to keep spinning but also deepened the connection of consumers, users, subscribers and companies with organizations in the TMT sectors.
The Zoom videoconferencing platform suspended the time limit for schools to use the tool in several countries, so that students could attend the classes from home. Despite criticism about its privacy policies, the company saw its download page traffic grow 535% in March, according to the British newspaper The Guardian. Another key player in the field of collaborative work resources, Microsoft released for free its chat, meeting and file sharing app, Teams, for six months. School managers can download a special version of the Office suite, which covers Teams and other programs, for educational activities. “Keeping teams connected while working remotely means, at this point, supporting public health and safety” says Mariana Hatsumura, director of Modern Work Environment at Microsoft Brazil.
In telecommunications, Embratel created a special package of solutions for companies that are adopting the quarantine (see table below). In São Paulo, the first epicenter of the pandemic in Brazil, Vivo allows the State Government to consult information on the circulation of citizens, obtained from cell phones’ geolocation. According to the company, the data will always be viewed in aggregate form, to preserve the anonymity of individuals. TIM, in turn, entered into a similar partnership with Rio de Janeiro authorities, and the Federal Government is negotiating an agreement along the same lines with several operators. The idea is to allow the monitoring of agglomerations that may represent a risk of coronavirus transmission and measuring of compliance with isolation measures.
Several of the main media groups in Brazil also rushed to serve their audience and were rewarded. Three of the most influential newspapers nationwide – Folha de S. Paulo, O Estado de S. Paulo and O Globo – abolished the requirement for a subscriber password to read pandemic news on their websites and with that, they attracted more visitors. In a rare decision, TV Globo suspended the recording of soap operas, to protect its employees, and changed its entire schedule to accommodate an extension of the journalistic programs, which made the audience soar. Regarding social networks, Facebook and LinkedIn joined the wave of solidarity creating campaigns to support health services.
“Frightened” transition will not be enough
Despite this agile and joint movement of TMT companies, the virtualization of business and social coexistence does not occur completely or smoothly. A survey by market research firm Forrester showed that only 43% of Americans surveyed believe their companies had a structured plan to deal with the effects of the pandemic on their operations and the work of their employees. Many of the organizations had never tested how their programs would work in a scenario where all employees worked from home, for example. The overload of the most well-known collaboration applications has led to widespread complaints of difficult access in some regions of the United States. All of this can result in significant productivity losses. In Brazil, the situation of insufficient planning is not very different – which means that a good part of the companies improvise the boat ride in the middle of a storm.
There is hope for good winds, however. Deloitte’s lead partner for the Technology, Media and Telecommunications industry, Marcia Ogawa, draws attention to the opportunity for responses to the current crisis to bring deeper legacies than temporary gains in audience or image. To completely fulfill their social role and help prepare the global economy for future shocks, including new pandemics, organizations will need to spearhead significant technical and cultural transformations.
The crisis opens up the opportunity to look at the technologies produced in Brazil. With a favorable environment for collaboration between the public and private sectors, we can find creative solutions and become a reference for other countries., Márcia Ogawa, leader for the Technology, Media and Telecommunications industry at Deloitte.
First, the production structure of electronic items will have to change. Almost all current equipment, from cell phones to hospital machines, uses one or more parts made in China. The danger of this concentration is that if the Chinese are forced to stop again because of a virus or political instability, the world may face a shortage of supply. In this sense, it is foreseeable that the sector should implement a movement of decentralization of manufacturing, which can benefit several countries, including Brazil. “We can go back to being an alternative source of components, if companies and governments invest in science, research and a more favorable business environment” explains Marcia Ogawa.
Challenges go beyond technical aspects
Infrastructure reinforcements will also be needed. The pandemic has shown that, in addition to expanding their capacity to meet an increasing demand for data transmission and storage, TMT corporations in Brazil need to accelerate the migration of their physical networks, which depend on antennas, to virtualized systems, allowing greater flexibility in responding to sudden changes in consumption patterns. This change would allow them to serve customers better even in times of normality.
Another door opened by the pandemic is the even more intensive adoption of technology in medical and educational services. Tools such as artificial intelligence, medical referral and phone service have never been more useful for public health and, after the pandemic, tend to consolidate as something common in the daily lives of hospitals (see table below). In the same vein, a part of the institutions and students who were forced to adopt virtual classes should start to see advantages in this system, which will endorse the adherence to distance education services. TMT organizations can take advantage of these new behaviors to expand their businesses and, furthermore, contribute to social development, if they succeed in understanding their consumers’ needs.
The pandemic also highlighted the urgency for society to debate ethical and customs issues related to technology and media consumption. The press has returned to a safe haven role in the search for credible information, but the financial sustainability of journalistic groups is still a major contemporary challenge (see interview below). In the universe of digital interactions, the good news is that Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have advanced in resolving thorny issues during the crisis. “We saw a more coordinated and active action by social networks in the fight against fake news about the pandemic”, says Fabio de Miranda, coordinator of Insper’s Computer Engineering course. As providers of the channels and of essential content for social stability, TMT companies need to encourage the maturity of these conversations, so that they can sail in safer waters from now on.
A north for leaders
In the midst of so many advances, challenges and opportunities, it is evident that many executives of TMT companies are becoming overwhelmed. To guide them through this crisis and help with the task of preparing their companies for the next ones, Deloitte produced the “People, technology and the path to organizational resilience” study, which brings a walthrough to effective planning in exceptional times.
The publication comes in good time. After the scramble caused by the pandemic in the business game, the areas of technology, media and telecommunications started to shine even more. However, in a game that is just beginning, companies in these sectors will have to show flexibility to sustain business momentum.
TMT companies react to the pandemic
Embratel created a special package for companies to guarantee their employees’ home office, which combines powerful broadband, cloud storage capacity and cybersecurity and telephony solutions, among other items. It also strengthened its video distribution network over the Internet, which maintains copies of the videos on servers in 12 of the largest Brazilian cities, to improve streaming performance. The measure is important in times of increasing demand for virtual education. “The likelihood of a student dropping out of an online course increases when he has a bad experience attending classes. For this reason, institutions offering distance learning courses need a robust infrastructure”, says Marcello Miguel, executive director of Marketing and Business at the organization.
Vivo, TIM, Claro, Oi and Sky
Customers of TIM and Claro prepaid services who consume their entire franchise can earn a daily bonus of 100 MB to continue browsing if they watch coronavirus awareness videos. Vivo, Oi, Sky and Claro released more channels to subscribers of their pay-TV. Governments are negotiating with operators to help with non-individualized information on the movement of citizens, which can subsidize measures to disperse agglomerations.
The release of the Teams collaboration platform facilitated virtual classes at elementary and high schools, such as at the private school Visconde de Porto Seguro, in the south of São Paulo. The platform was already used in the classroom to exchange documents and work groups, but with the pandemic, it started being tested as an alternative to online classes.
In addition to extending the paid functionality of the Webex virtual meeting platform to users of the free version as well, the company pledged to allocate US$ 225 million in cash, products and donations to help respond to Covid-19. Actions under this umbrella include support to the United Nations Foundation Response Fund and virtual training for employees of organizations on the front lines of the fight against coronavirus.
Grupo Globo’s public access channel suspended entertainment attractions and expanded its journalistic programming to 11 hours a day live, while pay-TV reached 17 hours a day of coverage of the pandemic. In the third week of March, with the changes already underway, the broadcaster’s audience jumped 21% from the first two weeks of the month, according to Folha de S. Paulo. Globonews, for the first time, reached audience leadership among paid channels, according to the São Paulo newspaper. In a note to Mundo Corporativo, TV Globo stated that the results are “without a doubt a finding that the company’s decisions are being seen as positive by Brazilians”.
Folha de S. Paulo
The removal of the paywall and the interest in covering the crisis helped the newspaper’s website attract nearly 70 million unique visitors in March, a record for the company. National competitors, O Estado de S. Paulo and O Globo also broke down barriers to access content, as did The New York Times and other newspapers of global influence.
The company activated a tool to encourage blood donations in Brazil during the pandemic period. Coordinate blood centers across the country are now able to notify users of the social network who are close to these centers and who have registered at the network as potential donors. More than 10 million people have already registered, according to Facebook. Globally, the organization banned ads for respirator masks, intensified the suspension of posts with fake news about Covid-19 and has pledged to offer ad credits worth a total of US$ 100 million to help up to 30,000 small businesses around the world whose activities are being affected by coronavirus.
The social network for work contacts offers companies of essential services in times of pandemic – such as hospitals, clinics and supermarkets – free job vacancy posts for three months, to help them find professionals with the necessary skills to perform critical functions more quickly.
Journalism companies are shining amid uncertainty, says professor
While, for most economic sectors, the period of the pandemic is one of harm reduction, for newspaper companies, the moment is to shine. According to Pollyana Ferrari, PhD in Social Communication from the University of São Paulo (USP), author of books on Digital Media and professor of Journalism at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP), the demand for reliable content about Covid -19 is accentuating the revaluation of the fact checking, editing and services jobs. Read the interview below.
Mundo Corporativo – How do you evaluate the work of the press since the beginning of the pandemic?
Pollyana Ferrari – The press is doing a herculean job, to the point that the journalists are all exhausted. Entire newsrooms are in the home office, but continue to work intensively, the press has not stopped. Society is realizing this effort and responding with great interest in the content and with gratitude. Just as we thank the medical teams, we need to thank those who are working on covering the news about the pandemic.
Mundo Corporativo – Has the press fulfilled its social role in this scenario of spread of Covid-19?
Pollyana Ferrari – The current context is one of informational disorder. This was already the case before the pandemic, but it was aggravated by the effects of the crisis. This means that we live in a period in which there is an intense dissemination of false information and hate speech. The role of the press, in this sense, is very strong. With the pandemic, we started to realize that the press and the fact checking agencies fulfill a function of validating the real information, through quality verification. This was already knowledgeably very valuable for politics, but society is realizing that this work has a value in any situation, including issues related to our health.
Mundo Corporativo – And what value is that?
Pollyana Ferrari – It has never been more fundamental to have good sources and perform this work typical of the democratic and serious press, which is actually being done, even though we may have specific criticisms regarding the pandemic coverage. Many people have come to realize that it is not possible to be informed only by Whatsapp groups and that opinion alone is not enough. It is necessary to know the scientific data offered by people who study the subject. Moreover, the channels were right to open their content about the pandemic to anyone interested. They are fulfilling their role of informing the population.
Mundo Corporativo – Could this revaluation of journalism’s fundamental activities bring about long-term changes in people’s relationship with the press?
Pollyana Ferrari – It should bring changes. When we observe the performance of a company such as TV Globo, which increased the space on their grid for TV news, we see that there is a concern in offering services to the citizen. Journalists provide a service, but for many years, since the end of the 1990s, the press has followed a path of waging only on opinion. It was a time of appreciation for columnists, influencers and bloggers, which at one point led to an impoverishment of coverage. Now, it seems that we are turning our attention a little more towards fact checking, in the face of the explosion of fake news. The public seems to search for reliable channels and a well-done investigation, instead of only following individuals they like, which is a good movement for journalism itself.
Mundo Corporativo – What will be left from all this?
Pollyana Ferrari – Decanting information has become very important nowadays. In addition to hearing a influencer on the internet, people seem to be looking again for reporting and fact checking. Accepting this time to assimilate information that do not come from lives or videos from youtubers can be very beneficial. There is also more space for research and data analysis, even due to the technological tools that have emerged. It is still early to know for sure if this trend will grow in the long run, but this change in discourse is already being noticed.
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