12/10/20

Disruption, innovation & opportunity: Meeting the ongoing support challenges of Covid-19

Marc Sanderson

Like many businesses in the technology sector, Qcom has spent the last six months implementing and continually evolving its contingency planning in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

As the situation has advanced, it has become apparent just how critical technical service & support capability really is. Digital and online technologies have played a pivotal role in the world’s economic and social response to the pandemic, and as technology manufacturers have raced to meet the demand for rapid rollouts, equipment modifications and rock-solid reliability, technical service & support has never mattered more.

At Qcom, we have been mindful throughout that our engineers, technicians and support specialists are responsible for mission-critical equipment in many of the sectors vital to the UK and Europe’s wellbeing including healthcare, supply chain and logistics, food retail, manufacturing, and industrial automation.

But, while we are proud that our robust contingency planning and rapid response has enabled us to maintain uninterrupted support provision throughout the summer, we are well aware of the challenges which remain for us, the wider service and support sector, and the technology manufacturers we serve.

The ongoing challenges of Covid-19 for the technology support sector

The coronavirus pandemic has presented a range of unprecedented challenges for the technical services & support sector.

 

The Continuing Challenges

While the immediate challenges from March’s initial lockdown announcement have gradually been tackled, these have been replaced by a more enduring set of day-to-day issues to which every service and support operation must respond.

  1. Staff absence

Even companies with the most committed staff in the world (and we like to think Qcom most definitely has those) are finding it a struggle to keep absences down. Covid-19 itself is obviously a significant cause; a serious and potentially fatal illness with a higher risk for older, typically more experienced, staff. But additional factors including quarantine requirements, disruption to childcare arrangements, and transport difficulties have made the last six months difficult for everyone.

  1. Disruption to field operations

The pandemic means there is no such thing as a standard site visit any more. Quite properly, every company has taken its own approach to distancing and hygiene requirements. Many have gone further, devolving responsibility to local site level. This means that the arrangements for site visits can vary not just company to company but also site to site.  On top of this, the regulations have varied from country to country, and the implementation of local lockdown and regionally targeted action continues to complicate the picture still further.

  1. Supply chain dislocation

The almost total disruption of the early months has now dissipated; where Far East manufacturing all but shut down in Q1 and Q2, we are now seeing a slow return to normal production. Unfortunately while in many cases manufacturing is now back where it was, ongoing supply chain and logistical delays mean that component parts in some sectors are still in short supply.

  1. Maintenance freezes / cost cutting

Preventative maintenance was predictably among the first programmes to be frozen when lockdown was announced. The implications of this are now starting to manifest themselves. Stopping maintenance is almost always a false economy, leading not only to more frequent failures but also to more significant failures. We are just starting to see these impacts, and foresee more in the coming months.

  1. Rising demand

Conversely, and despite the ongoing economic difficulties, we are now starting to see a significant increase in demand in the service and support sector, driven by a range of new opportunities (see below). Given all of the challenges detailed above, this naturally puts pressure on the whole sector. But of course it is pressure we very much welcome, are determined to ‘go the extra mile’ to meet!

technical helpdesk

Increased investment in helpdesk services has been an important part of the Qcom response.

 

The Qcom Response

In response to these challenges, Qcom has continued to evolve its contingency planning. Our approach is not just to respond to developments as they arise, but to build resilience against a range of possible future scenarios (both known and unknown).

  1. Enhanced helpdesk resourcing

From March 23rd, Qcom quickly implemented the contingency plans required for its people to work from home as necessary. Inevitably though this caused some delays and inefficiencies compared with the class-leading service levels we typically achieve via our dedicated helpdesk and contact centre facilities. To help alleviate this and ensure consistent service levels regardless of changing guidelines on home vs office working, we have been recruiting into the helpdesk function.

  1. Flexible systems

In terms of head office, helpdesk and service management teams, we have also evolved from full home working to a blended model, with staff able to work on site where necessary and from home where not. We continue to maintain sufficient mobile and cloud-based capability to fully operate all systems remotely, and we maintain a full disaster recovery plan in the event that we lose power, IT or access to these facilities.

  1. Field engineering resilience

But like many businesses, not all our work can be done from home. Our field engineers are dispersed throughout the territories we support, and maintaining the availability of these regional resources remains an absolute priority. For this reason we have been recruiting new engineers to provide not just additional capacity but also enhanced resilience.

  1. Component availability

While we are aware of some disruption to parts and components, we remain in close liaison with manufacturers to ensure continuity. To ensure that good supply translates into on-the-ground availability, our stock system is spread across engineers’ boot stock, 14 forward stock locations, and our central warehouse in Droitwich. We also have stock in our Irish subsidiary as a secondary resource if required.

  1. Contingency planning

As the autumn / winter season draws closer and predictions for a tough six months ahead gather, in the event of worsening conditions our contingency approach will be to prioritise calls for critical Tier 1 users i.e. healthcare, supply chain (including supermarkets and FMCG (with perishables  and dairy as a priority), and courier companies (in view of their need to deliver food). Tier 2 users such as manufacturing plants will then be prioritised over any non-urgent or non-essential requirements.

  1. Preventative Maintenance

And as well as continuing to provide a break-fix response, we are also strongly encouraging customers to recommence any suspended or postpone routine maintenance and other preventative support. It is clear that Covid-19 is not a short-term issue, and the longer it goes on the more severe the impacts of a lack of maintenance will become.

 

The Opportunities

But as well as coping with these continuing challenges, we believe it is critical for the long-term health of the economy to recognise and respond to the opportunities which remain, both for ourselves and the technology manufacturers we serve.

First, as we have already indicated, technology lies at the heart of the social and economic response to pandemic restrictions (read more in Building a New Normal). Throughout retail, hospitality, supply chain, logistics, healthcare and more, this is creating opportunities to roll out new smart technologies and to reconfigure and upgrade existing equipment with new functionality (such as contactless payment).

As a result, Qcom is seeing significant demand for both technology installation and upgrade projects.

Second, technology companies are inevitably looking at how to restructure in the face of a deep and potentially worsening recession. The initial motivation is typically to reduce costs, but over time more and more businesses will also look to restructuring as part of their bounceback planning i.e. creating the most efficient and effective platform for a quicker recovery and stronger long-term performance.

For most manufacturers, technical service and support is the type of non-core function which can benefit from the efficiencies of outsourcing (see Restructuring for Recession and also Outsourcing with TUPE). Qcom is already onboarding a number of new outsource clients, and seeing a rising number of enquiries about outsourcing contracts

Finally, now is definitely a time to find great people in the jobs market. In normal times it can be hard to identify and recruit the very best people. Quite rightly their existing employers are doing all they can to hang on to them.

But these are far from normal times and we have found that skilled and experienced people have found themselves looking for work through no fault of their own. For both resilience in the short term and the capacity to grow further in the future, Qcom remains active in the recruitment market, engaging with the engineers, helpdesk and other support specialists who offer the outstanding skills and attitude we seek.

 

And next?

While the initial shock of the Covid-19 restrictions seemed to have subsided, many challenges – both immediate and long-term – remain.

As we have said since the very start of this crisis, Qcom remains 100% focused on keeping  production lines running, healthcare services open, transport infrastructures intact and the supply chain moving; as well maintaining the kiosks, ticketing and payment technologies which remain essential as we all look to continue our everyday lives as much as possible.

Alongside that, we will be working with the technology manufacturers who are responding to the challenges of recession and laying foundations for the strongest and fastest recovery once a proper social and economic normal returns.

For expert help and advice on any of the issues in this article, including meeting existing service and support requirements, carrying out installation or upgrade projects, or outsourcing some or all of your technical service and support functions, please do call Qcom on +44(0)1905 827650 or email outsourcing@qcom.co.uk

 

 

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