CIOs see pandemic tools shaping post-covid enterprise3 min read . Updated: 05 Mar 2021, 12:03 AM IST
- IT Leaders at UPS, UnitedHealthcare expect many of programs launched during the pandemic to remain post-crisis
Many companies—led by those in the front line of the coronavirus pandemic—changed the way they did business last year.
Some are planning to make those alterations permanent, offering a glimpse into postcrisis markets, corporate technology leaders say.
Among the biggest permanent changes are a shift to remote work, in-home and other contactless customer services, and a far greater reliance on digitally enabled collaboration, they say.
“We were sharing information with our supply chain and clinicians about how to best care for patients in their homes," said Carissa Rollins, chief information officer at insurer UnitedHealthcare Services Inc. “We really need this collaboration to continue," she said.
Speaking at The Wall Street Journal’s virtual CIO Network summit, Ms. Rollins said the company, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group Inc., quickly expanded its programs and services during the pandemic.
That included a sharp increase in the use of virtual-care visits aimed at serving more patients in their homes, she said. The move required ramping up digital tools and infrastructure to support video and other capabilities. “We will continue using these tools post pandemic," Ms. Rollins said.
She said another new service that won’t go away is a virtual symptom checker, which was deployed in the early days of the pandemic and has since been used more than 150,000 times.
Juan Perez, chief information and engineering officer at United Parcel Service Inc., said the pandemic drove some of the most significant changes in the company’s history.
At the height of the crisis, as more homebound consumers began ordering products online, UPS saw the volume of deliveries jump to 34 million packages a day, roughly double pre-pandemic levels, Mr. Perez said, speaking at the event.
“For us to do that successfully, closer interaction with our customers was critical," he said. “I think the pandemic has really opened up those channels," he said.
Although the company had the necessary infrastructure in place, he said, the pandemic has accelerated a push to increase its use of cloud-based software as a service. “The process that we needed to do work needed to be adjusted," Mr. Perez said, “SaaS has become critical to UPS."
Together with its own systems, Mr. Perez said UPS has the flexibility to rapidly scale computing needs to meet unexpected surges in demand. “The ability to support the network remotely has changed, too," offering still greater flexibility, he said.
UPS delivered an estimated 96.7% of packages on time in the five weeks before Christmas, compared with 95.1% for FedEx Corp. and 93.2% for the U.S. Postal Service, according to ShipMatrix Inc., a software provider that crunches shipping data.
More recently, UPS marshaled the digital resources needed to distribute vaccines around the globe, fast-tracking a new system to handle medical shipments. “We were in the infancy of developing that and now we’re accelerated it," Mr. Perez said.
Grocery stores, restaurants, hardware stores and other retailers also expect a range of services deployed during the crisis—such as preordering, curbside pickups and other contactless transactions—to become business-as-usual in the future, industry analysts say.
Above all, corporate decision making around deploying digital capabilities has been put into overdrive by the pandemic, a positive change from the pace of pre-Covid information-technology projects, both technology executives said.
When delivery volumes began to soar last year, UPS quickly realized that requiring signatures from package recipients was no longer feasible. That required a rapid change in the digital technology that underpins delivery confirmations, Mr. Perez said. “We couldn’t really debate that too long.
“The speed with which we have had to make decisions has transformed the way we work as a team," added Mr. Perez.
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