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Geography is now History!

A few months ago, while as a panellist at a conference, the moderator sprang a surprise question on us to say which digital technology we find the most productive and why.

While caught a bit off-guard, each of us responded to the question as best as we could. Thinking on my feet and without much analysis, I said Microsoft Teams; even though my usage/ experience of MS Teams was fairly limited at that time. 

I did not give that instance much thought thereafter, except about two weeks ago, when at the switch of a button, the world has turned virtual. Never before and never at this scale has the importance and value of the Information Technology and Communications has been realised as it is being now and perhaps never ever has a collaborative tool like MS Teams played a more crucial role than now. 

I started the Savills India business in late 2018, almost as a cold start with a few seats in co-working centres and a handful of people. As would be evident, there was a long list of issues to deal with for us at that time; each more important than the other. We had to firm up the business plan, identify and hire key people, manage banking and funds, compliance matters etc. and most importantly find clients who would hire/ pay us. None of those could wait, but we decided to add building and implementing our IT roadmap, to this list of top priority issues. 

As a result and with some assistance from our regional HQ, our COO and I were sitting through presentations from IT vendors and consultants, within weeks of our start. There were a few vendors who were a bit bemused by our urgency and discouraged us from committing to technology so early in the game, but we persisted and as a result, we are well on our way to implement the full digital roadmap at this time. 

Of course, I had no inclination at the time about what's going to unravel in March 2020 and my reasons for imbibing IT/ communications were entirely different, rooted in the philosophy that employee flexibility and productivity will be the key to success, particularly in an environment of hyper-mobility and connectivity. I remember a vendor questioning us on the rationale of implementing a full bells & whistle HRIS platform when all we had was 30 people, going up to about 100 in the foreseeable future. We had the choice to build (as would be conventional wisdom) a graded roadmap that would correspond to the growth of our business and people, but I had experienced on multiple occasions, the challenges of managing change in large workforces, not to mention the challenges resulting from a suite of ill-fitting technologies bolted-on over a period of time, precipitating bureaucracy and productivity loss. So, for me, the time to get it right and build the full roadmap was at the time of inception and that's what we thankfully pursued. 

Due to the business tailwinds and most initiatives yielding results better than plan, we're now 300 people across six offices and a few other project locations, bound together on a state-of-art cloud-based HRIS platform that is capable of almost everything that we could need. As a result, even in this lockdown and thick in the middle of the annual comp and benefit cycles, we're able to manage the process with almost no disruption besides welcoming and on-boarding new joiners effortlessly from remote locations. 

We decided to go with all laptops (no desktops) for our entire workforce and as a result, all our people have access to computing and data through the cloud storage. When we built our offices, we did not install any landline telephones (all mobile phones); as a result, no phones are ringing in empty offices with important clients (or prospects) on the other side. 

There were questions about the wisdom of implementing a full suite of video conferencing system, enabling and integrating all our meeting rooms and people through multiple technologies in the early stage of our business, but we have gone ahead and implemented it in full. Consequently, our ability to patch into most communication systems that may be thrown at us. 

We built and implemented an ERP system to manage all our businesses and finance, a full-fledged CRM and property databases for our businesses using Microsoft Dynamix as the base and a suite of technologies for communicating and tracking our project management assignments, using the Zoho SAS, which is a cloud-based project management tool that helps our PM team plan their work, track it efficiently, and collaborate with their teams and clients, wherever they are. 

'We've made our entire workforce Skype, Sharepoint and Teams enabled and at a social level, everyone's connected on the Workplace by Facebook platform. Therefore, in these times of the universal lockdown, there is nearly a full workday being consumed undertaking training and skill enhancement programmes, working on proposals and strategies, reviewing research, collating quarterly results, etc. on the MS Teams platform. This is suitably interspersed by video-enabled social engagements on the Workplace platform where our enthusiasts are undertaking sessions on cocktail mixing, cooking, body building, yoga and meditation! 

The situation that we're going through today may perhaps never occur again for a foreseeable future and no one can ever prepare for such an eventuality, however, this has tested and validated my conviction and investment in technology and underscored the importance of a technology-enabled business in this VUCA world. 

Even though this pandemic and the resultant disruption are far from over, it is a common conviction that the world will be a different place when normalcy returns and at this stage, we can only conjecture what that may be. However, in a limited sense, the tagline that Motorola used about 20 years ago when launching the Iridium phone seems to be true now more than ever - Geography is now History! 

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