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INTERVIEWS
By 16 April 2020 | Categories: interviews

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Amid the uncertainty of the times, a lockdown that continues and a pandemic that only fuels growing concern for our health and livelihood, Business Connexion's CEO Jonas Bogoshi (JB) offers Ryan Noik (RN) his perspective on the role technology plays in addressing this pandemic, as well as the crises that it is producing. 

RN: To what extent can technology assist in handling this pandemic as well as the crises that it spawns?

JB: Technology has transformed industry across the board, and healthcare is no different. Because of the radical improvements in the sector, there is an increased appreciation of role of technology in healthcare that has not always been there in the past.

With recent innovation in converging technologies such as mobile computing, mobile communications and broadband internet, it has been possible to trial several innovative approaches to epidemic response.

Technology cannot stop the spread of the epidemic, but it can educate, warn and empower those on the ground and those that need to be aware of the situation to significantly reduce the impact.

We see technology assisting in four key areas:

  1. Provide clear messaging which is vital to ensuring the public is informed and reminded to use appropriate precautions, getting clear information to the point most required.
  2. Training can be accelerated using tech tools to quickly deliver standardised learning, with the ability to be updated in the field as new procedures are validated. This replaces potentially conflicting training that is not widely disseminated or tested. Additionally, by using established communications links, training material can be tailored and tested with the health workers on site.
  3. Improved connectivity facilitates a number of technological advances and is a key enabler of the technical capabilities. There have been significant advances in this area, but access in rural locations is an ongoing work in progress. Connectivity is the key tool that can bring both economic and health benefits. During an epidemic, communication is a critical tool to ensure we can both spot the virus spreading early and make attempts to contain it by educating the local population
  4. Real-time monitoring technology, just like the one developed by BCX for the Department of Health, is vital to controlling the pandemic. Building a team of experts to help government pro-bono, BCX created the interface for an app which will enable health officials work with real-time data on a single-view dashboard.

RN: How important is it to be able to rollout technology solutions in a matter of days or weeks rather than the standard times frames? What is needed from a process perspective in order to be able to do so?

JB: The sheer complexity of the modern IT environment can reduce agility and present formidable barriers to responding quickly to rapid change. And when faced with an unexpected event like the Covid-19 pandemic, integration within these disparate environments becomes a massive headache that must be overcome at all costs.

For example, with the rapid deployment of technology like VSAT and LTE technology, we have enabled the NICD to allow a large percentage of its workforce to operate from the comfort of their homes, whilst maintaining business as usual. We rolled this out in just under two days.

IT doesn’t have to remain stuck in a complex, unresponsive infrastructure. By following a well-constructed modernisation framework, IT can create a more efficient, highly automated architecture that will empower the business to thrive in the face of change. Agility, a responsive team and the ability to guide clients through the process is crucial to implement solutions effectively.

RN: Can you elaborate on the track and trace system that BCX developed with Telkom. Was it built specifically for Covid-19 outbreaks or can it be modified to be used in the event of other pandemics?  

JB: The platform is a collaboration between the Department of Health and BCX, a subsidiary of Telkom.  The system collates multiple data sources to track those who may have been exposed to infected persons.

The platform can be adapted for usage in other industries.

RN: Please elaborate on your zero-rated education portal. We are seeing a few companies doing these kinds of services, such as the telcos. How does BCX’s offering differentiate itself?

JB: BCX Learn is a zero-rated education portal. It is a single platform with multiple content packages for Grade 1 to 12 learners, free for Telkom Mobile users. Our aim to tackle real-world challenges like access to education, especially during a pandemic such as now.

RN: Is education as a sector more vulnerable to long term disruptions, such as those brought about by the current lockdown?

Close to a billion people are still locked down after the coronavirus outbreak brought life around the world to a virtual standstill. The pandemic is expected to have enormous economic consequences and it is also having a devastating impact on global education.

According to the latest figures released by UNESCO, some 1.3 billion learners around the world were not able to attend school or university as of March 23, 2020.

It is business unusual and we will continue to prompt new examples of educational innovation. The rapid spread of COVID-19 has demonstrated the importance of building resilience to face various threats.

The pandemic is also an opportunity to remind ourselves of the skills students need in this unpredictable world such as informed decision making, creative problem solving, and perhaps above all, adaptability.

Technology will reshape our global education system to ensure skills remain a priority for all students, and resilience built into our educational systems as well.

RN: Please elaborate on your Work from Home solutions with regards to fostering business continuity for enterprises. Can viable Work from Home approaches help lessen the steep impact of this lockdown on the economy?

JB: With the COVID -19 pandemic hitting the world, businesses have had to rethink how they manage day to day operations without putting their staff and clients at risk. A way to mitigate the spread and protect staff and clients is to work from home, while still allowing for client engagement and day to day business operations. Fortunately, we live in an age where working remotely is possible.

BCX’s Remote Working Solutions will seamlessly blend mobility, communication, collaboration, and multiple contact channels into a secure hyperconnected enterprise.  Organisations also need to rapidly scale up operations to respond to this crisis.

A business continuity plan is an important tool for ensuring that a business’s service line is preserved during and through the incident that causes business disruption, like the coronavirus pandemic. We hope that businesses with such plans are actively consulting and utilising their plans as they work through the current national emergency and would suggest that the plans be amended on a real-time basis as management pivots to address situations that arise.

RN: Once the pandemic is resolved, do you anticipate many of the technologies being introduced now remaining in place, or do you think the tendency from people, education, government and business is going to be to try go back to doing things the way they did before the crisis?

JB: Studies suggests that the impact of COVID-19 will stay with us for years. The role that technology is playing now has shown us that things can be done differently.

For years, the conventional line – on everything from healthcare to basic living expenses such as housing – has been that even if the world has its problems, expansive government intervention is not a feasible solution. Instead, we have been told that what works best are “marketplace” solutions, which give large roles to companies like BCX motivated to do public good.

From this perspective, we believe the task today is not to fight the virus in order to return to business as usual. The goal, instead, is to fight the virus – and in doing so transform business as usual into something more humane, resilient and secure.

RN: For example, do you think Work from Home is here to stay even when it is safe to be in crowded places again? 

JB: We believe businesses will need to pause and rethink, reorganise and refocus to safeguard themselves for the future. Whatever directions businesses take, BCX will be there to help drive the new wave of transformation for South African businesses to thrive.

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