On March 16, in the middle of the business day, following the guidance from local authorities, we decided to send everyone home in an abundance of caution. It meant we’d all be working remotely in short order — a company of over 280. Laptops were packed, and on-site services were canceled. New employees were given rapid-fire orientations. Only essential operations staff would be allowed at the office. I was home in Israel when our company’s headquarters in Silicon Valley entered lockdown. Our business is thankfully still running, but only with the deployment of cloud-based technologies could we possibly have pulled this off so smoothly.
For decades, businesses have lamented the fact that they couldn’t go paperless because of security concerns or cost, or simply because the status quo was too rigid and no one would change. Our company was already mostly paperless, but now we’re also officeless. So the technology to run a back-office online is here. The unvarnished truth is that many companies maintain an inability to adopt a cloud-centric operation that is fully self-imposed and biased. It’s not about the technology.
Before the pandemic, our company was growing at an exhilarating pace, including doubling our workforce and opening a third office in Vancouver, B.C., over the last year. We looked to bring on technologies — all cloud-based — to help us manage and ensure that the growth came with transactional efficiency and auditability. New HR systems. New accounting platform. New account-based marketing systems. And, of course, upgraded sales enablement and order-to-cash tools. We also rolled out Slack companywide and connected it to our Zendesk and Jira support and development ticketing systems, respectively.
I’m incredibly grateful we did all this before having to institute our remote work efforts because our team hasn’t missed a step. With everyone working from home and connected virtually, our ability to execute the business hasn’t dropped. Indeed, the revenue growth outlook may get more challenging because no one can be certain of what impact the macroeconomy has in store for us. But our actual productivity levels have not diminished in this remote work scenario. In fact, productivity has actually increased so far across a wide variety of departments. We’re still producing leads, closing business and meeting our SLAs at the same expected rates. And this is with all the distractions of working from home: children out of school, chores and to-do lists, and the downbeat maneuvering of daily life in this era of social distancing.
Operating in the cloud also provides a path to greater automation. Once a process is executed through digital means, it can be optimized. You can add layers of intelligence to it — even for processes as mundane as setting up wire transfers to banks or getting lunch delivered. And in situations where you can’t hire like you were accustomed to, automation allows you to do more with less, relieving the need to find individuals for those mundanities.
For existing legacy systems, this might involve introducing robotic process automation (RPA) to script custom operations that run in the background. More modern systems that have some amount of built-in AI open a path to extend logic even further. Expectedly, the same fearmongering around running a business in the cloud is even more pronounced when discussing AI-based platforms. But AI is another tool to help weather obstacles to productivity.
The most competent AI software solutions provide a certain amount of user control and rely on machine learning to address real-world situations. All of this automation is meant to enable knowledge workers to extricate themselves from manual, error-prone, large-scale processes — the kind of work that someone has a high potential to mess up if they’re distracted because their kids are fighting in the background.
I’ve heard from finance professionals who have argued against the need for technology investments. They say now is the time to invest in capital liquidity and cash flow, not automation. I agree that having a strong cash position, ideally 24 months of solvency, is key to survival. But with the right software, every dollar of automation technology can yield another 10 in productivity and sanity — both of which can ultimately improve your cash position through better execution of customer acquisition and retention. And with many systems, you can actually automate while also strengthening cost and working capital controls.
One last point: We are a fintech business. Compliance, security and risk aversion imbue our entire operation. So if our global, complex, financially sensitive environment can effectively be officeless and paperless, anyone’s knowledge-work processes can be done online. And in the face of COVID-19 and potential future crises, business operations must not only be in the cloud; they need to migrate every possible process to the cloud that they can.