1. COVID-19 has had a ripple effect on businesses across all sectors. How has it affected the scientific informatics space?
COVID-19 has created a real gap between the organizations that are truly “digitally enabled” and those that aren’t. The digitally enabled have seen continuity or acceleration in their R&D activities. Those that still operate on paper and Excel, on the other hand, are struggling to adapt to the new normal and are unable to scale up their R&D investments in the search for COVID-19 therapies and/or vaccines.
2. How has IDBS responded to the challenge?
Our first focus was on our people and our customers. Our associates have all been working from home since 16th March, and we have been rolling out tools and programs to help them all balance their work with the other challenges that have resulted from the pandemic.
The shift to working from home was a test for our Business Continuity Plans. In the month of March, we achieved 99.96% uptime for our customer SaaS environments, which means that our customers were able to rely on The E-WorkBook Cloud to support their R&D efforts. Most importantly, in late March and early April we’re seeing customer logins tracking at pre-lockdown levels. This means a lot to our business – it makes us keenly aware of the fact that our software continues to support the R&D activities of our customers, and that we’re playing our role in supporting the search for a therapy and vaccine.
3. Because of social distancing, companies have had to adjust the way they work. What changes has IDBS made due to the lockdown?
In addition to having everyone working from home, we’ve had to adapt several of our business processes that had previously relied on face-to-face interactions. For example, our Education Services team has adapted a number of training courses that had only been delivered in classroom settings to be delivered online; and a number of business process review workshops that would have been held in-person are now occurring online with our customers and prospects.
4. Team morale is important, especially during a time of isolation from colleagues. How does IDBS keep team spirits up in these difficult times?
First and foremost, we’ve encouraged a culture of experimentation and “bottom-up” innovation among our people. This has led to virtual running & cycling clubs, pub quizzes, wellness Wednesday sessions, lunch meetings, and charity fundraisers; and there is an active Slack channel full of photos and banter.
Secondly, we’re coaching and encouraging our people leaders to make sure that they stay close to the people in their teams. We’re providing additional leave to our associates in case they fall ill, need to care for ill relatives, or need the time to support home-schooling of their dependents; but it’s important that we look for signs of fatigue or frustration and help people to avail themselves of what is available when they need it.
5. Opportunities to see our customers face-to-face are limited. How does IDBS work around the problem to ensure sustained communication and support?
Our support and services work has largely been provided remotely before the pandemic, so this part of our business has not changed much. We have seen an increase in engagement with our Customer Success Managers since we’ve shifted to working from home, and we’re working closely with each of our customers to understand how COVID-19 is impacting their R&D priorities and how IDBS can be the best partner to our customers as a result.
6. Crises such as COVID-19 can bring out the best in us. Have you experienced something heartwarming or inspiring?
Within our business, we see new connections being formed. The shift to working from home has broken down geographic barriers between offices or countries. IDBS associates are making new connections internally, and I see that already having a positive impact on our understanding of our products and our customers.
I have also seen many at IDBS express their gratitude that we work in a business that will continue to operate through the lockdown and that does something meaningful for our customers and for patients and consumers around the world. Many of our associates have recognized that fortune and chosen to support the charities in their community that are addressing the urgent issues that result from COVID-19.
7. What can we learn from this pandemic?
We have learned a lot already about our ability to adapt and serve our customers. Some of those learnings are about the quality of the IT systems and business continuity plans that we’ve been investing in; and other learnings are simply on the adaptability of our species to new challenges.
As a society, we’ve also learned a lot about the value of many things that we’re relying on more than ever: our healthcare systems, public health departments, postal services’ etc. and we’re gaining new insights into the value of the things we’re missing: schools, cultural venues, restaurants, etc.
I think we’ll continue to learn on a number of fronts:
- The role that digitization can play in maintaining business continuity and R&D productivity as approaches to R&D change as a result of external factors like a pandemic, or internal factors like a change of strategy
- What activities truly benefit from on-site, in-person engagement with our customers; and how other activities can shift to virtual meetings
- The value of SaaS and the Cloud; further accelerating the shift away from in-house data centres and towards true SaaS solutions
Working from home has its challenges, a fluctuating network bandwidth quality being one them. Nevertheless this hasn’t stopped Christian Marcazzo, IDBS General Manager, reflecting on what the current events have meant for IDBS, its associates and its customers.