Before COVID-19 disrupted the traditional ways of working, buzzwords such as ‘digitisation’, digital transformation’ and ‘fourth industrial revolution’ were taking centre stage, predicting profound changes to the way we work and live, and the role that technology will play. The advent of COVID-19 has in effect fast-tracked these changes, forcing companies and individuals to adapt, and consequently placing the IT sector in the spotlight.

Chief Information Officer at Babcock, Sylvia Bopape, says that while COVID-19 caused unprecedented demand on the company’s remote IT systems and communications services, as well as its service providers, the pandemic has highlighted the vital role that IT plays in a company. “Business is IT and IT is business,” asserts Bopape.

Working from home  
She says that Babcock’s IT team has worked hard behind the scenes to support the company’s operations, and has taken a number of measures to enable employees to continue working remotely, uninterrupted. These include the launch of the Babcock-Anywhere Portal, enabling employees to connect to Babcock systems from anywhere using any device as long as they have an internet connection. The company also established a Babcock COVID-19 information website to provide the most up-to-date information to all Babcock employees during the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. Employees were also permitted to take assets such as desktops and office chairs to transition to working from home.

Bopape says that Babcock had already migrated to Microsoft Office 365 some time ago, and had established a virtual private network (VPN), paving the way to facilitate remote working. Prior to the lockdown, Babcock had identified their critical users to ensure that they were ready and able to work from home straight away, and then all other employees, except for those who are site- or workshop-based, were migrated online, comprising approximately 70% of Babcock’s workforce. Bopape says that the IT team compiled self-explanatory guides for online working, and IT personnel were on hand to assist employees and guide them through the different ways of connecting.

“COVID-19 Level 5 lockdown hit us during our financial year-end, so the IT team had to quickly help our employees to adapt and adopt a new way of doing things,” says Bopape. “All the manual processes now have to be done digitally, such as obtaining digital signatures and accepting email approvals instead of receiving a physical sign-off from a manager.

Adjusting to a new normal
Sylvia Bopape is Babcock’s Chief Information Officer.
Credit: Babcock
“Understandably, our service desk had an increase in the number of IT incidents and requests, which were initially mainly regarding connectivity issues. The key to working online or working from home is having a strong internet connectivity, and although most people have internet at home, it is not always reliable. To ensure that our employees could connect to the internet, we offered 3G cards to those who required it, and we also negotiated a corporate deal with our internet service provider to offer our employees a discounted rate for fibre to the home (FTTH).

“Besides connectivity, the other challenge that working from home poses is cyber threats,” adds Bopape. “We are continuously training our employees to be vigilant as they are our first line of defence when it comes to cyber security. We encourage our employees to observe our Acceptable Use Policy, which encompasses our 10 golden rules of Dos and Don’ts, thereby protecting our information assets.”

Implementing technology
Among the technology that Babcock has used to facilitate the move to working from home includes Microsoft Teams, which is the base for all internal and external online engagement; Fortinet technology to power the VPN, which had to be quickly adapted from catering for 25% of the company’s workforce to suddenly 100% in a short space of time; CISCO Jabber to enable the land-line numbers on mobile devices; Microsoft Forms for COVID-19 health assessment and self-declaration; and SMS technology to send information, messages and links to employees without access to Babcock email addresses.

“Technology forms the foundation of many businesses,” says Bopape. “Investment in technology will be on the rise and drive companies forward during this time and into the future. Thanks to technology, Babcock was able to quickly respond to this crisis and enable the majority of employees to adapt to a new way of working, so that our business can continue providing support to complex and critical infrastructure and assets in southern Africa,” she concluded.

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