Employers’ moves “into the cloud" have paid off in the coronavirus crisis, as states order workplaces shut down. Companies that led the way online now enjoy an edge over those fumbling to coordinate long-range.
For firms that supported a work-from-home policy and tested systems in the cloud well before the shutdowns, "the move to remote was not as dramatic,” says Chris McNabb, chief executive of Boomi, a unit of Dell Technologies Inc. based in Chesterbrook.
This 1,300-employee unit of Dell Inc. has helped more than 11,000 corporate clients -- including such giants as Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Gilead Sciences and Comcast’s London-based Sky Group -- update and add communications, data and security systems so they can do business remotely.
At Sky systems serving six million Europeans, Boomi helped replace call-center waits with a sophisticated automated system, says Olive Perrins, head of “at-home experience” for Sky. Starting in 2016, Sky was an “early adopter" of Boomi’s “Integration Platform as a Service” - IpaSS -- “a single multi-channel solution for customers, engineers and advisors, with digital- first empowerment at heart” to collect customer data through Sky routers, prioritize, process and respond.
Now, with “skyrocketing demand” for work-from-home (and study-from home) internet, phone and data use, the Boomi system “has been invaluable during the Covid-19 outbreak, allowing customers to continue fixing issues or booking engineers online,” and making it easier for the company to add additional channels and services -- including Comcast NBCUniversal content -- for free, partly compensating for lost sports programming, Perrins adds.
McNabb and Perrins both say they are looking at ways to extend what Boomi does across other Comcast systems.
Boomi was a 30-person start-up, started by engineer Rick Nucci and run then by serial entrepreneur Bob Moul when Dell bought it a decade ago. It is now a fast-growing outpost of a $90 billion yearly sales multinational that, since the 1990s, has moved from online laptop-computer sales to corporate business services, competing with other giants such as Oracle and IBM.
McNabb says Boomi has developed a trove of information on how workers, bosses, customers and contractors interact remotely. It now uses that information to predict clients’ needs and workers’ and customers’ behavior. He expects the coronavirus shutdowns will accelerate its usefulness.
“We have certainly been busy,” he told me from his leafy family home and de facto CEO office in Chester County’s Great Valley near the mostly quiet company headquarters.
“Naturally, there are certain industries looking to accelerate and trying to scale” as their buildings have been shut, he said. “Health-care companies are trying to use e-commerce to reach more people with the same or less resources. Retail companies with their stores closed are trying to find new ways to reach customers. It’s a mixed bag.”
And with some multinational customers, such as Sky, the multinational television network group that Comcast Corp. bought last year, “it’s been amazing to see the scale on which their workers and their subscribers have gone to the cloud overnight," he added.
"It was really important to them to make the change rapidly” without programming or editing interruptions. McNabb said he hopes Sky’s smooth transition brings more business from other Comcast units.
Some financial-services firms were among the first to add remote capabilities, which gave them "an advantage in moving to work-from-home in a hurry,” McNabb said. But not all have used remote services on a wide scale until the shock of the coronavirus closures.
Going remote is not simple. “Just imagine a financial services organization like Vanguard,” with more than 14,000 workers and contractors at its Malvern-area location, satellite offices in Arizona and North Carolina, and sales and trading sites in major financial centers around the globe. “Combine their usual volume with stock calls [from this month’s volatile markets], and tax season. They have to be inundated. They are having to transfer call centers to people’s homes, and that takes a lot of thinking.”
One of the big Wall Street banks -- McNabb won’t say which -- built the capacity to be “100 percent remote” as far back as 2017. So that “whether people are sitting at home or in the office is irrelevant.” He said the bank made a smooth transition as New York’s financial district shut down last week.
Big accounting and technology firms, he said, are mostly ahead of the game, with Silicon Valley engineers and Big Four accountants used to working remotely. At many such companies, well-paid professionals routinely work far more than 40 hours a week.
McNabb parries questions about the charges and benefits of going remote. “Costs in our industry continue to come down. Productivity gain is much greater. You can have an employee doing five times more things in a day” when systems support remote work, McNabb claimed. Much of it is from the “crowd-sourced artificial intelligence” that a vendor such as his company can provide, which will predict which systems will prove most effective for software development, sales and other work groups.
The system constantly updates recommendations “and tells you, ‘Here is how people are now doing it.’ It’s not a fixed template. The system gets smarter as the market changes.”
For all that potential, McNabb acknowledged that Boomi’s own transition to remote services after its coronavirus office shutdown had hiccups he won’t detail -- and that new business in recent weeks has yet to reach pre-crisis projections, as busy as his staff is.
Still, he’s glad to be directing his worldwide business from home, where he can wander out back in the early-spring Chester County woods along a branch of Valley Creek for a few minutes before heading back in to work.
“These are challenging times for everybody,” McNabb concluded. “As long as we can take care of our employees, customers and communities, we will come out better for it.”
(This story includes additional comments from Sky Group added after publication)