The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a major disruption in the way workspaces used to operate traditionally, and called for a re-assessment of our approach to work. With ‘Work-from-Home’ becoming the new normal, organizations have witnessed a major paradigm shift, with regard to both people, as well as business operations. Amid this unprecedented crisis, the reins of responsibility pertaining to work-delivery management, have passed on to the IT ecosystems, which have been enabling both business continuity, as well as workplace transformation.

Technology Leaders / CIOs today are contributing to business stability by streamlining all internal operations, implementing suitable technologies, identifying and forecasting possible scenarios and helping optimize strategic benefits for long-term resilience. In a way, it has also facilitated an opportunity for the CIOs to increase their reach and impact. Today, with critical focus on technology investment and innovation, CIOs are also seen as growth and profit enablers, across industries.

Technology leaders across organizations are now recalibrating their adoption plans, in accordance with the post Covid-19 era. At a recent virtual conclave organized by The Economic Times – Spectrum, technology experts across industries, came together to share their insights on "Reclaiming Growth Through Technology". As a panelist, Vrijesh Nagathan, CIO at Coca-Cola India and Southwest Asia, spoke about the impact of COVID-19 on the FMCG industry and how technology has enabled the change. 

“While the crisis has hit us badly and a lot of us are still trying to absorb the brunt, Coca-Cola’s strategy has focused around doing business safely and in all the stages of the pandemic, IT became the most sought after function”, said Vrijesh. “From supporting the new normal of the work from home to ensuring health and safety of the people, we set up an outreach mechanism, to give them a feeling that the organization is with them at all times. We also wanted to provide emotional well-being, by boosting their morale through regular townhalls and events, and the IT function stepped in to make all these virtual events happen globally, regionally and locally.”

Coca-Cola India started taking some steps even ahead of the curve, so as to ensure the security and safety of its people- employees, bottlers, customers etc. The company adopted a method of holistic employee engagement program to ensure the emotional and physical wellbeing and positivity amongst its people. During these uncertain times, Coca-Cola undertook a three-pronged approach. In Phase 1, the focus was on Safety of its people and standing together with the fellow countrymen during times of need. In Phase 2, Coca-Cola focused on inspiring people and business continuity. While in Phase 3, the Company aimed at living up to the idea of Beverages for Life - Trying to do business and adapting operations as per the new normal. In all these phases, the IT function had a key role to play.

Today, with critical focus on technology adoption and innovation, CIOs are seen as continuity and growth enablers simultaneously. Vrijesh firmly believes that, this pandemic has motivated all of us to unite and fight the crisis. “The current scenario has enabled every individual to be an advocate of technology adoption and it has pushed us to be more independent, which augurs well with the remote working experience. The trend of technology penetration has moved onto the next rung of stakeholders, the bottling partners, distributors and outlets, as well. The pandemic has motivated individuals to come together and fight the crisis through the accelerated process of adoption, and these testing times have certainly accelerated people’s faith in technology.”

 Coca-cola India was one of the businesses, that had an opportunity to learn various aspects of this crisis early-on.  “There were certain countries that got hit by the pandemic much earlier than India, and we were able to learn from them; both the hard data as well as the softer aspects of it. We were able to be stringent and turn around things faster than expected. It also presented a great learning with respect to changes in the consumer behavior and our readiness to grasp and respond accordingly”, said Vrijesh. 

The COVID-19 era brought a lot of challenges and no one really knows when things will go ‘back to normal’. In such a scenario, the business entirely depends on IT for day-to-day operations. The need of simplification and standardization in IT systems is crucial for operational effectiveness. Talking about transformation in the role of technology leaders, Vrijesh added “While various departments and their leaders have constructed a motto for their associates, for IT we see the next step as, people being comfortable in rapidly adopting technology, and the next goal should be that every individual will be their own technology manager.”

Vrijesh also acknowledged that IT sector is actually playing a pivotal role right now. Sharing his key learnings from the crisis, he stated “Virtual presence has now become extremely effective and efficient. The speed of business execution has also increased as we don’t have to wait for people to travel from one part of the world to another. We have been able to do things virtually which were traditionally considered unimaginable, such as launch of new products, commissioning production lines and global audits. Technology already has, and will further grow into individual preferences and can be used to enhance the lives of people around the globe.”

Technology, if adopted whole-heartedly, can be the best support one can have. In the current scenario, it’s the technology that is helping people stay connected and work seamlessly. Coca-Cola believed in its technology capabilities and it successfully launched two new products under Minute Maid portfolio, solely with the help of virtual platform.