Tech businesses have, of course, been hit as hard as their peers in other industries. Many firms are vulnerable to effects such as plummeting consumer demand and disrupted supply of raw materials. Around 80% of tech firms polled in British Columbia, for example, had seen their revenue hit, with half of those losing at least 30%, according to BC Tech.1
However, the same survey reveals that six in ten technology firms had already pivoted their businesses as a result of COVID. This suggests that the agility of tech businesses could offer long-term resilience – and make them a potential model for others.
1. Rally round your sector
Layoffs have affected every industry, and tech is no exception.
But Canadian tech companies are collaborating to help those abruptly thrown out of work – and to ensure that recovering businesses can quickly find available talent.
Entrepreneurs from tech firms Prospect, HiredHippo and Luminari quickly founded a non-profit online resource, the Help List.2 Within a week, 1,000 job-seekers had joined the list; by May, there were over 3,000. Similar collaborative efforts in other sectors could speed the rehiring and recovery process.
2. Accelerate digitalization
Most tech businesses had a head start in the switch to remote working: they are natural early adopters of automation, cloud services and virtual collaboration. And of course many are benefiting as designers and suppliers of the tools for which demand is soaring in an era of physical distancing.
Toronto-based 1Password, for example, was formed as a fully remote organization 14 years ago. With most of its people already set up to work from home, the process of closing its two offices was relatively simple. Now the company is helping businesses that were more office-bound to set up the security procedures they need to operate from home without risk.3
Businesses that previously saw digital transformation as a five- or ten-year process are looking to catch up with their tech partners much more swiftly. Established companies in the finance sector, for instance, need to find alternative services to their branch networks. Tech firms such as Flybits4 and Coconut Software5 are helping them respectively to achieve more personalized engagement through their banking apps, and to book remote customer meetings.
3. Become agile across multiple channels
Retailers, too, have had to make big leaps in strategy, with abrupt closure of physical premises driving online sales. Many smaller businesses which have been late adopters of e-commerce have been obliged to build online strategies very swiftly.
Long-term trends are less clear: a McKinsey survey suggests that while consumers have embraced new digital activities such as curbside pick-up and online delivery, the majority still favor in-store grocery shopping in the future.6 This suggests a need to pivot to online while retaining physical shopping capabilities.
In the meantime, e-commerce solutions have come into their own. New stores created through Shopify surged as the pandemic took hold.7 The Ottawa-based platform responded swiftly with a new mobile shopping app and a revamped point-of-sale system, aiming to help retailers shift sales online but also to be ready for in-store growth as physical shopping resumes.8
Franchisors may also seek to capitalize on the digital boom by shifting to online sectors. In fact, HSBC Canada has already seen evidence that operators are moving away from industries such as food and drink into fields such as telemedicine, which has come into its own as a distanced method of screening patients.
4. Give something back to customers
Shopify also supported the City of Toronto’s ShopHERE program, helping up to 3,000 businesses in the city to get their stores online at no cost. And it’s not just the online giants who are offering pro bono services in the face of the pandemic.
BioConnect, which provides building access security systems for critical infrastructure sites, pivoted rapidly from fingerprint ID pads to roll out access with facial and voice recognition sensors instead.9 Its BioConnect Cares initiative offered free and heavily discounted solutions to help businesses minimize risk as their employees began to return to their offices after lockdown.10
Gestures in this vein may not be practical for every business at a tough time. But any initiative that demonstrates an awareness of customers’ emerging needs, and a willingness to respond, helps to establish strong customer relationships for the future.
5. Reinvent your business model
For sectors such as retail and education, moving online is an obvious route. Other firms are having to reimagine their businesses more comprehensively, and some tech businesses have wasted no time in getting their new models afloat.
Ottawa software company Hoppier used to deliver healthy snacks and office supplies to workplaces. When those offices closed their doors, it first tried delivering care packages to employees at home.11 Now it has settled on a platform that enables employers to track monthly spending by remote employees on benefits they need, from lifelong learning to fitness programs.12
Event ticketing platform Showpass faced a truly existential threat as mass gatherings were cancelled for the foreseeable future. Rather than lay off employees, the Calgary company reinvented itself as an online marketplace, connecting artists and performers with their fans for virtual experiences.13 “We are setting out to bring the world together, while staying apart” is how the business sums up its new mission.14
Inevitably, asset-based companies will find it harder than virtual outfits to transform their offering. But businesses of all kinds could benefit by taking their cue from the agility, daring and imagination of the technology sector in this crisis.