It wasn’t just staged exposure our network helped with, it was invaluable in our business continuity and remote working capability – both from home and from other locations. Those locations included customer service and business trading desks. Those operations continued despite the need for social distancing and lockdown.
For example, our hardship desk which normally operates from South Melbourne needed to move to Docklands to allow space for social distancing. We made working from home possible but given the sensitive nature of the calls our people needed peace and quiet.
We have cyber security operations centres in Melbourne and Manila – where working from home was an issue as many people did not have internet at home. Our team solved this by purchasing prepaid modems.
Our markets trading desks in Sydney and Melbourne are highly regulated so working from home is not an option but we still needed social distancing. That meant shifting locations – including to the mailroom for the Sydney desk.
Our Bangalore operations are more about business processes - back office, middle office, credit approval, transactions, sanction checking. We had thousands of people in Bangalore who were able to work from home but again there was another set of unique challenges.
Some had laptops, some needed a desktop - so how do we get the desktop to their house? What's their internet bandwidth like at home? Despite the challenges, we were able to remarkably rapidly continue our operations in India with everybody working from home – while maintaining the quality and satisfaction of our work.
This whole period has put enormous pressures on our Internal Service desks which are based in Manila and India. The huge volumes of enquiries required new solutions including increased use of chat functions.
Our first challenge as far as contact centres was in Manila. However, our Chengdu team, who were locked down much earlier, were able to go back to work. They're all data people - they're not traditionally a contact centre or tech support. But they stopped doing what they were doing and quickly trained up as service desk assistance to help our staff. They became an extension of our service desk.
We’ve been learning and adapting all the way and our regional footprint gives us quite a unique insight and capability.
This was not something we had to prepare from scratch. Our normal business continuity planning was very thorough and was the basis for the decisions we made.
We’ve long had the capability and technology for people to work from home if they choose. ANZ was an early adopter of flexible working. Yet we had never before asked such a large percentage of our staff to all work from home at the same time. We essentially had to double our capacity.
Moreover, there are multiple systems: VPN connections, VDI services, and - depending on the nature of the application and the data they're using - we don't necessarily want that leaving the building.
There are some purely practical challenges in moving people out. We had to ensure we had the appropriate software licences – for example for the system we have to allow our people to access emails on their mobile phones. We didn’t initially have the capacity to offer that to everyone who needed it.
We needed to assess the internet bandwidth into our data centre – that too had to be increased by 400 per cent. We had to assess security issues – what communication needed to be on our system and what could be done via external systems because the security imperative was lower?
There is a whole spectrum of platforms out there with different levels of security. It is different too depending on whether a call is initiated by ANZ or by a client. While lots of point-to-point conversations might happen, when it comes to multi-point meetings, late last year our daily call minutes for our conferencing tool would be around 50,000 a day. We had days in the last two weeks where we've peaked at 2.1 million minutes.
We don’t have that capacity sitting around idle which meant together with our telco partners, our software and hardware partners, we had to make some significant changes so we could keep servicing our customers.
Of course, these are not simply technology changes. These are big changes in the way our people work. Not just in technology but across the bank, we've got a lot of people playing out of position. People who are branch staff who might be helping with some of the authorised printing of sensitive documents, for example.
The key word has been adaptability. We have had to adapt on a daily basis. My team meets every day – in the early days it was three times a day. At least twice a day I was meeting with the “adapt team” with Lex and Kath.
These were short, sharp meetings: who needs help? What is it that you need? We' needed to move a number of people, for example, from one of our contact centres. One hundred people from tech came together to move those people in one evening to manage the risk.
When you are doing these things on a daily basis it is by no means perfect, there have been mistakes along the way. The important thing is to remember why we’re doing these things.
We’ve already had retrospectives on this and what we are hearing consistently, across the bank, is the question “how do we bottle what's been happening?”.
Not just here at ANZ, but more broadly, people are recognising what has been achieved would normally have taken much, much longer. So how do we learn from that and keep that going? Clearly though, we don't want to be working under the same pressure - that's not sustainable.
But from this process so much good practice has been picked up along the way. There's no way to learn quite like doing. How we rethink business continuity in the future will be interesting. We need to capture these lessons so we can build that into our planning.
Return to normality
Underlying all of this is the fourth focus point: the post-crisis. Whether operations or human resources or tech, people are going to need to come back in the office and work together in a different way.
We've got to think about that in-line with all of the recommendations and requirements that we have from the government. And at the same time, we'll be looking at how do we - as quickly as possible - return to a kind of normality?
Normal will be different. We will have learned to run our bank differently. Our customers will see they can bank differently – retail customers have become more accustomed to remote banking and cashless payments. Business customers have learned different, more efficient processes.
We're in the middle of this at the moment and it is a terrible, terrible time for the globe. At the same time though, it is an opportunity to learn, so we want to make sure we take that good and preserve it.