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Malaysia’s business continuity planning readiness a mixed bag

Larger Malaysian enterprises have BCP in place, but SMEs lag behind and will find it harder to weather the Covid-19 storm

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: CW Asia-Pacific: CW APAC: Trend Watch – business response to coronavirus

As countries in Southeast Asia experience hardship brought about by the scourge of the Covid-19 epidemic, Malaysian enterprises are trying to make the most of the situation by turning to various technologies to keep them running.

Several larger organisations Computer Weekly spoke to said they were generally prepared with their respective business continuity planning (BCP) strategies before the government’s Movement Control Order (MCO) came into effect. However, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will likely find it harder to weather the situation.

The Malaysian government issued an MCO on 18 March 2020 mandating that all businesses and government agencies cease to operate for a period of two weeks. Those exempted from this ruling include hotels, e-commerce, courier and postal services, petrol stations, telecommunications, internet and banking online services, public transport and utilities, supermarkets and grocery shops selling daily necessities.

During this period, all Malaysians nationwide are required to stay home and should only go out to replenish their daily necessities. Those violating this MCO order can be fined or arrested. Malaysians are also not allowed to travel overseas, and visitors are not allowed into the country during this period. The MCO was scheduled to end on 31 March 2020 but has since been extended to 14 April 2020.

Speaking to Computer Weekly, IDC managing director for ASEAN Sudev Bangah said many organisations are “on edge” because of what is happening, but he believes that there is a silver lining to this situation too.

“I think a lot of organisations will be forced to move to a digital means of communication, which incorporates collaboration apps and services, eGovernment services, eHealth services to keep things running,” he says in an email. “I believe the offset of a typical spend by companies will merely shift to these digital platforms in the wake of the Covid-19 situation.”

Computer Weekly recently reported that the economic fallout from the Covid-19 outbreak is expected to shave at least four percentage points off the growth rate of the IT industry in Asia-Pacific excluding Japan and China (APEJC) this year.

Shift to remote working

Bangah says as an example, IDC itself has been prepared for this kind of situation for some time. IDC has been inculcating a “remote working” culture over the past few years and has had flexible work arrangements prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, he adds.

“Our offices around the globe have been following the advisories and mandates by local governments, and even before that, we had started transitioning customer meetings to a virtual format.

As long as the cloud functions, we function. Our key focus is to ensure that our data and research continues to be available to our customers
Sudev Bangah, IDC

“We have been long-time users of Skype for Business, and recently migrated to Microsoft Teams,” he says. “We also utilise Zoom for our video communication requirements, and virtual private networks (VPNs) are required to connect to organisational portals and systems.”

Similarly, iPay88 has shifted non-IT functions such as finance and operations to a work from home policy, says Lim Kok Hing, founder and executive director of iPay88, a Malaysian-based payment company acquired by Japan’s NTT Data in 2015.

To ensure security is up to par, Lim says iPay88 has equipped its staff with laptops and additional VPN licenses for those who usually work from a desktop prior to the MCO. As for meetings, everything has moved online, he adds.

“Being a payments company, our biggest challenge isn’t the technology,” Lim says. “What we are challenged by is the loss of the sense of being connected to one another in person physically because of the MCO.

“So we make the best of this and try to stay online and make use of this opportunity to conduct more training to keep up our contact hours with one another.”

Read more about Covid-19 developments in APAC

Asked if IDC has an existing BCP plan in place, Bangah says his firm did not have one but quickly realised the gravity of the situation beginning with China, where it has a substantial business presence.

As an analyst firm, it realised the impact of Covid-19 and had to “practise what it preaches,” and it was therefore ahead of the curve, he claims.

Bangah, however, conceded that it still took some effort to get to an optimum point, noting that staff had to make calls a few times a day to smooth things over, communicate with them, and provide weekly updates.

Quizzed on how it ensured that its IT infrastructure could support its BCP efforts and whether it had to make additional investments to support remote workers amid the outbreak, Bangah says IDC is fortunate as many of the services it consumes are hosted on the cloud.

“As long as the cloud functions, we function. Our key focus is to ensure that our data and research continues to be available to our customers,” he explains. “Internally we need our analysts to be able to access the right systems to input the data, analyse and generate reports.

“We’ve not had to make any additional investments in IT support or any redundancy links as our IT support is able to support offices virtually with ease,” he adds.

Putting BCP to the test

For Malaysian mobile operator Digi, BCP had already been part and parcel of its operations for many years, says Sivakumar Nageratnam, its head of security.

Digi’s BCP outlines a number of pre-determined measures that all employees must follow in order to minimise downtime and maintain operations in the event of emergencies, such as the current Covid-19 crisis.

These measures involve key business processes, network, human resources, assets, business partners and the dependencies between the various business areas and functions.

“With the MCO in place, we have mobilised our team to work around the clock to ensure network and connectivity service levels are maintained, and that customers continue to receive support from our customer care team.

“All other functions have now moved to remote working. BCP activities for employees at our headquarters and regional offices include dividing business critical teams and functions. They are divided into two separate teams to limit exposure, and in the event of an emergency, one team can take over from the other,” Nageratnam explains.

In addition, Digi has allocated alternative locations for network operations and customer service, should the need to vacate its premises arise.

What we are challenged by is the loss of the sense of being connected to one another in person physically
Lim Kok Hing, iPay88

On whether Digi has put to test its BCP efforts, Nageratnam said the telco conducts annual BCP readiness tests and simulations on business-critical areas such as network monitoring, physical security and more.

“These plans are endorsed annually by the various divisional BCP leads, heads of department, and the management,” he says. Our BCP simulations have allowed us to be better prepared in establishing both network and IT infrastructure redundancies and readiness.”

SMEs lagging behind

While larger companies may be prepared with their BCP efforts during the Covid-19 situation, the same can’t quite be said of SMEs, notes IDC research manager James Sivalingam.

The analyst argues that SMEs may not be as ready or have BCPs in place for the Covid-19 pandemic as larger organisations and those within the highly regulated industries are likely to be more prepared for such situations.

However, the lack of preparedness applies to SMEs across the globe and isn’t unique to Malaysia or Southeast Asia, he says. “This is due in part to the fact that it’s difficult to determine the return on investment [ROI] of BCP and disaster recovery, and that true natural disasters are inherently rare.”

Sivalingam notes that Malaysian organisations have progressed somewhat in such preparedness due to the push in their digital transformation activities but adds that many SMEs were still caught off-guard by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Malaysia’s ICT Association (Pikom) chairman Danny Lee says that it has sent out advisories to educate its members on how to address business challenges they are facing during these bleak times.

“As the national ICT association looking into the welfare of 1,000 members, we have always been able to engage our members, many of whom are SMEs, with ease.

“PIkom has connected them to the right parties and have helped them with tools that include human resource, business collaboration systems, video conferencing and workflow management systems during the MCO,” he says.

Roles and responsibilities

Asked what SMEs could do in such times, given that the aftermath of Covid-19 will likely extend to the rest of the year, Sivalingam advises SMEs to first assign roles and responsibilities for their staff during this period.

“It is important for employees to be aware of the organisation’s BCP and the chain of command in the absence of key leadership,” he says. “Subsequently, critical areas of business along with the staff members have to be identified and provided with the resources to operate without any disruption.

“Once mission-critical operations are established without any hiccups, they can slowly expand and get other functions back online depending on the resources available to them,” he says.

Beyond that, SMEs should also approach IT vendors and services providers with BCP expertise to find out if they can get a helping hand during this time of crisis, he adds.

Read more on Disaster recovery

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