According to Fortune magazine, nearly 100,000 establishments in the USA are now out of business due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Failure to run the business remotely and serve customers through digital channels during lockdown was the main reason.

The rapid spread of COVID-19 highlighted the fragility of modern-day systems, introduced new challenges across the business landscape, and brought in new opportunities for businesses and governments. Even though the pandemic is a global issue, this article will discuss remote work for governments, the impact, challenges and opportunities introduced by the COVID 19 pandemic in the GCC region and especially in Saudi Arabia.

 

Impact

For the purpose of understanding the magnitude of the pandemic on Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), the General Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises launched a survey on the impact of COVID 19. A total of 918 MSME (Micro, Small, Medium Enterprises) from 13 administrative regions participated in this survey.

Impacts can be summarized into 4 categories:

  • Operational – 99.5% of the sample were negatively affected. 65.2% of MSMEs were affected in their operations.
  • Financial – 46% of the sample indicated that their average revenue was affected by 100%. 52% reported that they will have to lay off employees because of the inability to fulfill salary obligations.
  • E-Business model – 30% of SME changed their business model to adopt electronic services and work-from-home model.
  • Governmental support initiative – Many MSMEs are getting the benefits of the stimulus package of the Saudi Government to overcome the COVID-19 crisis

 

Challenges

The virus spread in few short months, creating a shockwave of disruption that left little time for preventive action. Governments and businesses were forced to adopt the concept of working remotely. Moreover, governments and businesses started to embrace more digital channels to serve their audiences.

However, implementing remote work came with its own challenges. Several prerequisites were needed to enable working from home. Proper infrastructure, security management, employee tracking, and changing workplace culture are some of those prerequisites.

Infrastructure

Many businesses and government entities were unready with the proper infrastructure setup. From physical servers that host critical data and applications to VPNs that secure remote worker connections to collaboration tools that facilitate day to day activities.

Security Management

Moreover, the rapid adoption of remote work introduced numerous security threats.

The lack of cybersecurity awareness among their employees made organizations more vulnerable. Old tricks like phishing and other IT security incidents increased during the lockdown. According to Varonis, attackers relied on the fear during the pandemic, by building COVID 19 maps and websites that sell medical gear to trick users to click malicious links and download malware.

Also, for the sake of business continuity businesses had to sacrifice IT best practices. Some companies had to disable built-in lockouts and other VPN restrictions on VPN connectivity, which introduced a surge in VPN Brute-Force attacks. Attackers would perform what is known as “credential stuffing” by targeting a VPN portal and performing authentication attempts using lists of credentials.

Employee Tracking

Also, remote work introduced new performance challenges. Systems had to be set in place to track personnel day to day performance and provide reports to managers.

 

Opportunities

Opportunities for Governments

Nationwide movement restrictions pushed governments to develop a digital response to providing essential services. Moreover, governments utilized digital solutions during the COVID-19 pandemic in the domains of public health, health care services, education, telecommunication, and commerce.

For instance, according to the NCBI, Saudi Arabia’s government and private sectors combined developed and launched approximately 19 apps and platforms that serve public health functions and provide health care services.

Ironically, challenges introduced by the pandemic positively served governments in the long term. These challenges served as the catalyst that

expedited certain stages in the digital transformation process. These services increased public satisfaction and citizens’ digital adoption.

Opportunities for Businesses

On the other hand, working remotely introduced a performance-oriented workforce culture. Being unable to communicate physically in office premises introduced the use of collaboration tools. Tools like Teams and Slack enabled employees to increase productivity by facilitating communication and making information easily accessible.

 

Solutions

Governments need to design a digital transformation strategy that fully equips countries to adapt to future catastrophic events. Such a strategy should map the steps and regulations needed to enforce the transformation. The strategy should address the following categories

Infrastructure

Investing in physical servers that host critical data and applications, secure access control solutions, enterprise VPNs to secure remote connections, reliable bandwidth for employees (5G – FTTH), and collaboration tools should be high on the government agenda.

Processes Optimization

Correspondence Management

In addition, to improving their infrastructure, governments should focus on optimizing their internal processes to better serve their citizens. By improving their correspondence management process, governments can automate all of their internal and external correspondence between departments and governmental agencies.

The National correspondence hub (Yesser) has made it possible for governmental entities to connect their correspondence systems natively. This integration enabled fast and secure communication between government entitles, which meant decreasing service time for citizens and faster decision making in governmental projects.

In 2020, The Royal Commission for Riyadh City took a huge step in optimizing their correspondence management. More than 200+ internal processes were automated using Tarasol®, which is a web-based, multilingual, and highly scalable system for handling administrative correspondence.

Document Management

Handling documents is a huge part of the government’s day-to-day operations. Millions of documents get generated and processed every day in operations, communications, projects, and research. To ease the process, governments should aim for a paperless environment where documents are generated and processed digitally, while any paper documents are digitized.

Digital documents come with numerous benefits, for example, employees can use metadata to classify and locate documents effortlessly. They also provide the ability to track documents using a versioning system that creates a trail of versions each time the document gets an update. Moreover, digital documents are more secure, due to the ability to assign different permission levels to them. Such permissions provide different access levels to employees as needed.

After implementing Tarasol® in Sharjah Real Estate Registration Department to automate all its correspondence, ArcMate Enterprise® was set in place to seal and store securely all completed correspondence, transactions, and documents in a central repository which made it available for easy retrieval and management by authorized users.

ArcMate Enterprise® is an advanced web-based document management system that caters to government needs in document management.