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Thursday, March 05, 2020, 14:52
Unpredictable times fuel remote working boom
By Oswald Chan
Thursday, March 05, 2020, 14:52 By Oswald Chan

Remote working solutions have become the norm for Hong Kong businesses, with flexible work hours and locations for employees to help them cope with unforeseen situations, such as during a typhoon, traffic disruption or in an epidemic like the current coronavirus outbreak. Oswald Chan reports.

The Manulife Financial Centre, developed by Henderson Land Development Co., stands in Hong Kong, China, Aug 19, 2012. (JEROME FAVRE / BLOOMBERG)

Manulife Hong Kong last month implemented work-from-home arrangements by engaging more than 800 of its employees using virtual video conferencing technology for the first time to discuss corporate results and development updates.

The insurance giant has been deploying various insurance technologies to serve its customers as the current coronavirus epidemic continues. In recent years, it launched the eClaims platform “claimsimple.hk”, and the online sales platform “buysimple.hk”, giving customers easy access to a range of online insurance services. Manulife’s agency team can also submit customer policy applications and check on their processing status using the company’s digital sales tool, ePOS.

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Expanding through solutions, such as this, allows us to stay connected with customers, who have cut their unnecessary day-to-day commute under the current circumstances

Greg Hingston, Head of retail banking and wealth management, HSBC in Hong Kong

Other insurers, like HSBC Life, AIA Hong Kong and AXA Hong Kong, have also rolled out non-face-to-face purchasing solutions, including a new phone application service that allows customers to take out insurance policies without being exposed to the risk of infection.

Such an approach is in response to the Insurance Authority’s move to allow life insurers and intermediaries to sell qualifying deferred annuity policy and voluntary health insurance scheme products through various non-face-to-face distribution methods, such as digital, telemarketing, postal, video-conference or any combination of these methods until the end of March.

Using video conferencing service Zoom via computer or mobile, banking behemoth HSBC will be able to interact with its high net-worth Jade and Premier customers remotely, and conduct wealth management-related activities, such as going through customers’ financial needs, reviewing their investment portfolio and strategy, and placing trades. Customers will be presented with information, charts and graphs through screen sharing and talking to each other over video conferencing, offering them similar banking experience at branches without leaving home.

“Expanding through solutions, such as this, allows us to stay connected with customers, who have cut their unnecessary day-to-day commute under the current circumstances,” said Greg Hingston, head of retail banking and wealth management at HSBC in Hong Kong.

“We’ll continue to harness new technology to provide faster and more engaging assistance to customers and elevate the overall customer experience,” he said.

Global business advisory firm Deloitte predicts that global revenues from ad-supported video services will reach an estimated US$32 billion this year. “Asia, including China and India, will lead with US$15.5 billion in revenue in 2020, nearly half of the global total. In China, India and throughout the Asia-Pacific region, ad-supported video is the dominant model of delivering streaming video to consumers,” said Deloitte China Technology Sector Leader Frank Li.

Remote working has also had a significant impact on the creative industry, which often requires brainstorming of ideas using graphics and constant communication with each other to stimulate creativity.

For example, the whiteboard feature of video streaming technology of “Microsoft Teams” allows participants to draw and write on a shared digital canvas and exchange ideas in real-time even with team members working from different locations. This software allows each online meeting to accommodate up to 250 participants at a time, or live stream with up to 10,000 attendees, including employees and external audiences, supporting the management to host large-scale online meetings or broadcasts with employees at any time. Companies can also record the meetings on video via the platform to allow employees to revisit when needed.

Cloud OS service provider Nutanix is providing a 30-day free trial for its “Nutanix Frame” - Desktop as a Service (DaaS) solution - to businesses across Asia, including Hong Kong.

It is a cloud-based solution providing a virtual desktop workspace that allows individuals, teams, customers and partners to access the work desktop, file and network for business meetings without relying on, nor consuming, any internal hardware. Isolated staff can then have safe and secure access to any application simply from their home web browser, with no software download or upgrade required.

“We’re trying to play our part in making sure Hong Kong’s businesses and economies keep moving during these unpredictable times,” said Edward Yeung, managing director of Hong Kong and Taiwan for Nutanix. “The safety and security of staff remains the primary concern, but we can help keep them active, engaged and productive through easily available and accessible software.”

Software as a service (SaaS) will remain the largest market segment, which is forecast to grow to US$116 billion this year due to the scalability of subscription-based software, followed by cloud system infrastructure services, or Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), which will grow by 24 percent, year-on-year, to reach US$50 billion in 2020, according to estimates by global business advisory firm Gartner.

“The cloud managed service landscape is becoming increasingly sophisticated and competitive,” said Sid Nag, research vice-president at Gartner. “Cloud-native capabilities, application services, multicloud and hybrid cloud comprise a diverse cloud ecosystem that will be important differentiators for technology product managers. The demand for strategic cloud service outcomes signals an organizational shift toward digital business outcomes.”

The global public cloud services market is forecast to grow 17 percent in 2020 to US$266.4 billion - up from US$227.8 billion last year, according to Gartner.

After launching remote work practices, businesses also need to tap other technologies, such as artificial intelligence and data analysis, so that they can constantly evaluate the effectiveness of remote working implementation, thus spurring the demand for other technological applications.

For example, when an employee spends too much time writing emails during a conference call, the individual should evaluate whether he or she is focusing on the meeting, or may not need to attend to that call at all.

As remote working solutions can help maintain operational efficiency and productivity during unexpected events, companies also need to pay attention to operational efficiency and data security when implementing remote working practices.

Cloud-enabled security solutions provider Barracuda recently commissioned a report that surveyed 750 corporate executives worldwide to gauge their views on their attitudes toward public cloud in business processes. According to the survey, 78 percent of Hong Kong respondents agreed that security is their top concern, followed by net integration with public cloud, as well as compliance and regulation as barriers in moving to public cloud.

READ MORE: HK under coronavirus: Giant lab for work-from-home

The survey revealed that Hong Kong businesses are lagging, but expects a faster adoption rate of moving infrastructure to public cloud. On average, organizations currently have 45 percent of information technology (IT) infrastructure running in the public cloud, whereas only 31 percent of Hong Kong respondents adopt public cloud, representing a 14 percentage points behind its global peers.

While respondents expect to see an estimated 76 percent of IT infrastructure running in public cloud in five years, it’s expected the ratio in Hong Kong will reach 68 percent during the same period.

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