Dunedin: 5 lessons Covid-19 has taught about innovation

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Businesses with a record of transformation and disruption responded to the Covid-19 pandemic by focusing on innovation. What can we learn from that approach? Andrew Davidson, investment director at private equity firm Dunedin explores how the firm adapted to these unprecedented changes in an exclusive article below.

The global Covid-19 pandemic has prompted remarkable shifts in behaviours and attitudes – ideas such as mass working from home, state intervention in private markets and a shift from the physical to the digital look set to become part of how we live. But how will businesses use these experience of Covid-19 to continue to innovate long after we emerge from lockdown – and what can they learn from fast-growing companies with a record of transformation and disruption?

The experience of many of Dunedin’s portfolio businesses is instructive. These businesses have managed the transition to new ways of working without missing a beat and continue to look to innovation to power their future growth. They’ve been able to confront Covid-19 because they knew some fundamental truths about innovation that the pandemic is now teaching the rest of us.

Advanced technologies will power agility

Red, a global leader in recruiting SAP professionals, provides several excellent examples of how smart technologies enable agile businesses to embrace new ways of working. Its artificial intelligence tool, for example, matches candidates finishing up projects to new projects requiring similar skill set and uses programmed learning over time to enhance the matching experience. In a world of remote working, the tool is a powerful recruitment solution.

Elsewhere, Red has customised Microsoft’s Power BI application to monitor salespeople’s activities, with reports run twice a day now that staff are not working from the office. The system enables Red to ensure its remote workers have all the support they need and that the company has enough resources in place to meet demand. Where the tool highlights a member of staff’s increasing workload, for example, Red is quickly able to take action – including taking people off furlough to provide additional resource.

Red is also making good use of cloud-based call centre tools that enable its managers to work with salespeople as they place calls. The tools provide facilities such as call recording, silent monitoring and call whispering – enabling managers to give instructions to consultants while they’re on a call, for example. The functionality has been integrated into the Microsoft Teams app so it can be deployed seamlessly.

In each case, Red proves the point that technology-enabled businesses are far better placed to adapt to the changing landscape with speed and agility.

Security never sleeps

Forensic Risk Alliance (FRA), a forensic accounting and data governance consultancy, has rapidly transitioned to new ways of working during the pandemic. Leveraging the skills and experience from more than 20 years of working on many of the world’s most complex investigations in often remote and challenging environments, such as anti-corruption investigations in developing markets, it has been able to maintain the highest level of security in this changing environment.

FRA has worked with partners and clients to ensure data can continue to be managed safely, even in the context of the highly technical and complex data landscape often faced in financial crime and sanctions investigations. Using portals and data transfer protocols that maximise cyber-security and encryption, the team efficiently gathers data from diverse technologies, ranging from databases to robotics, utilised by financial services companies.

The consultancy is also creatively leveraging tools such as video to ensure that the data acquired during investigations is properly downloaded; encrypted files are then transferred to FRA’s own systems and stored securely. Specialist technology teams deploy artificial intelligence and machine learning whilst working remotely with clients to ensure forensic standards are maintained. They deliver market leading insights on millions of terabytes of data at breakneck speed.

In a time of crisis, it would be easy to relax security measures as other priorities emerge, but smart businesses will take extra care at this time of vulnerability.

Work is a thing you do, not a place you go

Digital technology group Incremental has helped numerous customers ensure business continuity during the lockdown period. Leading by example – its technology has enabled all staff to work effectively from outside of the office long before Covid-19 struck – the company has also helped its customers to move quickly to remote and flexible working. It’s also helped customers execute new projects – including playing a crucial role in getting the NHS Nightingale Hospital in Bristol up and running.

Incremental has long recognised that it’s the work it does that matters rather than the location in which that work takes place. In other words, work is a thing you do, not a place you go. Through ensuring its customers have the digital capabilities required, Incremental supports its customers to do the same.

It’s time to think beyond tomorrow

Hawksford works with an international list of clients, providing corporate, private client and funds services in areas such as regulatory affairs, financial and tax compliance, and corporate governance. The company’s motto, “Thinking beyond tomorrow” has never seemed more relevant or prescient than during the Covid-19 crisis – innovation is a constant imperative, providing the capacity to rise above crises.

The firm’s use of technologies such as DocuSign is a good example. Having established the effectiveness of this technology well before the crisis in enabling clients to sign documents electronically, Hawksford has been able to roll the tool out to many more clients during the pandemic. That has kept bank payments, investment instructions and transactional documents flowing.

Elsewhere, Hawksford is working with clients to ensure that today’s problems do not become an impossible barrier to future innovation. It has continued to ensure, for example, that fund managers are able to put structures and governance in place to underwrite new product launches as soon as the marketplace allows.

Thinking beyond tomorrow, in other words, provides a means to cope with everything that today will throw at you.

We live in a time of permanent change

Covid-19 has forced every organisation to confront uncomfortable and challenging new realities they never expected. But in truth, the pandemic is only part of a broader narrative of change and disruption – the most innovative organisations already understand how to operate amid flux.

It may have been a black swan event they could never have anticipated, but businesses such as FRA, Red, Hawksford and Incremental were ready for the pandemic because they had prepared for disruption. With a track record of investment in technologies to ensure effective and efficient ongoing operations, and building enduring and responsive relationships with clients, they were robust and resilient before the crisis hit.

These are also organisations that recognise the power of collaboration and learning from one another. Dunedin itself has launched an information hub for portfolio companies during the pandemic, enabling them to share advice and support for the greater good.

Innovation, in other words, can continue to flourish, even in the most trying of circumstances. But it takes a certain type of mindset, culture and preparedness to focus on that amidst the turmoil.

Andrew Davidson is Investment Director at private equity firm Dunedin.

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