How C&W and Flow met the covid19 challenge

Above: Kurleigh Prescod

Originally published in Newsday on June 24, 2020

“There is no question that this pandemic is going to change us,” said Garfield Sinclair, CEO of Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC), a subsidiary of C&W.

Sinclair is on his third crisis after taking the reins at BTC, first working to right the troubled telecoms company in a newly liberalised market, then coping with Hurricane Dorian’s damage in 2019 and now the lockdown restrictions required to control Covid-19 spread.

“Leading people through disasters like the hurricane and now Covid-19 really involves being a cheerleader,” Sinclair said.

“If you sit and go shoulder to shoulder with talented, passionate, committed, technically competent colleagues, all you really have to do is provide them with the support they need, to do what they would ordinarily have done.”

“In disasters, I’ve found that the fight or flight response kicks in and people are capable of almost superhuman efforts.”

“When crises hit, people tend to step up. We’ve seen that again during the Covid-19 crisis, where productivity has just gone through the roof.”

“Institutional wisdom suggests that people working from home would slack off, that productivity would slip, and nothing could be further from the truth.”

Jenson Sylvester, Country Manager for Flow Barbados and another participant in last week’s Canto Conversations webinar, explained that many of the changes that were made to the company’s operations were already in process.

“We need to accelerate what we have already started in interfacing with our customers‚” Sylvester said.

“The need for digital platforms has accelerated [in the wake of new customer expectations for non-contact engagements]. How do we make it permanent?”

The company was able to respond effectively during the Covid-19 lockdown in the region after an earlier staging of a dress rehearsal of procedures mandated by Liberty Latin America, its parent company. That gave the company an opportunity to figure out what it needed to do to implement remote work effectively.

When isolation orders came rolling across the region, C&W and Flow were ready.

Garfield Sinclair, BTC CEO

For Sinclair, Covid-19 was an opportunity for the company to shine.

“The trick [now] is to bring harmony to some of the adjustments we’ve had to make‚” he said.

“I’ve said this to my colleagues; you never want to waste a good disaster. For all the negative sides, the positive side is how productivity has increased tremendously, how hard we’ve worked to ensure that our customers’s experience has remained at an acceptable level and even exceeded expectations.”

“How do we make that a permanent part of our operations? How do we make permanent that agility that has provided us with so much extra efficiency?”

“On the consumer side [we need to consider] how we continue to interface with them in a digital way,” Sylvester said.

“We had the foresight to launch virtual retail stores and the response to that has been incredible.”

“We weren’t allowed to go into our customer’s homes, and we had to do customer assisted installations. If there is a fault, how do we work more closely with our customers to do installs and access services?”

Those are only some of the questions that C&W has to answer as a service provider to business, to nations and to its residential customers.

“The coronavirus pandemic has flipped that whole pattern, that assumption model. Now, we have people working from home 24/7.
The capacity assumptions that we’ve used to build our networks have to change.”
– Kurleigh Prescod

The fundamental changes have also wrought significant changes in the load balancing of the network itself.

“Historically, how we have designed our networks made certain assumptions around people going to an office for the day,” said Kurliegh Prescod, Country Manager of Flow TT.

“The coronavirus pandemic has flipped that whole pattern, that assumption model. Now, we have people working from home 24/7.”

“The capacity assumptions that we’ve used to build our networks have to change.”

“The switch in customer use from primarily download to two-way, symmetrical traffic is going to increase and how we have to accelerate some of our technology roadmaps to support these new traffic patterns, these new traffic behaviours, to deliver the kind of telecom network that our customers not only want, that they need to operate.”

“Because people are going to be working from home, our ability to detect, respond and to resolve issues and outages has to improve.”