One week before Jude McCorry took up her role as CEO of the Scottish Business Resilience Centre (SBRC), the global lockdown surrounding Covid-19 changed the world as we know it.
“All the plans for my first month in post – to be out and about, meeting with businesses and community partners – were scrapped. What’s more, the whole outlook of the SBRC and our role within the business community had to pivot in response to this truly unprecedented situation,” says McCorry.
“I took a call from Paul Atkinson, of Par Equity, asking what we could do together to help, so we have quickly established a cross-industry group to help people navigate this strange new world.
“We’re not going to sit back and watch companies fail who could have survived if they had some sort of mentoring, practical advice or simply a confidence boost to keep going.”
Created six years ago, the SBRC is a non-profit organisation that works in collaboration with Police Scotland, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, the Scottish Government and the business community. In “normal” circumstances, the centre offers a wide range of services and advice covering all aspects of business resilience, from premises and insurance requirements to employee safety and cyber security.
Now, the SBRC, along with some of Scotland’s most senior business leaders, is hosting a series of 60-minute webinars to answer the urgent questions being posed by Scottish businesses, with follow-up mentoring if required.
McCorry says: “Early topics have included directors’ duties and obligations, supply chain issues, additional lending considerations from a solvency perspective and the financial support measures available from Government and other sources.
“We’ll continue to address issues such as organisational health, remote leadership skills, contract renegotiations, crisis communications, and the increased cyber security threats posed by the coronavirus outbreak.
“We’ve already seen a huge increase in reports of cyber-attacks, with the historical phishing scams being overtaken by Covid-19 ones. People are vulnerable during a state of flux and fraudsters are usually the first to exploit any new situation.
“But there will be positives that come from the lockdown, too. Many people are using online collaboration tools for the first time. If this pandemic had happened 30 years ago, we wouldn’t have had the technology to communicate on a personal or business level.”
The ultimate stress-test
What of the resilience of Scotland’s broadband infrastructure itself? With more of us now working from home than at any time in history, can our telecommunications networks be expected to cope with such a fundamental shift in online behaviour?
Graeme Gordon, co-founder and CEO of Internet for Business (IFB), headquartered in Aberdeen, believes so: “It’s important to remember that Scotland is part of an international network. IFB, for example, operates a trans-North Sea fibre that gets us directly into mainland Europe. We’ve seen more traffic coming in and out of Scotland using that fibre than ever before.
“Almost overnight, the internet has proven itself as the default mechanism for business and social communication. With so many businesses and essential public services now relying on Cloud services, being connected is absolutely vital.
“Plus, we’re all working and schooling from home, which is presenting another interesting challenge. Home broadband is usually about downloading content, but with so many of us working from home, we’re all pushing more data out than ever, particularly in the form of video chats.
“Make no mistake, as little as five years ago, the domestic connectivity network couldn’t have coped with this. That it is standing up so well is testament to the massive investments the major telcos such as BT and City-Fibre have made, working with companies like IFB on a regional basis, to upgrade these networks.
“With the ‘nationalisation’ of broadband back on the political agenda, I question whether a nationalised network would have benefited from the same levels of investment and innovation and whether it would have coped with this situation.”
Gordon, a former chairman of tech industry body ScotlandIS, feels that the current crisis will be a springboard for innovations that will outlive the lockdown.
He says: “Beyond this, we’ll start to ask whether we need everyone back working in the office or back in the classroom, five days a week.
“A new economy will develop around the increased acceptance of homeworking and the need for more formalised support for homeworkers, from helping them to create a dedicated workspace to ensuring the security of sensitive files being accessed at home.
“As a society, the cultural barriers to digital transformation – particularly around remote and homeworking – have been forcibly removed. How do we now leverage this to help address climate change, to support the vulnerable, to create smarter models of public transport and education?”
The kids are all right?
Ah, yes, education. If (like me) you are attempting to juggle the combined demands of homeworking and homeschooling, you’ll recognise the massive lifeline the internet represents in terms of keeping your kids educated and entertained.
However, with traditional limits on “screen time” no longer realistic under lockdown conditions, managing our children’s’ relationship with online tech has become increasingly tricky.
Jess McBeath is an online harms consultant, specialising in digital citizenship, who has recently been delivering training programmes for Scottish teachers in association with the charity SWGfL, a partner in the UK Safer Internet Centre.
“Perspectives have changed rapidly,” says McBeath. “Last year, the WHO defined ‘Gaming Disorder’ as a disease and addiction. This month, they’re promoting online gaming as a way of safely playing without spreading Covid-19.
“Suddenly, live video chat apps, previously shunned for fear of grooming, are quickly adopted by families to help children connect with friends. And organisations are rolling out live chat to children irrespective of minimum age requirements.
“Maintaining friendships and playing online will be important to many children just now, but we mustn’t underestimate the increased risk that children now face online as a result of the pandemic.
“We’re braced for an uptick in online grooming, sexual abuse, exploitation and domestic violence involving tech abuse.”
McBeath adds: “Parents are learning that the children they thought of as ‘digital natives’ can make a TikTok video but can’t operate Word. Our kids don’t know it all and they absolutely need our guidance and protection online. The key is for parents to balance safeguarding with empowerment.
“A starting point is to have fun, game and learn online together. Manage privacy settings and parental controls to reduce access to inappropriate content. Talking as a family about misinformation and scams you come across helps everyone hone their critical thinking skills.
“Consider where children use technology in the home – if one-to-one online chat with a younger child is required, how can you supervise it? Remember that parents can be groomed to enable access to their children. Just because someone seems helpful, doesn’t mean their intentions are good.”
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