How companies are managing budgets and people during COVID-19

The pandemic has put a lot of organizations in cautious mode, re-thinking their spending during the crisis. Here’s how one company and its clients are weathering the storm.

TechRepublic’s Karen Roby talked with Joydeep Sen Sarma, CTO of Qubole, about managing people and technologies during a pandemic. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Karen Roby: Let’s talk a little bit about your company. You guys have around 300 employees, a distributed workforce really throughout the world. Talk a little bit about what it’s been like through this pandemic.

Joydeep Sen Sarma: I think we had some advantage of being used to remote work because our team has always been spread out across the world, but specifically has two major centers, one in California and the other one in India. We were somewhat used to remote work. Having said that, we didn’t have a lot of concentration. 

Engineering was mostly in India, and so we were used to going into a physical office and meeting people. While we were doing a lot of remote interaction, it was obviously not only remote interaction: We had a lot of local interactions, physical presence in the office, and everything else, just like any other office.

It has been a pretty big change because it is one thing to work with some remote colleagues some of the time, or even work from home once in a while, but just being at home, I think, for months on end and not being able to see your colleagues in person, having that physical bonding, in addition to all the interactions we have, that’s definitely been pretty tough. Getting used to the continuous Zoom calls or Google Meet or whatever people are using, I think it’s not been easy.

Karen Roby: Joydeep, talk a little bit about how the pandemic has changed your IT plans and your budget.

Joydeep Sen Sarma: I think we were already using most of the standard remote interaction tools, whether it’s Zoom or all the collaborative sort of Google Docs or JIRA or whatever have you, Salesforce. I think those things were already in place, but I think some of these things that are not working out remotely that easily, I think we need to fill some gaps, make some investments, I think.

SEE: Big data’s role in COVID-19 (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

I would love to, from a budget standpoint, because inevitably most companies like us are ending up saving some money on physical expenditure, like lower rents perhaps or maybe we are not renting an office. I’d love to put that money back into digital stuff so that we can make up for the loss of productivity or whatever sort of interactions we had, physically, I think if you’re not investing there, I would love to invest in other places and get that back somehow.

Karen Roby: Joydeep, talk a little bit about your clients and maybe some other CIOs, CTOs that you talk with. What are some of the challenges or roadblocks that they’ve encountered through all of this?

Joydeep Sen Sarma: As you can imagine, it’s based on the verticals. We have a lot of clients in the travel vertical, and they obviously got hurt really badly. We also have customers in verticals like gaming. They are doing very well.

SEE: IT pro’s roadmap to working remotely (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Online gaming and entertainment are doing very well, so I think they are in a very different category. Having said that, across the board, there is nervousness, obviously being just in terms of their IT spending and budgets and so on. We are seeing that belt tightening. Even in the companies that are doing well, I think there is some element of caution.

Karen Roby: It’s like companies really are just treading lightly right now, not always sure exactly what’s going to be around the next corner, but certainly being cautiously optimistic.

Joydeep Sen Sarma: Obviously, just like our own customers, we are in cautious mode. We are trying to avoid any spending that does not have a clear ROI. In general, we try to optimize spending for improving customer experience. I think that continues to be the most important thing. In terms of if we have to look at how we are spending money, we first asked the question, “Hey, how important is this for our customer experience and the quality of the product, the quality of the service?” If it is important to those experiences and those outcomes, then that’s something we try not to touch. The things that we have touched are actually nonessential expenses. Obviously, travel has gone down a lot, expenses around facilities we’ve cut as much as possible because we are not even using those facilities all that much. Nonessential expenses is where I think we are really focused in terms of cost controls.

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TechRepublic’s Karen Roby talked with Joydeep Sen Sarma, CTO of Qubole, about managing people and technologies during a pandemic.

Image: Mackenzie Burke

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