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Rush Blevins serves as the Chief Information Officer for Flagship. In this role, he leads the IT and Information Security functions.
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, financial institutions quickly learned the significance of empowering mobile workforces and the subsequent necessity to expedite digitization initiatives to enhance corporate infrastructure.
At Flagship Credit Acceptance, our focus on business continuity began approximately five years ago. We realized that with the steady increase in national disasters, we needed to be prepared if one of our offices had to close suddenly, or for an extended time.
With that framework in place, we started a digitization initiative to identify the best-in-class capabilities that would enable displaced associates to work remotely with minimal disruption to their responsibilities and no disruption for our customers.
As part of this initiative, we focused on upgrading current computer systems to mobile-based devices that could be transported to any location. We reevaluated our current telephone systems and decided to transition to an enterprise-grade, cloud-based calling solution. It was also critical to implement a collaboration platform that provided instant messaging, voice messaging, video calling capabilities, multi-party conferencing, and other services to enable associates to make and receive calls through their upgraded mobile devices.
The new infrastructure was designed with geographic redundancies. This move, coupled with the new remote functionality, enabled associates in one office to remotely connect to our other facilities without interruption of service to customers. If the location in Philadelphia, Dallas, or Tempe had to close for an extended time, it would no longer disrupt our customers or services.
While this digital migration took several years to plan, implement, and train associates on, it positioned us well for the continuing pandemic. We were prepared to shut a single office for a limited time and had implemented the infrastructure to support that. In all outlined scenarios, we did not anticipate an event like the pandemic that would cause all three facilities to reduce staff by a margin of 90 percent or more, or for an extended time.
While our digitization initiative positioned us much better than most other financial institutions, we were suddenly faced with expanding the infrastructure to support an almost entirely remote workforce. Our advanced planning ensured that customers experienced no change in the level or timeliness of service they expect us to deliver.
"We realized that with the steady increase in national disasters, we needed to be prepared if one of our offices had to close suddenly"
Internally, however, we were challenged to introduce new internal capabilities. On the backend, our VP of Engineering, Troy Smith, and his team had been working on implementing Office 365 for approximately three years. As our departments moved to remote environments, we quickly realized the need to upgrade our communication systems to a more robust video-based platform. Skype was upgraded to Microsoft Teams to provide the enhanced features of Teams, such as ease of video calls, meetings, chats, and Teams Events.
Adoption across the company was much faster than expected, and it continues to trend upward. Troy and his team found that over the last 90 days, we have experienced approximately 950 users actively engaging colleagues on the Teams platform. Over the previous three months, associates have directed more than 7,700 Teams meetings. There have been approximately 23,700 one-on-one calls executed, and our associates have sent more than 787,420 chat messages.
The Teams platform truly enabled us to modernize the way we communicate. During the same time, we registered 105,583,518 minutes of audio. The usage of video calls witnessed a tremendous spike. Before the pandemic, video conferencing was utilized on less than 5 percent of calls. Now, 81 percent of the time, participants are taking advantage of video capabilities, and we have clocked 85,623,683 minutes of video conferencing time.
The implementation of Teams significantly improved communication throughout the company. Departments located across the country now interact more closely and provide greater support for each other than was possible when working in an in-office environment.
While we were fortunate to be well down the path of our digitization efforts that put us ahead of many businesses beyond those in our industry, we also experienced additional challenges. One, in particular, was addressing the process of relying on physical paper documents. Health considerations with news that coronavirus could remain viable for up to five days on paper combined with remote workers necessitated implementing a digital enterprise-wide document management system. While this was in the planning phase for implementation, COVID-19 drove the need for faster implementation.
The pandemic has genuinely changed the business landscape. While we may not necessarily return to similar pre-pandemic business practices, the one change expected to last moving forward is how we communicate. To a yet to be determined level, virtual groups and offices are here to stay. This change in style enables teams, departments, and associates to communicate better now than ever before. The question IT professionals and departments have to ask now is, what’s next on the horizon?