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Innovating in a crisis

Lessons learned in 2020

Innovating in a crisis
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As wildfires began raging through areas of the Western USA last year, millions of people were left without power due to outages and damaged infrastructure.

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As the fires spread, our engineering team at OpenText worked to develop additional functionality for our OpenText Core Share product to allow utilities companies to access vital maintenance and repair documentation remotely, building in additional features to allow for remote sharing, off-line document synchronizing, and enhanced mobile features.

To me, this illustrates perfectly how OpenText responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and the other challenges being faced by our customers. These are some of the lessons I have learned in the last year.

THE SHIFT TO REMOTE WORK

My division employs about 4,000 software engineers in 40 sites. Well before the pandemic, we worked in a highly virtual, collaborative environment, with international development teams that straddle time zones.

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But as the Shelter-At-Home orders were declared worldwide last March, our customers faced new challenges as they shifted their employees to remote work and looked to quickly digitize their content and processes. Companies in many sectors—from banking and insurance to manufacturing and retail—had the additional challenge of servicing a 100% home-located customer base.

PIVOTING TO ADDRESS NEW CUSTOMER PRIORITIES

As we engaged with our customers, it became clear that organizations and companies of all sizes had been forced to do some high-speed prioritization. Our customers needed our support to meet the technological demands of these new challenges.

We knew that we had to be able to respond to their priorities, by delivering high-value-added product innovations, and that required a number of significant internal pivots. The first was to shift from a six-monthly product release cycle to a quarterly one. This acceleration required us to figure out new ways of identifying, developing, testing, and releasing software—as well as the flexibility to adapt quickly and prioritize the innovations our customers need most.

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As the members of our engineering team have become climatized to working remotely in this past year, I can see how they’ve been motivated to accelerate OpenText’s product development pipeline to address new customer priorities because they understand the pain-points in other newly virtual workplaces.

AUTOMATION KEY TO ACCELERATING QUALITY ASSURANCE

But our acceleration of product releases could not result in any drop in quality. There could be no shortcuts. This meant our quality assurance (QA) teams also needed to react to align with engineering’s new release cycle—and that meant automation. We developed a proprietary tool that removed the need to manually check and debug programs. This tool increases the productivity of our product development processes and has played a key role in the acceleration of our release cycle.

During the pandemic period, OpenText engineers have developed a wide range of products geared to cyber-security, supply chain grids, various cloud applications and shared documents. One that is proving incredibly useful with our clients has been a digital “core signature” application, which allows firms to maintain workflow processes that require employees or third parties to electronically sign off on documents, such as contracts or quotes, with appropriate compliance measures in place. We designed the e-signature so it is available as an API plug-in suitable for external documents. In remote workplaces, such tools help our customers adapt to the new ways of working that involve significantly enhanced digitization.

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LESSONS LEARNED

In the past year, our ability to accelerate the product pipeline and deliver high-value-added product innovations as new customer priorities emerge has been critical to our success—and to the success of our customers. This internal pivot has required not only process changes, but also an increased focused on remote collaboration and automation in the QA process. Whether it’s wildfires or the COVID-19 pandemic, the lessons we’ve learned over the past year will ensure we’re able to help our customers survive and thrive, no matter the challenge.

Going forward, we remain committed to working collaboratively with our customers to address the challenges they face. Indeed, in the past year I’ve had the privilege of seeing a side of OpenText’s culture that I find hugely impressive as we have adapted to work together more effectively than ever. Post-pandemic, we will see this spirit of teamwork continue to grow and flourish.

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Muhi Majzoub is OpenText’s executive vice-president and chief product officer. He is based in San Mateo, California. Follow him on Twitter at @MuhiSMajzoub.