The Imperative to Fast Track the 4IR in the Wake of Covid-19

April 1, 2020

The Bad:
No one can deny the tragic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic which is wreaking havoc across the world, not only in terms personal loss but also in terms of the strain put on all countries’ resources and the imminent economic meltdown. Spare a thought for industries such as travel, tourism, hospitality and retail industries and all the knock-on businesses which are reliant on them.

We live in an eco-system of supply (suppliers) and demand (customers) so every business will be affected. Spare a thought too for the elderly, frail and lonely and a huge thank you to our health care workers and all critical service workers.

Stock markets have crashed which means that those of us who have contributed to our pension funds for years and years have probably lost up to 25% if not more of our hard earned savings within a month; frightening for those who are about to retire and a bit better for those who still have a few years to go to retirement as hopefully there will be time to recover. This is made even worse in South Africa where we have now been downgraded to junk status which means that billions of Rands will flow out of SA since institutional investors are prohibited from investing in ‘junk’ status bonds. This means that South Africa will have to pay even more (a higher interest rate) to borrow money. Before Covid-19 and the downgrade, our debt-service cost was 15.2% of the main budget revenue which is frightening enough and will now be much worse. See the overview below:

In Brief

The Good (relatively speaking):
There are however quite a few positive aspects brought about by this nasty disrupter called Covid-19:

  • The oil price has come down significantly because of far less demand which means less pollution for our abused planet.
  • The repo rate has been reduced by 100 points (1%)
  • There are apparently swans and fish in the canals in Venice
  • The air quality and water quality has improved significantly in major cities especially in China
  • 1000’s of additional productive hours have been gained as many of us are not having to sit in the traffic and / or aeroplanes for hours and hours every day. In addition, our stress levels caused by the hustle and bustle of travel should be minimized
  • The 4IR (4th Industrial Revolution) has advocated for many years now, the use of technology to work more smartly. South Africa has been slow to adopt ‘remote’ working; however, whether we like it or not, we are now forced to work remotely. When this pandemic is finally over, it will be seen in history as the disrupter that finally kick started the 4IR and changed the way the world works. Working remotely and not climbing into your car and / or a plane will become far more acceptable, more efficient, more cost effective (both in time and associated travel costs) as well as be far gentler on our environment (planet). Most of us have had to adapt fast and come up with effective ways of working remotely using collaborative tools such as Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, Zoom, Webex, Skype, TeamViewer etc. Now, we are forced to put in place and monitor the KPIs (key performance indicators) and output of our resources more regularly and effectively. It’s no longer just about pitching up to the workplace to be counted but far more focus on what we are doing and achieving every day. Yes, daily meetings may be overkill micro-management for now, however we will soon all get into the habit of focusing on what we are achieving every day rather than how much time we spend in the office which often involves many hours of unproductive time. The old cliché ‘”you can’t manage what you can’t measure” will force organisations to formalise measurable KPIs for all their staff.
  • Online shopping will become far more ingrained in South Africa leading to reduced congestion on our roads and less pollution and stress.
  • Online banking / cell phone banking will finally become the norm. Queuing for social grants should have been a thing of the past long ago. It really pains me to see people queuing for their social grants during lockdown which not only puts themselves and their families at risk but puts the entire nation and its economy at risk of collapse. Sadly, it will not be possible to flatten the curve if we don’t all adhere to the lockdown and if the lockdown has to be extended it will cripple South African businesses and the economy beyond repair not to mention individuals’ lives with unemployment numbers going through the roof.
  • Social media, the Internet, TV etc. has allowed us to communicate in real time across the world and take evasive action such as lockdown as well as work collaboratively to hopefully find a cure for Covid-19. The 20 to 40 million people who died in the ‘Great Flu Epidemic’ of 1918 which killed more people than WW1 had no such benefit, not to mention all the other pandemics throughout the centuries:
  • Perhaps organisations will pay more attention to the disciplines of Risk Management and DRP (Disaster Recovery Planning). Perhaps Integrated Reporting (IR) which seeks to explain how the organisation interacts with the external environment and the capitals to create value over the short, medium and long term, will be taken more seriously?
  • Remote access to servers / cloud will become the norm. It always amazes me that we live in a so called connected technologically-driven world, and yet as I write this article, half our clients are not able to work remotely from home due to the red tape and bureaucracy of IT departments. Yes, we understand cyber threats and hacking etc. but this pandemic has hopefully shocked IT into finding solutions so that businesses can continue to operate in a disaster. This pandemic isn’t nearly as sudden or physically destructive as an earthquake, volcano or meteorite strike for example which takes out buildings, infrastructure and whole cities and yet we have clients in the year 2020 who can’t / aren’t allowed to work remotely. There won’t be a need for your IT department if your company goes out of business. It reminds me of when cars were first invented (which I admit was before my time) when a man had to walk in front of a car with a red flag to warn people of approaching danger. Imagine applying this narrow-minded logic now and yet we still do it just in another form.
  • The global togetherness of humankind across countries, religions, political divides is most refreshing. Spending time with one’s immediate family and finding time to talk to your friends albeit online is also most refreshing and cathartic.
  • Imagine this pandemic happening 30 years ago before the Internet and cell phones or even 10 years ago without fibre to our homes. Imagine working on 3g or ADSL at best. So, in many ways we are far more fortunate than any of our predecessors who suffered pandemics.


How does the BarnOwl GRC software facilitate working remotely (i.e. from home)?

  • BarnOwl’s offline capability: BarnOwl was designed from the onset with the ability for users to work offline.
    • Audit offline is used by auditors in remote areas who have very limited Internet connectivity. The BarnOwl audit module enables an audit manager to ‘check-out and lock’ relevant work within an audit project to each of his / her auditors. The auditors can choose to work online or offline by synchronising their work to their offline database (on their notebook). The work items remain locked on the server. Once the auditor has prepared his/her work offline, he/she marks it as ‘ready for review’ and synchronises back to the server. The audit manager can review the work either online or offline and decide to either ‘sign off the work or return the work to the auditor with review notes. This workflow process with online and offline synchronisation can be repeated as many times as required. Auditors can synchronise their work back and forth to the server either directly or via email using a btf (BarnOwl Transaction File).
    • Risk offline is predominately used by risk managers who wish to work at home without needing to be connected to their corporate network or pre-pandemic where risk managers conducted risk workshops (using voting keypads etc.) without needing to be connected to the corporate network. BarnOwl enables a risk manager to synchronise a business unit/s to his/her local offline database and carry on with his/her work totally disconnected from the network. Once the work is complete, the risk manager can synchronise his/her work back to the server either directly or via email using a btf (BarnOwl Transaction File). The particular business unit/s are not locked on the server however.
    • Please see the following YouTube tutorial on how to use the BarnOwl offline functionality. You can also read our tip of the month on how to use BarnOwl’s offline
  • The BarnOwl online portal allows easy access to authorised users to track and update their action plans, perform risk and control self-assessments, complete compliance surveys as well as maintain their risk registers using the simplified BarnOwl Lite user interface. This functionality enables the risk, audit and compliance department to continue to engage and follow-up with your audience thus embedding good governance practices and disciplines.


BarnOwl services remain fully operational during this pandemic:
We are fortunate in that our services are non-physical in nature and therefore our ability to continue with our day to day work and being able to support our clients is relatively unaffected. Some of the interventions we have put in place include:

  • In 99% of the cases all our staff have excellent Internet connectivity to their homes and are geared up to work from home.
  • We have proliferated the use of collaborative tools such as Microsoft Teams / GoToMeeting to manage all internal meetings, client meetings, demos, online training etc.
  • Our support desk makes use of an online ticketing system hosted in the cloud which is available 24/7 and which also provides a portal for our clients to track and trace their tickets.
  • Our switchboard and direct help desk support telephone lines are diverted to relevant staff.
  • All meetings with our clients can and are being done online.
  • All implementations can and are being done remotely where clients provide access.
  • All client training including generic training is being conducted online.
  • All our internal systems are accessible via VPN.
  • In summary, its business as usual and we are here to assist you.


In summary
In my opinion, this is not a ‘black swan’ event. Looking at history, a pandemic probably occurs to a greater or lesser extent every 50 years or so: . So it’s somewhat surprising to see how off guard we’ve been caught.

Perhaps, as unpleasant as this pandemic is, it is a wakeup call to treat one another and our planet with more respect and to amongst many other things take risk management and disaster management more seriously. ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’ written by Klaus Schwab (founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum) written as far back as 2017 is a must read for all business and political leaders. It contains a wealth of thought-provoking information and advice. Section 3.3 (National and Global) and especially ‘Box C: Agile Governance Principles in an Age of Disruption’ and ‘Box D: Urban Innovations’ is a must read for any political leader and / or business leader. This pandemic may well be the catalyst to a better life for all.

So, bring on the era of renewable energy and robots which won’t be affected by any pandemic and will do all the mundane tasks such as driverless cars and drones, supply chain management, cleaning up our mess, digging our mines (deep mining), farming, medical care and nursing etc. Let us humans focus on value-add tasks such as increased productivity, especially tasks like food security which is gentler on our planet so there is sufficient for us all both rich and poor. Let’s create better systems to assist those less fortunate so they can be assured of their social grants / living wages.

Useful tools for Online engagement


Surviving isolation:

Written by: Jonathan Crisp, Director, BarnOwl GRC software solutions

About BarnOwl:
BarnOwl is a fully integrated governance, risk management, compliance and audit software solution used by over 200 organisations in Africa, Australasia, Europe and the UK. BarnOwl is a locally developed software solution and is the preferred risk management solution for the South African public sector supporting the National Treasury risk framework.

Please see  for more information.