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Technology enables call centre staff to operate from home, Tech News & Top Stories

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For the past four weeks, Citibank customers on the line with Mr Caleb Yong have unknowingly been speaking to a call centre officer who is not in a call centre at all, but at home instead.

Thanks to softphone technology which allows for phone calls over the Internet via the computer, he does not even need to use a physical telephone.

“I would not have imagined previously that answering customer calls from home would even be possible,” said Mr Yong, 46, who has been a call centre officer with Citibank for nine years.

The thought of call centre staff working from home would have been near inconceivable just a year ago, but safety concerns amid the Covid-19 outbreak have provided the impetus for trailblazing employers to implement sweeping changes.

About 90 per cent of DBS Bank’s 650 call centre staff are now working from home, while half of Citibank’s 300 call agents are doing so.

The Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board has also equipped nearly all of its 300 call centre agents to work from home, and is one of the first government agencies to do so.

DBS has spent close to $10 million over five years to develop its remote working infrastructure, but it took the Covid-19 outbreak for the investment to really bear fruit.

The bank’s contact centre and servicing platforms regional head Kailash Ramalingam said the initial plan in February was to run a pilot with 40 to 50 staff working from home, but the worsening outbreak called for a more decisive change.

“In traditional business continuity plans with split-site operations, employees are asked to come to the other site (to continue working),” said Mr Ramalingam.

“But that was not advisable for employee safety and well-being during the Covid-19 situation, so we said, in March, let’s take the plunge to work from home.”

Having invested substantially in technologies to enable such remote operations, the two banks and the CPF Board are keen to let flexible work arrangements stay even after the Covid-19 pandemic ends.

  • 90%

    Proportion of DBS Bank’s 650 call centre staff working from home.

    50%

    Proportion of Citibank’s 300 call agents working from home.

    100%

    Approximate proportion of CPF Board’s 300 call centre agents equipped to work from home.

CPF Board’s group director of customer relations, Ms Janice Lai, said flexible work-from-home arrangements could help to broaden the appeal of call centre work, especially to people with childcare needs.

“For example, one possibility is to have part-time workers working from home to cater to the increased demand during peak hours,” said Ms Lai. “So we are seeing how to make this the new normal and have a higher percentage of home-based call agents.”

Mr Ramalingam said DBS could adopt a hybrid model, where employees could spend three working days a week in the office and two at home, or alternate between weeks at home and in the office.

“The short-term impact of working from home is positive, but it’s important to evaluate it fully for the long term before we make the call,” he said.

Customer satisfaction has not suffered under the new arrangement.

DBS said its staff received 12,900 compliments last month, compared with 11,200 for the same period last year, while customer satisfaction scores for the CPF Board increased from 88 per cent in March to 95 per cent last month.

For now, the only condition employees have to meet to work from home is to have a home environment that does not affect the quality of their work.

As with most other sectors, however, new ground rules and conditions will be needed for the post-Covid-19 new normal.

“In the longer term, we will have to consider various aspects – such as work performance, family needs and even where they live – for employees who prefer to work from home,” said Mr Abhijit Kumta, head of operations and technology for Singapore and Asean at Citi.

Allowances will also have to be made for new employees who have to get up to speed.

DBS said it will evaluate new employees wanting to work from home on a case-by-case basis, depending on the nature of their work and how much handholding is needed once training is completed.

Staff, meanwhile, have largely taken well to the new arrangements after an initial adjustment period, the two banks and CPF Board said.

Calls can be monitored through the softphone technology platform for quality, and to see how employees are coping. Call centre agents and their team managers have also been using video-teleconferencing and messaging platforms to stay in contact with one another.

Working from home was daunting at first for Citibank call centre officer Cecilia Quek, as she ran into technical issues, including a faulty headset.

“But the issues were quickly resolved, thanks to our technical support team, and working from home, in fact, has offered me a great opportunity to upgrade my computer skills,” said the 58-year-old.

“Working from home has many benefits, such as the joy of having meals with family, but the downside is not being able to interact face to face with my colleagues. That’s something I miss very much.”



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NSA warns of ongoing Russian hacking campaign against U.S. systems- Technology News, Firstpost

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 NSA warns of ongoing Russian hacking campaign against U.S. systems

By Christopher Bing

(Reuters) – The U.S. National Security Agency on Thursday warned government partners and private companies about a Russian hacking operation that uses a special intrusion technique to target operating systems often used by industrial firms to manage computer infrastructure.

“This is a vulnerability that is being actively exploited, that’s why we’re bringing this notification out,” said Doug Cress, chief of the cybersecurity collaboration center and directorate at NSA. “We really want… the broader cybersecurity community to take this seriously.”

The notice is part of a series of public reports by the spy agency, which is responsible for both collecting foreign intelligence and protecting Defense Department systems at home, to share actionable cyber defense information.

Cress declined to discuss which business sectors had been most affected, how many organizations were compromised using the Russian technique, or whether the cyber espionage operation targeted a specific geographic region.

The NSA said the hacking activity was tied directly to a specific unit within Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate, also known as the GRU, named the Main Center for Special Technologies. The cybersecurity research community refers to this same hacking group as “Sandworm,” and has previously connected it to disruptive cyberattacks against Ukrainian electric production facilities.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also called out the same GRU unit in February for conducting a cyberattack against the country of Georgia.

A security alert published by the NSA on Thursday explains how hackers with GRU, Russia’s military intelligence, are leveraging a software vulnerability in Exim, a mail transfer agent common on Unix-based operating systems, such as Linux. The vulnerability was patched last year, but some users have not updated their systems to close the security gap.

“Being able to gain root access to a bridge point into a network gives you so much ability and capability to read email, to navigate across and maneuver through the network,” said Cress, “so it’s more about the danger we’re trying to help people understand.”

(Reporting by Christopher Bing; Editing by Dan Grebler)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

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How countries are fighting against COVID-19 using technology?

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covid-19, coronavirus, coronavirus apps, aarogya setu, latest tech news
Image Source : DEVESH ARORA

Aarogya Setu app now has over 11 crore users.

Coronavirus is continuing its spread across the world, with more than three million confirmed cases in 185 countries. More than 200,000 people have lost their lives. Some countries, like South Korea and Singapore, have done a better job than, say, Italy and Spain. Asian countries have used a range of technologies in their fight against the pandemic.

Digital technology has been widely used to help limit the spread of coronavirus. During the COVID-19 pandemic, technologies are playing a crucial role in keeping our society functional in a time of lockdowns and quarantines. And these technologies may have a long-lasting impact beyond COVID-19.

Here is the list of technologies that different countries are using to fight coronavirus pandemic.

Aarogya Setu app

The Indian government has launched a smartphone app called AarogyaSetu to help track coronavirus patients and the people they come in contact with. Available in 11 languages, the app was launched on both Andriod and iOS. It uses Bluetooth technology to allow people to check whether there is a coronavirus case in their vicinity.

A Gurgaon based startup, Staqu, recently announced an array of offerings to facilitate superior COVID-19 response. The brand is leveraging its proprietary video analytics platform JARVIS to roll out cutting-edge use-cases aimed at identifying, tracing, and curbing the spread of COVID-19 and similar contagion. 

COVIDSafe App

As the number of coronavirus infections increases across the world, Australia has launched an app for tracing those who have come in contact with confirmed patients. This comes amid concerns that such smartphone apps may infringe upon citizens’ privacy. Using a Bluetooth wireless signal, the COVIDSafe app allows health officials to access crucial information about a person’s interactions if they contract the virus. All mobile phone numbers within a 1.5-meter range of the infected person — for 15 minutes or more — will be stored.

QR Codes

Health apps have been a crucial element of China’s race to prevent a second wave of COVID-19 infections. Users scan QR codes to share information about their health status and travel history. These codes need to be scanned before boarding buses and trains or entering airports, offices and even their own housing complexes. Different colors on the apps indicate different levels of risk, with green codes granted unrestricted movement,  yellow codes for seven days of quarantine, and red codes for those who required 14 days of quarantine. The apps can trace whether users have been in contact with infected people.

Italy’s app

As Italy mulls measures for a gradual lifting of its coronavirus lockdown, the country is working on an app that would trace people who have come in contact with a confirmed case. Acknowledging concerns over privacy and data control, innovation minister Paola Pisano said it would help in bringing the country back towards relative normalcy. A fast tender was launched for the app — to cover monitoring and medical support — towards the end of March, receiving hundreds of proposals that are currently being assessed. The app would work on a voluntary basis and have a clearly defined objective.

COVID-19 Smart Management System

South Korea was one of the first countries to experience a coronavirus outbreak and used massive testing and technology to emerge as a case study for controlling the number of cases nationwide. South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) runs COVID-19 Smart Management System (SMS), a contact tracing system that runs through smartphone apps and helps the authorities analyze the movement of affected patients and those in quarantine. 

The country will also begin strapping electronic wristbands on those who ignore home-quarantine orders. A refusal to use the band would result in the person being moved to a shelter, which they will have to pay for themselves.

Other COVID-19 Tracing apps

After pushing for a home-grown alternative, Germany has changed tracks to back an approach supported by US tech giants Apple and Google. The German-led alternative was called Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT), with the country’s Fraunhofer HHI research institute and the Robert Koch Institute public health body as key players. It received criticism over a central database. It has now chosen to support Apple and Google’s approach, with decentralized software architecture. The data, in this case, will be stored on users’ phones.

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Facebook launches new music-making app to take on TikTok – Latest News

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NEW DELHI: Social networking giant Facebook has introduced a new app that will give competition to the popular video-sharing app TikTok. The experimental app division of Facebook and created a new app called Collab. The app is presently available in beta only for iOS users and the app brings together creators and fans to create, watch, and mix and match original videos, starting with music.

In an official post the company said, “With Collab, we’re leveraging technology to help people unlock creative superpowers by collaborating on original music videos from anywhere.”

With this new app, user can create short videos split into three that are playing in sync. With the app, you can create your own arrangement by adding in your own recording or by swiping and discovering an arrangement to complete your composition. You don’t require any musical experience to use the app or to create a video.

Once you have created a video using Collab, then you can publish it for others to watch and mix and match further. You can also share yours or others’ creations to Instagram, Facebook Stories, or any other platform.

Recently, the same division at Facebook launched a group calling app called CatchUp. The company is testing the app in the US and it is available to a limited number of iOS and Android users. The new group calling app allows users to engage in the group calling with up to 8 members. Those who’d be available to talk will be clubbed together under a “ready to talk” section with an option to ‘Join’ the call.

A report by TechCrunch reveals that the app shows who all are available to talk on the basis of a user’s contact list and doesn’t require anyone to have a Facebook account.



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