Digitize Your Business To Cope With COVID-19

The coronavirus is having a tremendous impact on the economy. Particularly hard hit are small businesses that reply on physical engagement. Many of these businesses have had to switch their models as best they can, coordinating by phone or through remote work. For some, going digital is a lifeline to survive. However, the business may not have the time, knowledge or resources to implement a digital model quickly.

At the same time, many students have had their internships cancelled or shortened. Students include recent graduates from the undergraduate program with majors in Information Systems. They are looking for work and/or educational opportunities that align with their professional interests. The same is true of some of our alumni who work for  the firms in the region. They have valuable knowledge and skills and an interest in helping society.

We are proposing to offer  no/low cost digital services to small businesses (e.g. retail stores and restaurants).  Each project using a digital triage approach will quickly perform one or all of needs analysis, identification of relevant resources, implementation, train, and remote operation.  The project will be done by students under the guidance of mentors. The focus is on quickly solving one technology problem or providing one new digital capability. Our goal is to complete each project in about two weeks, so that we can quickly help as many businesses as possible. All work will be done in an accountable, responsible and customer-serving framework, a model, ‘Digital Medic Kit’  that will be developed through a pilot study involving the students in summer 2020.

The digital services include but are not limited to:

  • Create or modify a website to improve the business
  • Create or modify a digital storefront to enhance ecommerce
  • Enable procedures and tools for staff to work off-site
  • Assess and improve information security
  • Offer consultation to take the existing operation digital

We can assist on digital tools and resources that are available on the cloud/web. Onsite hardware and software installation and configuration are not feasible given the current environment. The focus is on helping existing businesses who have experienced problems.

Service requests will be screened by an organizing advisory committee and those selected will be quickly passed to an available student team. The screening focus will be on the ability to address the requested project in a short time frame (e.g., two weeks) and the criticality of the need to the business. Some projects may be too big or may not fit the skill sets of the students we have available.

The services will be provided by two to three member student teams. Each team will have a mentor to guide them and help solve problems. The mentor may be a faculty member, an alumnus, a professional recruited from the community, or other qualified individual. The team will meet with the client virtually, and determine a plan to address the project.

Through a pilot study, we will develop the project task details with the metrics that are to 1) identify recommended responses to common project types; and 2) develop materials for student teams on these solutions as needed. For example, we expect requests will be for help with websites.  We will identify a standard set of solutions for this type of request (e.g., recommend hosting services, website tools).  Likewise, we may have requests for digital storefronts, so a standard solution for this will be developed. A project team identifies a specific type of project that it has not yet done or lacks expertise.

A critical element of the process will be enabling the client to operate the new technology after the project team leaves, so much of the project will be spent in transferring knowledge to the client, not just implementing a technology solution and leaving.

One of the most important elements of the plan is to have clients.  To engage clients, we will start by utilizing the community organizations and City of Long Beach, among others  to identify businesses with needs that match our intent.

We believe this initiative will have value for local small business in the area. It will also help our students acquire practical business experience in delivering solutions to clients. We also believe this will have value to the University as whole by showing our commitment to our community.

H. Michael Chung, Ph.D.

Director, Center for Information Strategies and Technologies (CIST)

Professor and Chair, Department of  Information Systems