On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 was a global pandemic, but on the ground we were feeling the impact much sooner. The US declared COVID-19 as a national emergency on March 13th and by March 23, stay at home orders were issued in 9 states, expanding to 30 states by March 30.
The world was changing quickly. While we were grappling with the personal implications of this virus, those of us in technology ramping up to help our customers equip 100% of their staff to work from home.
As I look back, one thing that really stands out is how the whole technology ecosystem rallied together to accelerate the deployment of solutions to create a completely virtual world. It’s important to remember that it wasn’t just one sector that had to pivot, health care, the public sector, education, manufacturing, industrial … there wasn’t a single organization or person that wasn’t impacted.
Our creativity, resilience and flexibility can’t be overstated. What we accomplished in a short period of time was nothing short of impressive.
We saw a major spike in demand for some products and services like hardware, software, collaboration solutions, and other devices. To say it strained supply chains and forced companies, like ours, to get creative to fulfill demands is an understatement.
There can be good that comes out of trials like this one, such as the willingness to adopt technologies like digital health, remote work, and online collaborate tools. We’ve found ways to stay connected using virtual events and a wide range of creative online activities.
And while there were a lot of businesses that struggled, there were opportunities for savvy entrepreneurs. In 2020, business applications in the US were up 24% and online stores accounted for almost 200,000 of the 600,000 startups.
We have seen how essential technology is to the economic recovery. Our Internal research shows 76% of manufacturers are planning to increase use of new technologies to transform operations.
There’s no way to put the genie back in the bottle … and I don’t think we should. The digital transformation accelerated by the pandemic will be good for everyone over the long term, but I believe priorities will start to shift as we continue to reopen the economy.
A Return to Balance
We embraced a lot of tools and depended on them for our productivity throughout 2020 and into 2021 but I think we will start to see a return to balance as the economy reopens.
· Work, Education, Meetings & Events: I believe we will move away from 100% virtual world to an approach that blends online and in-person activities.
· Sales: We have had to get very creative to maintain connections. These skills will continue to be important, but I know I am not alone when I tell you I am looking forward to the opportunity to have more face-to-face interactions. The lessons learned about forging relationships in a virtual world will continue to benefit customer engagement models going forward.
· Business Travel: While this could fall into the sales category, I believe that business travel schedule will remain less frequent and more strategic as we group events, meetings, and visits for more focused and targeted engagements.
AI, automation, the “many-cloud world”, IoT and edge compute will be critical to helping businesses and other organizations recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19.
I plan to talk about a few of these topics in the coming months, but they represent priority areas for our channel ecosystem and our end-user customers.
Many-Cloud World: There isn’t a reseller I’ve talked to that isn’t building a cloud offering. We will continue to talk about private, public and hybrid infrastructure but we also need to focus on the edge. We are seeing a rapid rise of the edge as more and more compute is happening at the edge to increase performance and reduce latency.
The key to success is ensuring this many-cloud world works seamlessly and interoperable together.
AI: The ability to predict with greater precision has never been more important. AI is the intelligent engine driving automation, robotics and contactless processes that have become so important during the pandemic. Gartner believes by the end of 2024, 75% of organizations will shift from piloting to operationalizing AI.
Automation: The ability to serve customers and improve operations through self-serve technologies is another priority for re-opening as companies focus their attention on costs, performance, and productivity. Gartner projects that by 2024 organizations will lower operational costs by 30% by combining hyper-automation technologies with redesigned operational processes.
IoT: IoT continues to play an important role in digital transformation but you can’t talk about IoT without talking about edge and the incredible value to be gained when you connect the edge to the cloud for end-to-end data capture and analytics.
Supply Chain: The way we look at supply chains is experiencing a significant shift. A lot of companies are rethinking supply chains to make sure flexibility and resilience are top of mind. We produced a very interesting video looking at the changes and creativity we deployed to pivot our manufacturing to meet customer the spike demand.
XaaS: I keep thinking I will stop pointing to this as an ongoing trend but every year more and more products and solutions are becoming services. XaaS has created new offerings and continues to require a pivot in revenue, compensation, and sales models for the channel. The growth trajectory for enterprise services projecting a more than 6% growth of IT services after showing a decline in 2020 of 3%.
Full Steam Ahead
I don’t know if we will see a return to hand shaking. Some people suspect we will be finding ways to live with COVID-19 forever, but here’s one thing I am certain about: digital transformation has been accelerated by the pandemic by as much as seven years and has immeasurably changed the way we live, work and play. And we’re just getting started.