By Bradley Pulford, Executive Director and General Manager of Channel and Distribution at Dell Technologies South Africa
As the Covid-19 pandemic evolves, the spotlight shifts to the so-called new normal – and beyond. Flexible working jumped from ‘pipeline goal’ status to full-blown reality within a matter of weeks and the channel pivoted to support customers. But as the dust settles and business leaders acknowledge new hybrid working models as the most likely future, what does it mean for channel businesses?
With the kitchen table now the hub for daily conference calls and business deals, remote working technologies are being put to the test in a serious way – and all businesses are impacted. This has led to a surge in demand for the likes of collaborative technology, security and devices. In addition to this sharp shift in channel trends, stock shortages, delays and cancellations of big projects rocked channel businesses in the early days of the pandemic.
Today, the ability to work flexibly is business critical. Adapting to the new normal is a collaborative effort, calling for unity between the c-suite, IT departments and third-party technology experts. As businesses ask themselves whether they are prepared for a long-term stint of remote working– and if they can do more than simply survive, but thrive – the channel is having to adapt to these new demands. All the while, staying ahead of the curve and providing the support and expert consultancy needed to guide customers through uncertain times.
However, we know that working from home is not new. The connected office has long been deemed a critical enabler of the modern era’s distributed workforce, bringing productivity and experience boosters. South Africa’s lockdown has restricted movement and affected how businesses and employees operate in order to contain the spread of Covid-19. Businesses have had to adapt and operate remotely.
A new research report conducted by Andrew Kerr, the chief research officer at the UCT data research unit Data First, shows that about two million people in South Africa are working from home, out of a total population of about 16 million working people in the country.
Future working has now been fast-tracked, with two years of technological change occurring almost overnight. But this needs to be sustainable for it to be meaningful beyond the Covid-19 outbreak. Channel partners have a role to play, in supporting customers with expert consultancy that goes beyond selling products and utilises a holistic approach.
While challenging, this is also a massive opportunity for businesses to demonstrate their agility – and for those lacking agility, to prioritise it. The channel must rise to this, helping customers to transition with the right tech.
There is no doubt that this seismic shift will test both security and infrastructure, but flexible working can boost productivity too, giving the employees the freedom to work away from office distractions. Meanwhile, the human factor cannot be underestimated. As the workforce strikes a better work-life balance, with more time to share with families and liberated from the daily commute. According to McKinsey research, 80 percent of people questioned report that they enjoy working from home. Forty-one percent say that they are more productive than they had been before and 28 percent that they are as productive.
As the workforce settles into the home office, there are important considerations that need to be made in terms of security – keeping applications safe in the data centre and protecting end-point data – supporting network traffic and enabling increased flexibility. While each business will experience these to varying degrees, they should be carefully thinking through their value chain – and Channel partners can support on this journey with as trusted advisors
According to the latest IDC figures, traditional PC shipments – including notebooks, desktops and workstations – exceeded already optimistic expectations, posting strong double-digit growth in the second quarter of 2020. As lockdowns entered full swing, recovery in the supply chain meant that the unprecedented pent up demand for mobile form factors, needed to facilitate working and studying from home, was fortunately satisfied. This is clearly a massive channel opportunity. Setting up the home office with the right devices gives the connectivity and performance essential to sustain collaborative teams. With a remote workforce, it's more important than ever to provide the tools, training and resources to ensure teams collaborate and stay connected.
Extending security to the home office
By increasing the number of devices connected to the network, the challenge will be managing and processing the additional data. To completely overhaul existing networks is unrealistic for most businesses, as this not only takes time but is a drain on resources. Expert guidance from Channel partners will help to guide concerned customers, when it comes to identifying the optimal solutions. For example, edge computing can help to process data while limiting the impact on the enterprise cloud by only sending selected data. Questions around security are universally relevant as the world of business logs on from home and channel businesses are in pole position to provide the right answers for their customers.
A new Europol report on the criminal landscape reveals that the number of cyber-attacks against individuals and organisations is already high and expected to become even higher. This is due to the increased surface area susceptible to attack now that the home workforce is connecting remotely to their organisations systems.
Data must be protected from the endpoint to the data centre, which means every step of the chain needs to be assessed and also reviewed as the business landscape changes. Channel business need to be ready to support customers by driving home this awareness and helping to build a better understanding of cybersecurity basics. Regular training and testing of workers to help them identify security threats, which can come in many forms including phishing attacks, are good practice and especially when the threats are high.
As channel leaders look to guide their customers through these unprecedented times, with tailor made business critical solutions, a robust and collaborative ecosystem is more important than ever. No business is alone in their transition to hybrid working models. This is a moment where IT decisions mean the difference between surviving and thriving – so expert channel consultancy is more important than ever.