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By 17 May 2021 | Categories: interviews

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The global pandemic has put tremendous strain and pressure on IT sector within South Africa. Many businesses were lagging behind within their digital transformation journey, and in the days leading up too lockdown most companies had to scramble to migrate their working systems to ensure business continuity and support their workforces – who are now mainly confined to remote work. Fast forward to 2021 and much has changed.

In this exclusive interview, Ryan Noik (RN) and Jim Holland (JH) discuss how the post covid-19 era will require new skill sets, technologies, alignments, and business models, and . how the global economy maye be compelled to reinvent and restructure entire systems of production, management, and governance.

RN: One year on, how is the IT sector coping with the strain placed on it by the acceleration of digital transformation due to the pandemic?

JH: Like many other organisations across the globe, we were instinctive with regards to digital transformation within our corporation so as to stay resilient during this transition. Policies and services that would have taken more than a year to introduce were executed in just a few months. Innovations that were just a small idea became fully-fledged projects almost overnight.

However, the strain within the IT sector this year compared to that of 2020 is, by far, more flexible. At Lenovo, small acts like providing customers with more benefits and leniencies; assisting partners in their internal operations and communicating effectively with our employees have played a large role in our evolution as a business. With our ‘survival mentality’ now subsiding, the IT sector has dedicated more time to producing smarter products and services whilst maintaining the wellbeing of its employees.

RN: How has the technology landscape changed, and what does the tech industry still need to resolve to be able to fully accommodate the next new normal?

JH: One of the main things we are seeing is that the use of technology is deepening. The prevalence of digital transformation has always encouraged corporations to invest in cloud services, data management tools, connectivity and cybersecurity. Therefore, it is clear that we should be creating solutions that assist in making these new habits more seamless and efficient for the everyday worker or consumer.

In Africa for instance, we are seeing trends surrounding educational investment and technological availability becoming key in grooming the continent for the future. In South Africa alone, we are seeing a growing demand in ICT academies and programmes for the unemployed youth as well as the country’s investment in data centres and smart cities. As we move forward as a continent, an investment in smarter technology rather than new technology is needed. We should be striving to improve technology that already exists rather than encouraging new inventions.

RN: Can you elaborate on the predominant trends in IT that you see emerging for the remainder of this year?

JH: Gartner is predicting that by 2025, 75% of enterprise generated data will be processed towards the edge. At Lenovo we believe that the findings from Gartner indicate that there is a real definitive requirement now for edge computing. You have the traditional data centre business, cloud business and hyper-scalers, but more and more data is being generated outside of those environments at the edge – and then is being backhauled into those environments, and that’s why we are looking at a combination of edge to core and edge to cloud.

Other trends we can see in the sector include 5G Networks, the distributed cloud. Artificial intelligence and data analytics remain a key driver for many business decisions. Lenovo technology & solutions across the ISG, IDG & MBG businesses answer to all of these technologies to some level and with our key software alliance partners bring an end to end solution to the table.

RN: What are some of the most notable ways that you have seen South African businesses invest in the digital economy?

JH: As mentioned previously, a big challenge for many corporations will be to not necessarily invest in completely new innovations, but rather in improved solutions within our existing technology and infrastructure.

Over the past year and few months, multiple companies have begun investing in technologies like software development, cloud computing, AI and machine learning to try and stay ahead of the curve. With the digital economy expected to cater to 2% - 19% of the country’s GDP, companies are investing in technology that can sustain their businesses in both the short and long term. Furthermore, corporations are seeking technological solutions that are both financially efficient and bespoke to the organisation’s (or customer’s) needs.

For example, research conducted by Lenovo during the Covid-19 lockdown, found that based on IT experts’ experience within the months of September to November 2020, nearly 1 in 3 (30%) organisations are more willing to purchase ‘as-a-service' technology solutions due to cashflow concerns.

From a skills level, however, South African businesses are also investing in new technological positions both within and outside their corporations. Job titles such as Data Analysts, Software Developers and IT Programmers are currently some of the most sought after professions within the country – further showcasing the need for tech professionals and services in our evolving economy.

RN: And in what ways does further investment in digitalisation still need to be done generally speaking?

JH: Businesses of all sizes need to realize that digital transformation has happened already and that unless this is a fundamental core to your business strategy going forward, you’ll be left at a competitive disadvantage. This need spams across the full scope of the market in different shapes or forms and with different levels of complexity and levels of investment – from a small online business to the biggest bank. The fact is that in front of our eyes we see investments in digitization and transformation changing the landscape dramatically. We’ve seen digital banks who’d invested in the right technology leapfrog their more established counterparts and the trajectory is on the up. Customers require online stability, efficiency, security and personalization and if these factors are in place loyalty will not remain and markets will shift.

RN: What is a smarter way forward bearing in mind the lessons of the past year?

JH: I think irrespective of what industry we belong to, we must think holistically about where data is generated, where data will be generated, and where thought leaders invest to reap the maximum benefits from that data. Organisations need to evaluate their requirement before proceeding on their cloud adoption. Taking your data to the cloud will not help if the requirements are not mapped first.

RN: What is your view on remote working – do you foresee organisations continuing with remote working post the pandemic, or adopting a hybrid approach?

JH: One year after the global remote work revolution, the shift to work from home (WFH) and work from anywhere (WFA) is already resulting in profound effects on businesses’ digital transformation as well as data security concerns. According to our Future of Work and Digital Transformation study, a vast majority of businesses (83 percent) expect to work remote at least half the time, whereas 60 percent of employees not only agree but are happy to do so.

Among the key insights is that workers have hit their stride navigating their new WFH lives. Most employees (83 percent) want a hybrid work model post-COVID, which businesses say are more than happy to accommodate because they know it’s a way to drive employee engagement and attract new talent. Enabling remote work has meant a change in digital adoption, with an increased usage of personal devices for work; wider adoption of collaboration cloud and software; and a heightened focus on data security among IT functions across businesses of all sizes.

With the increasing use of remotely-connected cloud and collaboration tools – where even smart home devices may increase risk to company data as employees log on from home – data security has understandably jumped to the forefront of IT considerations and is now the number one priority for digital transformation. This concern is putting a growing strain on IT department resources. Data security and compliance are now siphoning the most time and money from IT functions, while most large and medium-sized companies already subscribe to an IT security service.

Businesses of all sizes will need to grapple with how best to keep themselves secured with the integration of partner security services, and commit to a more agile business-centric approach to security that also focuses on the cloud and data.

RN: Finally, how has the pandemic changed how Lenovo is approaching the market and serving its customers?

JH: For Lenovo a big focus for us has been improving our channel engagement. This is particularly important for us as 100% of our business is run through the channel. At Lenovo, we’ve totally modernised the channel experience with the launch of our partner portal.  The Lenovo Partner Hub signifies the next step in our digital partner transformation programme, making it easier and quicker for partners to conduct business with Lenovo.

For the first time, the Partner Hub combines a suite of tools under one roof, in order to make it easier for our partners to access the right information at the right time. The Hub offers complete enterprise-to-enterprise sales engagement to promote collaboration and greater synergy between ourselves and our partners.

From a consumer perspective, we realise that the latest trends of work from anywhere have brought along their own challenges in terms of managing work/personal devices whilst on the move, therefor we have really doubled down on our focus on services. The focus on services is a natural extension of Lenovo’s Intelligent Transformation, which is focused on what Lenovo calls its “3S Strategy” covering Smart Internet of Things, Smart Infrastructure and Smart Verticals. This service-led transformation will ensure Lenovo can meet the needs of individual workers and students as well as large organizations as they utilize and depend on technology more and more.

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