By Andy Jonak
At the end of each year, I write a post called The Year in Review and Reflections. It's my thoughts and musings on what's happened over the past year. It's one of the most enjoyable things I write each year as I like to summarize what I've seen as it relates to IT: what happened this past year and how IT was affected. Each month my blog is my soapbox, and my end of year post is my biggest soapbox of the year. What a year 2020 has been, and on that, I'm sure everyone would agree.
So let me breakdown things around IT from my perspective. Of course, the big news of 2020 is—and how could it not be—Covid. That in and of itself could be my title for my end of year post. Covid has changed things for individuals and businesses in so many ways this past year. While Covid is the big story of 2020, I want to talk about its effects on the IT world, as it pertains to our customers and us as business partners. That's the real story of IT for this year.
So buckle in, and let's get started.
Remote Worker Increase
I know we all know this because it's happened to pretty much all of us, but due to the pandemic, just about everyone was, or still is, working from home. Firms had to figure out how to have their people work from home and do it efficiently and quickly. We've received many, many calls from customers and prospective customers when the pandemic first started asking how they can get their teams working from home, like tomorrow. No exaggeration here when I say tomorrow: some firms needed to make this happen in 1-2 days.
The first step was to get their people working from home and then figure out what's next. We were there to help them figure it out. We found it amazing how quickly firms could react and adapt to the new requirements when they didn't have a choice. Most firms we worked with were able to step up and get it done. It's amazing what you can do when you have to.
Remote Tools Become Invaluable
This goes with the previous point, but the adoption and use of remote tools (take your pick: Zoom, Teams, WebEx, Google Meet, whichever.) exploded when the pandemic started. The irony is that everyone had these tools before the pandemic and I would say used them intermittently or sparingly. We all wanted to meet in person, or if we had to, talk on the phone, but not necessarily do it over Teams or Zoom—that was the last resort—and how that changed.
Once the pandemic started, it became the only way to communicate. I probably do at least 10-15 remote meetings/calls a day, and I bet you do as well. These tools became invaluable to firms day to day business, and it's not going to change for quite a while—if at all.
These tools will not just continue to be invaluable to our work lives but will be pervasive throughout our personal lives as well. For example, I just had a doctor's appointment, and my wife did last week as well, and both were over Zoom. Not sure if this is good or bad, but it's where we are right now.
We've seen a significant increase in firms looking to move workloads and apps to the cloud and asking us for help and guidance on how to proceed. With people working from home, firms don't have as many of their people access to their physical data centers (either willingly or unwillingly), so they need to have their IT operating in the most efficient way possible. Therefore for many, the cloud makes sense.
It's not that firms still don't have and need their data centers—they do—but I feel for many firms that were thinking about moving items to the cloud, the pandemic certainly helped to accelerate their projects. The pandemic didn't cause them to move to the cloud; it just made things happen quicker.
Firms tend to feel that when their people work from their corporate offices, they tend to be more productive. They think this way whether it's true or not. The pandemic has caused firms to be much more scrutinizing of the productivity of their people. Especially with so many different types of workers working from home for the first time, I think firms are trying to make sure their people are, and remain, productive.
I am not entirely sure if this is a good thing. If you have good people working for you and give them their goals, they should achieve them without additional scrutiny and no matter where they work. That said, are there people that are not giving their all to the company and just phoning it in during the pandemic? Of course, there are. It would be naïve to think overwise. But will extra scrutiny by the company help prevent that? Again, I'm not sure. If people aren't going to work hard, they will not work hard wherever they are, and nothing the company can do will change that except replacing them. This is an interesting phenomenon that has happened this year. We'll see how this continues.
Businesses Watching Their IT Spending
This one has made my list the past few end of year posts, but I think it's even more relevant this year: firms don't want to spend money on IT. They have to spend money on IT, but they don't want to. I've talked about this for years in my posts.
This past year they want to spend on IT even less. It's understandable. Firms weren't sure how they would weather the year—if at all—so they decided to slow or stop spending money on IT and IT projects. Firms in 2020 have been even tighter with their IT spending than I've seen in many years.
Project on hold for 2020, but move quickly in 2021.
This is an extension of my last point of firms not wanting to spend money on IT in 2020, so they put their projects on hold. But here's the thing: these IT projects put on hold are still crucial to their business and necessary. Therefore that means that this year's lack of IT spending is just a delay. These IT projects are so important to their business that they can't not do them. So 2021 will see firms move forward on the IT projects they needed to do in 2020 but did or could not and the projects they were planning on in 2021 anyway.
IT is Still Critically Important
As you can see from my previous points, IT is still crucial to firms, but 2020 caused everyone to be reluctant to move forward on projects. But being reluctant about IT projects and IT spending doesn't change the importance of IT. In fact, just the opposite happened. Firms realized—especially with everyone working from home—just how important IT is to keep their businesses running.
It's a bit of irony: firms didn't want to spend money on IT, yet they realized how important IT is to them and needed to strike a balance in 2020. Some were able to balance IT spending by doing only the projects required while being prudent, while some firms just locked everything down and did not invest in the things that were needed, sometimes to the business's detriment.
Even with the Pandemic, Goals didn't Change
All of my points here pretty much play into one another, and this one is no exception. No matter what happened throughout the pandemic, corporate goals didn't seem to change. Everyone still had to deliver. Because expectations remained unchanged, people and teams needed to figure out ways to be creative to get things done. And they did.
Saying that firms didn't change their goals is not meant to be cruel to state, as businesses need to do what they need to survive and grow—even during downtimes. That doesn't change. Firms try to figure out how to adapt and be flexible to make that happen, and most of the firms we work with did not change their goals because of the pandemic. They changed their strategies and tactics, and you know what? Most did OK.
Marketing Changing and Adapting
My role is Director of Marketing here at Vicom, and boy, how the pandemic hit us with a curveball. My job is to manage the brand, image, social, and content for the company and figure out and execute programs and campaigns to bring new customers and new business. Since firms were very reluctant to spend overall in 2020, it is much harder to attract new customers into Vicom.
We had relied on a significant number of onsite events to promote and grow our business in the past. Like everyone else, we weren't able to do events, so we turned to virtual events (as we all did) and very specific, targeted campaigns to try to attract new customers and interest.
Marketing is hard enough when things are going well, but during a pandemic, its difficultly increases significantly, as you can imagine. A big part of our message throughout our campaigns is that we are here and can help if you need and if you are interested, and here's what we see firms like yourself doing to keep their IT up, running, and helping their people be efficient. And if you are interested, let's discuss. That's a significant oversimplification, but basically, that's where our campaigns focused. They reinforce that we are all in the same boat with the pandemic, and we are all trying to do our best, and let's do it together. If that's the type of firm they'd like to work with, they should talk to us; if not, that's OK too.
We also continued to work very closely with our strategic vendors to execute campaigns that help drive our combined messaging forward to the market. Companies responded because I believe we put our campaigns out with sincerity, and especially this past year, firms did not need lots of fluff and overselling right now.
As we all know, marketing is by no means a silver bullet, but the times require us—and everyone—to adjust to what's happening with our marketing and messaging. We did and are thankful for the customers (new and existing) that have chosen to work with us. We hope that continues into 2021 and beyond.
So what a year 2020 has been. As you can see from my points above, they all interrelate with each other, all overarched by the pandemic. I believe what we all learned and experienced in 2020 will help to guide us into 2021 and beyond for the better, as we don't have a choice. We can either learn from it and adapt or flounder and falter, and I am not the flounder and falter type of guy. I'll work until I figure it out. I hope that's the case for you and your firm for 2021. We'll be right there with you in 2021, moving forward with you, and trying to help you figure it out.
We are all praying for a successful 2021, and as I like to say at the end of my year-end posts: wishing you IT success in 2021, but I'll amend that a bit this year to say wishing you overall success in 2021. I'm pulling for us all.