By Andy Jonak
What unprecedented times we live in now. We've all finished up our first month of lockdown, and where do things stand? That's something that's really hard to answer. With so many out of work and so many businesses closed temporarily—with some to never reopen—how are we all supposed to feel? We are fortunate enough, for now, to be in IT, which is considered an essential business but, when you stop to think about it, why it considered any more "essential" than others? It does hurt to think about, seeing where everything stands and wondering where things will be as the economy starts to reopen.
My daughters are students and working part-time: one at a supermarket and the other a restaurant that has converted to doing only takeout orders. That means they are able to keep working for now, but their hours are being cut, due do demand. We'll see how that continues as time goes on. The businesses that they work for are considered "essential," which makes sense, and they are fortunate enough to keep working. People need food from grocery stores, and to a lesser degree, people want or need to order prepared food from restaurants. For those watching their money (which is just about all of us right now, isn't it?) the supermarket might make a bit more sense.
It's interesting to think about what during the pandemic is considered an essential business. While some carry that designation because government officials say it's the case, all businesses are essential to a productive and free society. All businesses are what make modern life worth living, so do you distinguish what is essential and what it not? Here's the unfortunate or fortunate part, depending on how you look at it: IT is considered an essential business and is the foundation of many things of the things that happen in business, that's just the way it is, like it or not. But I can't help feel a bit guilty that I have the opportunity to keep doing what I am doing (with some restrictions), while so many cannot because IT is considered essential. But here I am.
So what do these times mean for IT and all of us that are still working in it right now? It's created a new paradigm for all of us. Let's explore that a bit this month in a logical and what might be a bit of a painful way. This blog post will be a bit less about IT and a bit more of a personal post, but I believe the meaning is the same. But as always, in my wordy way, I will still tie it back to it.
Right now, we are all working from home, or at least most of us in IT. Not because we necessarily want to (some love working from home), but because the circumstances are dictating that we have to work from home. We are all part of and experiencing something that we've never been through before with our need to stay home, to have people social-distance, and unemployment the likes of which have not been seen since the Great Depression.
IT is needed throughout just about all industries—it's a foundational part of just about all businesses in some way, whether we like it or not. The interesting thing is that most of what is needed to be done within IT can be done remotely. Of course, this is not a blanket statement as things need to be set up, configured, and shipped, and a lot of that has to be done needs to be done onsite at some sort of facility. But for the most part, most of what we see needing to be done around IT can be done remotely. Think of IT support, for instance. For many firms, IT support is already a remote thing. People don't have to be in front of your systems to provide support. For the rare times that that has to happen, items can easily be shipped back and forth to make it work. Since so much the end-user experience of IT is where you are connecting to a system, it doesn't matter where that system sits. Think of the cloud. You don't have access to your system; you connect to it. That's the case with most of IT. So the idea of "remote" working is not necessarily a new concept to those of us that have been in IT.
But what is happening now very much affects backend operations. For us, for example, most of our sales team already works remotely—they don't report to an office. That's been the case for years. The sales team knows how to get done what they need to, and it's straightforward to judge their results—they are selling, or they are not. The same can be said for many of our technical people as well. But when it comes to our operations, purchasing, and accounting teams, it's a bit different. They are not used to working remotely; they are used to being in the office, so it's quite an adjustment.
We on the IT marketing and sales side have been doing remote meetings for many years, so that is nothing new. But with our operations, accounting, and purchasing teams, this is something new to learn how to use and be effective in using. Because of what's happening now, working remotely—for those that can—will become the new normal. Is that good or bad? That remains to be seen.
How does working remotely change things? Certainly, new tools are deployed and used, and new security features have been created and deployed to ensure everyone is staying safe, but does it change things? It many ways it shouldn't. It doesn't change the fact that we all need to be professional, courteous, and respectful to people, just as if we were working in an office. It means we still need to get back to people and be punctual for our meetings (albeit remote) and maintain a sense of decorum in all we do. None of the rules of courtesy and business etiquette have changed. In fact, I think this situation has built a type of camaraderie with everyone a bit deeper now, where all know and look at each other with an unsaid fact: We are all in this together, and we'll get through it.
So how is business to be done in IT and otherwise for firms like us? In addition to what I mentioned above, we need to continue to provide the solutions and services that firms need to continue to not just function, but ultimately to thrive. Do we need to be sensitive to the types of solutions and services that we are positioning out to our customers and the market? Absolutely. That's something that our firm has mandated straight down from ownership. No one is looking to take advantage of the situation, but we want to promote a genuine desire to help other firms that need what we have. The key here is "genuine." If it's not genuine, then think of how you will be perceived by others who might rightfully think you are taking advantage of them and the pandemic situation.
What do firms need now when it comes to IT? In most cases, they still need solutions and services that they are accustomed to purchasing and using, but perhaps in a bit different way. We see it with our customers and the firms we hope to do business. People are certainly much more conservative in their spending, so many of their big projects are on hold for now. "For now" is key here, many firms still need to make the investments in their cloud solutions, their network, IT infrastructure, applications, and their endpoint devices. They are much more paying attention to the tools they need to work from home and the solution wrapped around remote tools to keep their users and corporate data and resources safe. So circumstances dictate firms need when it comes to IT, and solution/service providers like us are there to help them where and when they need.
With all that has happened, will this create opportunity for all of us? Yes, I believe it will. This will restructure how we all do business, but in which ways we do not know as of yet. The market, circumstances and our customers will help us figure that out. No one knows what the opportunities are right now, but they will reveal themselves over time and, I know as hard as it is right now, I believe that they will make us all stronger. Stronger in how we work together, in how we use IT, and in how we work with our partners.
For now, firms like Vicom are here to help our customers where they need with the solutions and services they need and be ready to help with what's next, whatever that turns out to be. I don't know what will be—it will be different for each of our businesses and industries—but whatever it is, I know that we will all be ready for it.
Stay safe, everyone, and we'll get through this together.