By Guy Matthews
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the market for IT and connectivity services in ways that nobody could have forecast. What was top priority this time last year may be well down the list given current circumstances. The chief preoccupation of many organizations right now is the continuity of their business, and related to that the resilience of their networks.
“The pandemic has left an indelible mark on many enterprise CIOs and executives,” argues Brad Casemore, Research Vice President, Datacenter Networks, with analyst firm IDC. “It has really brought home the need for business resilience and continuity and proper disaster planning. A lot of organisations give lip service to it, but when it actually happens they are caught flat footed.”
Casemore says IDC’s research indicates that few organisations expect normality to be fully restored by this time next year, with many expecting homeworking to be ongoing. He believes there will be a permanent legacy from the crisis, and that IT spending will be changed as we look ahead (See figures 1 and 2).
To understand more about how IT spending has changed to support continuity, we spoke to some leading names across the tech sector. We wanted to find out more about both their IT priorities and those of their customers.
Pathmal Gunawardana is Head of Americas with TATA Communications, and responsible for accelerating customer adoption of Tata Communications’ hybrid WAN, cloud enablement and business collaboration services across North and South America. Tata Communications carries around 30% of the world’s internet routes and connects businesses to 60% of the world’s cloud giants.
He explains that the top priority of his organisation, as well as that of its hundreds of multinational customers around the world, is cloud migration: “Everybody is moving to the cloud, so that’s a given priority in a situation like this,” he says. “Many of our customers are building networks to connect their office locations and optimize their cloud strategy. None will have planned to have their entire workforce working from home, which brings a whole different set of challenges, like endpoint security. How do you package a solution to have all workloads and all apps running out of the cloud and optimized that so that people can work from home or in a remote location?”
Christina Kite is Vice President, Global Business Strategy & Analytics with software giant Oracle, and says her company sees the challenge of prioritizing IT not just from a software and hardware perspective, but a services one too: “It’s about moving from physical to digital,” she explains. “We’re not thinking near shore, offshore or onshore, we’re thinking the digital shore. At this period of time, we’re all on an equal playing field, meaning everyone is working from home except for those in critical resources. There’s the issue of investment in facilities and how do we rebalance our budget and look at more investment in technology. This is an opportunity for companies to look at their three year plan, and see how they want to rethink this. How do you move from physical buildings to more remote working?”
Looking ahead, Kite sees the pandemic changing the way that everyone works, plays and learns in a profound sense: “We’ve got to look at how we model it from a continuous perspective, much further out,” she claims. “I absolutely believe it’s going to change the way we not only live, but also trust. With remote work, I think we’re all learning to trust one another a lot more.”
The COVID crisis has underlined the wide diversity of customer IT priorities, with some committed to a public cloud path, and others still looking at private cloud technologies, believes Russ Currie, Vice President, Enterprise Strategy, NETSCOUT: “Critical for all is the ability to spin up services as quickly and responsively responsibly as possible,” he observes. “That is really what people are looking for. It’s really all about digital transformation. We are moving to a digital society. How do we ensure the user experience while maintaining a high quality and secure service for our user communities? How do we make this new digital frontier really work for all of us?”
Bill Miller, Chief Information Officer with NetApp, also perceives that the predominant IT priority is cloud and says that to address this NetApp is building out storage capabilities around the globe on a hybrid multi-cloud model: “We’ve had a focus on redefining the customer journey for the last two years” he says. “We are moving on from traditional sales people going out and meeting enterprise customers and developing that kind of relationship. How do I now reach out with telemetry? What data do I glean about customers coming to our websites, trying our products? We’re all going to be cloud companies over time, and we have to exercise and develop some new muscles around those customer journeys where you don’t necessarily reach out and touch everybody.”
This new normal, says Miller, will naturally demand certain flexibilities: “One change is that I have to tell my wife I’m not having that glass of wine at dinner because I have to be cogent for a session later on in the evening that I’m going to do from afar,” he reflects. “Something that might have been a half a day session is now a two hour session, so there’s a silver lining in a lot of these things. There’s an opportunity to reach out and touch and engage with our customers in a new way. That’s very positive and advantageous to everyone involved.”
Miller sees the future being largely about finding new ways to serve customer needs in an optimal fashion: “How do we maintain intimacy in a meaningful way so customers want to embrace and adopt the technology,” he ponders. “How do we continue to get better and more nimble with that? The other side of this is how to continue to innovate effectively, and continue to collaborate. I don’t see engineering coming back into a set of closely located bullpens and cubes again. The talent is out there, the talent is dispersed. We’re going to need to collaborate and bring those engineering teams together productively.”
Dan Krantz, Vice President, Chief Information Officer, Keysight Technologies sees the future of IT investment as one of working to accelerate innovation, and striving to improve connectivity: “Everything we’re talking about with cloud comes down to being able to connect,” he says. “Can you connect at scale? Can you connect at speed? Our initial response to the crisis was, how do we get everyone to connect from home. Now that everyone’s home, how do we get everyone to thrive? How do we get everyone to reimagine how they work?”
Think, he urges, of the companies that have been birthed in the last 10 years because of the connectivity that exists today: “Now, fast forward another 10 years from now, when connectivity among developed nations is 10 to 100 times faster than what we have today,” he construes. “And imagine when that connectivity reaches into a billion more citizens around the planet. What new possibilities will emerge and how we work differently? It’s exciting times. And even in the midst of this scary pandemic that we’re in, I think of the possibilities.”
The future is also about renewed focus and redoubled energy in existing fields of IT investment, argues Veresh Sita, Chief Digital Information Officer, F5 Networks: “Over the last three years, F5 has been on a massive shift from being a hardware company to a software company, and to enabling our customers on their journey, in a multi cloud environment,” he explains. “We believe that the primary competitive differentiator over the next five to 10 years is going to be digital agility. It’s going to be an organization’s ability to pivot and react and respond very quickly to market conditions. And the pandemic is a perfect example of that.”
Sita says F5 has demonstrated over the last six months that its employees have been resilient and responsive: “It’s been amazing to navigate through this journey,” he reflects. I think as we move forward, we’re going to see a fundamentally changing workforce, more distributed, more global. I think you’re going to see the rise of the independent worker. We are moving on from employee engagement, which is really a measure of extraction of value from individuals, to things like employee fulfillment and employee happiness.”
When it comes to the long term lessons and long-term implications of this crisis, Kevin Herrin, VP, Infrastructure Platform Engineering, Dell Technologies accepts that the way all of us work together is fundamentally changed forever: “Those organizations that are best at adapting to this are those that are already a step ahead,” he concludes. “Now the rest of us must figure out how to solve the problems that inevitably are going to come up. Resourcefulness and innovation playing a significant role going forward.”
As we set a course for the digital shore, it is worth reflecting on how far we have already travelled in this most exceptional of years. With the right spirit we can get to the next horizon.