After the year we’ve experienced, no one feels comfortable making predictions. Look what happened to all those “2020 Trends”. This session isn’t about predicting the future but about identifying how 2020 changed the tech industry. Greg Ferro, Johna Till Johnson, and Nick Lippis look at ways the pandemic has redirected how businesses view technology.
All participants agreed with Greg’s assessment that enterprise sales models were changing. Specifically, tech companies found that they could sell solutions by offering a free trial and providing a link to download the software. Follow-up could be provided via telephone or video-conferencing. This sales model is far more cost-effective than sending sales teams to demonstrate the product. The more traditional model typically required multiple on-site meetings between clients and sales. The new model costs less and may shorten the sales cycle.
The NaaS market is expected to grow at $34.5% (CAGR) from 2021 to 2026, which supports the panel’s assertion that the demand for NaaS solutions will grow. It offers greater flexibility in provisioning, managing, and maintaining infrastructures without having to start from the ground up. With the need to quickly pivot in 2020, many executives realize the benefit of an agile NaaS configuration.
Since many projects have been delayed or postponed because of the pandemic, companies are redirecting funds into meeting the demands of employees and customers for improved online functionality. Businesses have to support distributed teams while maintaining a secure and reliable infrastructure. NaaS may be a faster way to meet operational needs than trying to restructure an existing network.
Greg and Johna had differing views on the impact 5G would have on the enterprise. Greg believes that 5G is overrated when it comes to business applications. 5G’s speed is a selling point for consumers who want to use streaming services with reduced latency. For companies, well-managed 4G networks can meet most business needs.
Johna sees 5G as a way for organizations to get networks up and running with a secure end-to-end connection. Companies can slice the 5G connection and create a secure network quickly. They can divide the bandwidth to address different requirements, such as low latency slices for controlling precision equipment to high use bandwidths for video services. Since these are virtualized networks, slicing provides a level of agility companies need.
Nick suggested that companies are moving to a remote-first mindset, where more employees will continue to work from home, reducing the need for office space. Johna agreed that the demand for office space would decline. That shared spaces would be fewer but smarter. Even manufacturing would look at what factory floor functions could be performed remotely.
Greg felt that a better term was distributed. People have been working remotely for years, meaning they worked from home or on travel. Today’s workforce is distributed, requiring companies to find ways to hold meetings, exchange ideas, and execute in-office functions from a distance. Working remotely always had the option of coming to the office.
The distinction between a remote and distributed workforce is a matter of focus. Remote workers typically accept the responsibility for job performance without placing additional demands on the employer. A distributed workforce requires employers to provide the same tools and services as were provided in the office environment. Suddenly, corporations have to figure out how to make a distributed workforce function as a cohesive whole.
Over the last 12 months, executives have realized that cloud-based solutions are cost-effective ways to deliver products and services. The cloud enables a distributed workforce to function, reducing the need for office space. Johna sees companies moving the funds saved from less real estate to investing in technology.
Greg feels that the redirection of funds is more industry and size-specific. Large organizations may realize significant savings in real estate, while smaller organizations may not. However, everyone agreed with Nick that companies would continue to increase consumption of cloud services.
Growing out of the spending discussion was the caution that the pandemic has not impacted the business world equally. For example, airlines are highly unlikely to spend money on anything, let alone technology. Retailers may be hesitant to make large investments until the pandemic is under control. How much investing a company does depends on where it was financially before the pandemic and how it fared during COVID.
Nick suggested that finding individuals with sufficient skills to live in the cloud-based ecosystem would become difficult. Even with executives approving cloud-based projects, the viability depends on knowledgeable resources to implement and maintain a cloud infrastructure. Network engineering skills do not easily translate to the cloud.
Both engineers may be tasked with assessing possible solutions, deploying and monitoring network devices, and troubleshooting potential issues. However, network engineers are responsible for building and implementing physical networks. Cloud network engineers focus on cloud-based infrastructures that may not have direct control over physical devices.
Technology will be a part of 2021. Too many organizations witnessed the part tech played in keeping the world moving in 2020. The question becomes how big a role it will have in day-to-day operations. Will more companies move to the cloud? Will businesses move more of their workloads to a NaaS model? That depends. Every business had slightly different 2020 experiences, and it’s those experiences that will shape their decisions in 2021.