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COVID-19 and the IT sector: Challenges and Opportunities

July 30, 2020 / CATERINA BASSANO

The year of the pandemic – that is how many of us will remember 2020 for generations to come. Challenging circumstances brought by the sudden and devastating spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) has made us witness the world making quick changes to remote working, businesses struggling to survive, the distress of social distancing rules, the emotional rollercoaster for people isolating, an overall crisis for health systems and the economy of countries, no matter where you were in the world.


When reflecting on what it has meant so far, however, we must realise that it’s not all doom and gloom. As Albert Einstein once said, “in the midst of every crisis lied a great opportunity”. The crisis has prompted companies to reinvent and accelerate digital plans, to adopt new technologies and sales models in order to adapt and survive – and for Managed Service Providers (MSPs) to step up to support businesses and employees in every way possible.


On the other hand, let’s also not forget what the changes have meant for the health of our ecosystems. With industries across varied sectors forced to work remotely and shut down operations, the changes have led to benefits for the environment – and we could argue that such break was something that our planet was desperately in need of.


Even now, as we start to see our way out of this situation, it’s hard to believe how it all happened. For most countries, it was a similar case: we were hearing news about a new virus spreading in China; and before we knew more about it, the virus arrived in our own territories. It seemed unlikely, and yet, a few days later, the virus was quickly spreading, and lockdown restrictions came into effect for almost every nation in the globe. Millions of workers around the world had to leave the office and make a quick switch to remote working, without much notice at all.


In the initial stages of lockdown, MSPs had to work around the clock to help customers that weren’t ready for flexible working, to enable people to work from home. As every other industry and business type, MSPs also encountered challenges. Not being able to help a client on-site can sometimes significantly affect the speed of project delivery. So, adjustments had to be made, wherever possible, to deliver services remotely, as quickly and seamlessly as possible.


“We are all in this together” is a phrase that became widespread in the UK. IT professionals, like many other sectors, had to support each other, and they have been working together as a community, to assist clients, businesses, and the wider public, since working from home was suddenly imposed for the vast majority. In the technology space, there is a lot of knowledge to share and to work with, which has led to many tech leaders and companies offering free advice, webinars and other tools to help with the struggles that have risen in the midst of the pandemic.


Shifting priorities based on customer needs


In the initial stages of the pandemic, MSPs played a critical role providing small and medium sized businesses with the tools and the IT infrastructure to keep their business running. Enabling office-based workers to continue their work from home was only the first step, however.


The sudden shift to remote working has required new tools and exposed new security vulnerabilities. All around the world, we saw an increasing number of cyber-attacks and threats taking place. Remote working means many people were using personal computers for work and business purposes, and so, products that are designed to keep personal computers protected became essential.


MSPs have also focused on increasing security measures for protecting password and identities for customers. Passwords on their own are not secure enough and can be easily compromised, so it has been a case of quickly deploying password management and Multi-factor Authentication (MFA), also known as two-factor authentication (2FA). MFA immediately increases security and ensures that clients’ accounts are significantly less likely to be compromised. In a few simple steps, IT providers can deploy MFA to help protect an organisation against breaches due to lost or stolen credentials.


Beyond helping employees to work from home securely, MSPs have assisted companies in implementing cloud-based applications, and managing access and restrictions to certain applications, especially for furloughed staff.


Embracing opportunities in the post-pandemic landscape


The spread of Covid-19 has made remote working the new norm, but how likely is this to become a permanent thing? Many employers and workers have started to believe that working from home will become more and more common for employees, even after the threat of the virus is gone. It’s difficult to know what the final picture will be, but it’s remains a fact that, as offices gradually re-open after lockdown, employers are increasingly looking at new ways of flexible working.


Many organisations that have been forced to work from home have been functioning remotely with little to no issue, so it stands to reason that the future of work will become more flexible. Video-calls, online training sessions, webinars, online meetings, it all sounds too familiar now, doesn’t it?


Remote working was already popular, though for a long time it wasn’t much more than a much-appreciated working benefit offered by employers, as part of the ‘job perks’ package. The pandemic only accelerated the need for remote working capabilities, and now telecommuting seems to be taking over as the new norm.


The IT landscape has mutated, and quite possibly it has changed for good. Technology leaders will have to continue to listen to the evolving needs and demands of the users and the markets in which they operate. For MSPs, it means the crisis is bringing opportunities to provide value to clients seeking support for enhanced mobility and flexible working. Now that work-from-home setups are in place, there’s room for improving remote access solutions and security measures.


Cloud migrations, which are expected to increase after the pandemic, present an opportunity for remote employees to improve collaboration and business resiliency. There will be a push towards more robust cloud-based solutions, and these migrations are likely to become one of the top opportunities for the months to come to drive revenue for MSPs, as well as VoIP solutions, business continuity and hardware sales.


The pandemic seems to have accelerated the demand for cloud services and security solutions. MSPs will play an important role in finding the best solutions for every business type, to enable them to work more flexibly and effectively. IT providers will be increasingly tasked with the job of securing devices and protecting employees as they work remotely, especially for SMBs.