Business climate may be stabilizing for tech companies

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New CompTIA poll finds members are receiving inquiries around cybersecurity, migrating to the cloud, and managed services.

Covid-19 headlines and Dollar banknote

Image: claffra, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Technology companies continue to see customer interest in cybersecurity, cloud computing and other areas, perhaps indicating that the business environment is stabilizing, according to a new survey by CompTIA, a nonprofit trade association for the global tech industry.

Eighty-four percent of respondent tech firms reported in June receiving new customer inquiries and business opportunities up from 76% in March, CompTIA said.

SEE: The new normal: What work will look like post-pandemic (TechRepublic Premium)

“There remains much uncertainty about the pandemic’s impact moving forward, but it’s a hopeful sign that technology is viewed as a solution to help businesses navigate through these uncertain times,” said Nancy Hammervik, executive vice president for industry relations at CompTIA, in a statement.

Customers are most interested in cybersecurity-related products and services (cited by 42% of tech firms surveyed), shifting on-premise infrastructure or applications to the cloud (42%), managed and outsourced IT services (40%), and general consulting help on how to “go virtual” (40%), the survey found.

Nearly nine in 10 members report that their organization has prioritized training IT staff in one or more cybersecurity areas within one to two months in areas including best practices for educating end users (43%), network monitoring/access management (32%), risk management/mitigation (31%) and data loss prevention/data security best practices (30%), according to the survey.

Among US companies surveyed 44% have applied for a Payment Protection Program (PPP) loan from the Small Business Administration (SBA). Managed service providers and technology solutions providers accounted for about three-quarters of the companies surveyed that sought financial assistance from the federal government.

Staffing changes have leveled off

Another potentially positive indicator in the survey results is in staffing. The percentage of companies that reported making staffing changes has leveled off–56% in June compared to 58% in the last survey. Among firms that have acted:

  • 25% postponed interviewing and recruiting for new positions (32% in April)

  • 18% cut back on hours of full or part-time staff (21%)

  • 14% laid off contractors or suspended their work (18%)

  • 14% hired new staff to support increased customer demand in areas such as remote work support and cybersecurity (13%)

  • 13% laid off full or part-time staff (17%)

“Companies also reported taking positive steps in training employees in technical areas such as cybersecurity, networking, programming and tech support, as well as in ‘soft skill’ areas like communications and customer service,” said Amy Carrado, senior director for research and market intelligence at CompTIA, in a statement. “Taking advantage of any downtime in business activity to upskill employees is likely to pay off for these firms as customer engagements increase.”

SEE: 
How IT teams have been challenged by the shift to remote working

(TechRepublic)

CompTIA surveyed 231 executives from its member advisory councils and communities on how their companies have been impacted by COVID-19. The latest survey, conducted between June 1 and 5, is the third monthly member poll since the pandemic began.

In the June survey 52% of executives reported they are feeling optimistic, 42% are hanging in there, and 6% are hurting and in a difficult situation. These results are virtually unchanged from the previous survey.

A large majority of companies (84%) have been impacted by the pandemic, according to CompTIA. The most common scenarios include the cancellation or postponement of orders by some customers (58% of firms, unchanged from late April), or customers requesting a restructuring of contract or payment terms (46%, up slightly from 41%).

Companies are nearly unanimous (94%) in their belief that their business will change for the long term, CompTIA said. The most frequently cited change is allowing more employees to continue to work remotely (65% of respondents). Other anticipated shifts include relying more on social and digital marketing rather than traditional methods (48%) and permanently reducing business travel (47%).

Some of these actions are being implemented now, at least according to comments provided by survey respondents. For example:

  • “Performing online meetings versus in-person. Alternating in-office/remote workers to maximize social distancing.”

  • “Restructuring information protection agreements to allow remote work.”

  • “Leveraging more cloud solutions to support the customer.”

  • “Trying to work with customers to support them as much as possible with payment holidays, credits etc.”

  • “… Taking advantage of every piece of government support to ensure that our cashflow isn’t squeezed.”

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3 strategic business focuses for the remainder of 2020

3-strategic-business-focuses-for-the-remainder-of-2020

While the year is more than half over, and COVID-19 has thrown plans into disarray, there are still strategic imperatives that are worth focusing on.

Image: marchmeena29, Getty Images/iStockphoto

To say 2020 has been an “unconventional” year just might be the understatement of the decade. If your organization does planning on a calendar-year basis, you likely diligently crafted a technology strategy for the year in the waning days of 2019, and then promptly threw it out the window in March as the world attempted to respond to the coronavirus.

SEE: Video teleconferencing do’s and don’ts (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

There are glimmers of normalcy returning to the world, with remote working operating reasonably well at most companies, and people around the world gradually emerging from lockdown. While you are probably still “firefighting” more often than usual, now that we’re more than halfway through 2020, it’s worth revisiting the key components of your strategy, directing your efforts toward a few useful elements, and using the time to redirect your focus from getting through the next 24 hours, to ending the year positioned for growth.

Avoid “COVID stasis”

COVID-19 is going to remain with us for a long time, and it’s uncertain what the ongoing impact will actually be despite dozens of loud voices claiming they have the answer. It can be tempting to avoid any and all long-term planning, standing warily like a baseball right-fielder, watching the skies for that one fly ball that’s sure to eventually head in your direction. The major risk is that, like that right fielder, you’ll be standing around while others in and outside your organization are moving forward with advancing their agendas.

SEE: Life after lockdown: Your office job will never be the same–here’s what to expect (cover story PDF) (TechRepublic)

There may well be second waves or other challenges from COVID-19, but remaining in organizational stasis is not the right way to combat this unknown. Rather than avoiding any medium- and long-term planning, revisit and adjust your strategy around the following elements:

1. IT resilience and remote work

Many organizations have long had elements of resiliency and remote working capabilities in their strategic plans, and these are often de-prioritized as the year goes on. COVID-19 created a unique opportunity to build out these capabilities, and you may have blown the barn doors off that element of your strategic planning. For the remainder of the year, consider how you industrialize these new capabilities, and rationalize the tools you acquired during the initial response. Perhaps you’re paying for four video conferencing platforms, and it’s time to invest in one or two.

2. Rethink your hiring and workforce

The coronavirus quickly redefined how and where we work, and everything from changing geographic dynamics created by remote work to rethinking inclusion in our workforce is fodder for deep consideration and strategic planning. The good news is that a thoughtful strategy on these fronts doesn’t require huge investments or multi-month systems implementations, and it could be a significant differentiator within your company and industry at large.

SEE: Virtual hiring tips for job seekers and recruiters (free PDF) (TehRepublic)

Perhaps your company has used the lowest-cost providers for supporting and maintaining its infrastructure and was caught flat-footed when demand spiked. Rather than looking at your vendors and external partners solely through a cost lens, consider metrics like responsiveness, skills, and perhaps even creating your own internal “consulting” team that provides highly skilled resources on-demand. Creative staffing ideas that once looked like an unnecessary cost may now be cheap insurance in an uncertain environment.

3. Invest in services

The organizations that responded most effectively to COVID-19 were those that were highly flexible, both organizationally and on their technical platforms. We’ve been talking about shifting IT from complex, monolithic systems, to discrete services that are independent of the underlying technology for a number of years, but now have a compelling need for the flexibility that this provides. If your company struggled to quickly adapt to a changing business environment, you likely have a solid business case for investing in a transition to microservices, and new integration platforms have made this once-daunting task even easier.

SEE:  Microservices: The foundation of tomorrow’s enterprise applications (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

If you’re in the midst of reconfiguring the systems that support a key business process, for example updating your supply chain software to increase safety stocks, or significantly altering your product mix, look for opportunities to build supporting microservices and other flexible technologies as part of that process.

While it might seem like a distraction to redirect your strategic efforts as you attempt to navigate COVID-related uncertainty, merely waiting for events to drive your organization is not a particularly thoughtful plan. We’re slowly emerging from one of the best proof-points for the power of flexible, accessible technology and IT services, and savvy IT leaders will use this not only to respond to the day’s crisis, but to empower and advance their strategic objectives.

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52% of organizations’ business operations are being scaled down

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How HR leaders should adjust their priorities for the remainder of 2020, according to new Gartner research.

Image: Nuthawut Somsuk, Getty Images/iStockphoto

More than half (52%) of 172 HR leaders surveyed said their organizations’ business operations are continuing at reduced levels due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a newly released survey by Gartner. Perhaps not surprisingly, optimizing costs is the business priority that has changed the most since January 2020 for 40% of 146 respondents, the survey found.

SEE: Video teleconferencing do’s and don’ts (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

 

“Many organizations have entered the recovery phase and are focused on stabilizing the business and restarting activity,” said Mark Whittle, vice president of advisory in Gartner’s HR practice, in a statement. “HR leaders will play a critical role during this period.”

 

Much of that role requires them to deal with the uncertainty around several key issues, Whittle said, including equipping leaders to manage remote teams over the long haul, preserving company culture with a more remote workforce, and engaging workers in a cost-constrained environment.

HR leaders are adjusting their priorities for the remainder of 2020 to address these issues and best support the business. In December 2019, the top five HR priorities for 2020 were: building critical skills and competencies, strengthening the current and future leadership bench, incorporating organizational design and change management, driving digital business transformation, and enhancing employee experience.

SEE: Life after lockdown: Your office job will never be the same–here’s what to expect (cover story PDF) (TechRepublic)

A Gartner survey in May of 160 HR leaders found that while those top five priorities have not changed–the order and the lens through which organizations must view the priorities have. The future of work is number one, followed by: Critical skills and competency development; organizational design and change management; employee experience; and current and future leadership.

Where to go from here

To successfully navigate today’s new normal, Gartner said chief human resource officers (CHROs) and senior HR leaders must address each of these priorities:

1. Future of work

Leaders need to consider the predictions for what the future of work will look like and assess the likelihood of each trend impacting their organization.

“Business leaders are planning for entirely new scenarios,” said Brian Kropp, chief of research for Gartner’s HR practice, in a statement. “For many, if not all organizations, the three-year strategic plan may be gone, and planning is occurring quarterly.”

 

Perhaps most importantly, Kropp added, “understanding the future of work is about understanding the permanent workplace shifts post-COVID.”

2. Critical skills and competency development

A recent Gartner survey of 113 learning and development leaders found that 71% reported that more than 40% of their workforce has had to use new skills because of changes to work due to COVID-19, Whittle said.

To adopt a more dynamic approach to managing shifting skills needs, Gartner is advising HR leaders to focus on three actions:

  • Identify areas of the organization with significant changes in priorities and related changes in skill needs. Then break roles and projects that need support into individual skills and outcomes.
  • Upskill a select cohort of motivated and influential employees to provide personalized learning support to colleagues.
  • Foster internal movement across the organization by engaging employees to gauge their skills, goals, and points of confusion around organizational skill needs.

3. Organizational design and change management

Gartner research shows that successful change management outcomes require a shift from top-down change led by senior leaders and communicated down to employees, to “open-source change,” meaning employees are involved in designing change processes.

In fact, when organizations use an open-source change strategy, the probability of change success increases by as much as 24 percentage points, the firm said.

To achieve an open-source change culture, HR needs to help managers and leaders create two-way dialogues that acknowledge the reality that change is difficult and then listen to employees’ reactions, Gartner recommended.

Adopting open-source change management can increase employee engagement by as much as 38 percentage points and intent to stay by as much as 46 percentage points, according to the firm.

4. Employee experience

The pandemic and fallout has changed the focus of employee experience to sustaining the performance and engagement of a hybrid workforce–some employees working fully remote or partially remote and others at the workplace.

To gauge employee experience during the disruption, HR must answer three questions:

  • Organizational trust: To what extent do our employees believe we really value people and are ensuring their well-being?
  • Commitment to coworkers: How are employees collaborating with and learning from team members?
  • The right capabilities: Are we helping employees get the skills and tools and resources they need to be successful in this disruption and new normal?

5. Current and future leadership

Organizations need resilient leaders more than ever. According to Gartner to foster resilience, HR needs to support leaders at the personal, team and institutional levels:  

  • Personal: Identify leaders’ skills gaps and create leader-to-leader partnerships that give them opportunities to help each other by pairing those with complementary skills.
  • Team: In a remote work environment, employees are 3.5 times more likely to collaborate with five or more teams than when in the office. Leaders need to learn how to better lead during ambiguity, how to identify and secure needed resources for their teams, and how to better connect their teams and direct reports with others to develop skills and get more resources.
  • Institutional: HR needs to ensure performance management objectives reflect and reward leaders that efficiently connect teams to the right resources. Leaders must also be empowered and encouraged to dynamically adjust annual goals and review all workflows to align to the right priorities.

Complimentary research about how to lead organizations through the disruption of coronavirus can be found in Gartner’s coronavirus resource center.

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The Business Case for Cloud Threat Defense

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    Artificial Unintelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World

    Artificial UnIntelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World is well-written and provides a great introduction to the problems with artificial Intelligence focusing on its limits and biases. You’ll find a brief history of computers, networks and AI with examples of programming and machine learning. 

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    Thinking, Fast and Slow

    Thinking, Fast and Slow is a book about human decision making and breaks down the thought process of how and why we make the choices we make. Author Daniel Kahneman is a renowned psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics.

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    Outliers: The Story of Success

    Outliers: The Story of Success recounts the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful as author Malcolm Gladwell asks the all-important question: what makes high-achievers different?

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    Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ

    In Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, author Daniel Goleman digs into why high IQ is no guarantee of success, happiness or virtue. The book explores why our two minds – the rational and the emotional – shape our destiny. 

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    SuperPumped, the Battle for Uber

    SuperPumped, the Battle for Uber, follows the chronology of Uber from the beginning until its IPO. You’ll read about its sins and crimes, including the downfall of its founder and CEO Travis Kalanick. It’s an essential read to find out about the lessons that Uber learned and how they dodged them, and used technology in its favor.  

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    StrengthsFinder 2.0

    StrengthsFinder 2.0 has became an instant classic and it teaches everyone to find their strengths and weaknesses. This allows everyone to focus on what they do best in their career and learn to excel by using their own best talents. The author says, “You cannot be anything you want to be — but you can be a lot more of who you already are.”

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    The Smartest Guys in the Room

    Take time out to read The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron. This book takes the reader deep into Enron’s past—and behind the closed doors of private meetings. Drawing on a wide range of unique sources, the book follows Enron’s rise from obscurity to the top of the business world to its eventual demise. 

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    Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

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Artificial Unintelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World

Artificial UnIntelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World is well-written and provides a great introduction to the problems with artificial Intelligence focusing on its limits and biases. You’ll find a brief history of computers, networks and AI with examples of programming and machine learning. 

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By Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is Associate Managing Editor at TechRepublic. She oversees TechRepublic’s news team and TechRepublic Premium. She focuses on tech and business and how the two worlds intersect. Teena’s lifelong journalism career has included writing on s…