08 Jan

The Permanent Pandemic People Predicament

Previously published on VMblog.com. 

It’s hard to look too far into the future right now. The pandemic is dominating work, home, and everything in between. We’re all thinking about managing risk, watching the news for the next shoe to drop. Still, it’s easy to see that some elements of the pandemic will stay with us far into the future. From our corner of the IT universe at SmartDeploy.com, it’s confirmation of many of our long-standing opinions.  

The PC is Definitely Not Dead, Again 

For nearly a decade, we’ve pushed back against the notion that “the PC is dead.” The analysts gave lots of credible arguments why the PC was dead. The industry investment community (tech VCs) didn’t understand our defiance. There was a belief that the gap would close. Were we naïve to think that the old model would live on? We didn’t then, and we certainly don’t now, see how the work done on more than 500 million PC endpoints in businesses globally would dissolve into handsets without keyboards. 

The mobile phone is your microwave, and the PC is your oven. Those of us old enough to remember may recall that the microwave was supposed to be a replacement for the traditional oven. You could do everything with it. Frozen meals? Made for it. Roast beef or a whole turkey? You bet. But not really.  

Today, we know that everyone has both. And like mobile phones, microwaves have generally gotten smaller and serve a specific set of purposes. Few are those who make entire meals in their microwave, but it is certainly possible. Similarly, some write long form articles and produce videos on their phones. But it’s faster, easier, and usually yields better results to do these things on a PC. Phones are great to triage email, update CRM, and filter photos to share your amazing view with your social networks. Oh, and to make calls.  

And now we’re in a situation with the coronavirus pandemic where collaboration is for some the only way they work and for many the way they have to work at least sometimes. For many roles across many industries, a full powered PC drives maximum output. Without one, you put your business at a disadvantage and your job at risk.  

This takes us to 2021 and beyond. Modern PCs with Windows 10 or MacOS, even with all their respective deficiencies, are incredible in their ability to support so many applications that can run well concurrently connected to internet-based services. Creative, technical, collaborative, and sometimes fun work can all happen together, often at the same time. This value will not soon be traded away.  

The coming year will see sustained high demand for PCs and the accompanying halo of growth for apps, cloud services, and collaboration software. I also predict that Microsoft will put more effort and energy into making Windows 10 a more robust, capable, efficient, and reliable platform than we’ve seen since Windows 10 was released. This will be manifest in more significant updates (more in each can) with better quality control (less buggy) possibly on a slower release cadence (maybe only one major update next year).  

The Future of Work Is Remote 

We’ve kept a close eye on our customers’ office return strategies. Some have already returned to the office (roughly a third by one measure). Others have put the date far into the future. We see a strong split along industry lines. Healthcare and construction industry businesses, for example, have understandably made or expect a full return to in-person attendance. Many other customers see a partial return over time with some roles staying remote permanently. Some have gone farther and decided to embrace the remote model and are scaling back considerably on investments in real estate and facilities. 

Many have long been skeptical of remote work. Some have made attempts that have failed. Others simply never tried. The forcing function of pandemic-required remote work has shown not only that people can be productive from home, but that the business realizes tremendous efficiencies.  

One of our education customers described a stark realization that if remote work is made permanent not only will they save on long term costs, like parking and expensive prime office space in a historic building, but productivity and morale will be higher than expected among administration teams. They are rethinking everything.  

Even our healthcare customers are doing more remote work. They are taking telemedicine farther, for example, and doing more with video. Healthcare IT expresses confidence among those who have already invested in enabling technologies like VDI that ensure security and manageability.  

In short, our prediction is that 2021 will begin a long tail of remote work. The quick move to remote will see the opposite in reverse: a very slow move back into the office with many organizations investigating and evaluating the possibility of roles remaining permanently remote. And with this move to long term or permanent plural work locations (office and home) we will see software and cloud services shift to support people, their devices and software more efficiently in this fluid work model. Furthermore, we foresee a future where the management will increasingly be focused on the worker. Out of necessity IT will realize opportunities to maximize worker productivity that goes beyond the PC lifecycle to form a management model around end user lifecycle management. 

Security Will Rule All Endpoint Considerations  

Endpoint security will be the biggest factor impacting the digital workplace in 2021. Based on a recent customer survey we ran, fully half of the respondents expect at least a portion of their workforce to be permanently remote. This creates an opportunity for bad actors to exploit a casual at-home worker.  

Sadly, this is already happening. There is a considerable increase in all kinds of cyberattacks, from ransomware to spear phishing, often targeting the most sensitive, least tolerant organizations. Left unchecked, this is going to result in impacts to business in the form of data loss, violation of commitments to customers, and impaired productivity. The impact can reach the public if personal data and payment information held by businesses are compromised.  

It is imperative that organizations of all types take steps to follow security best practices including properly encrypting all data at every stage of the lifecycle, adopting principles of least privilege, regularly training and updating employees about risks and best practices, and requiring use of the latest password/passphrase standards with multifactor authentication. 

High performing IT teams will be pushing hard on tying up the loose ends with security. Smaller organizations with less mature IT infrastructures will be investing heavily. Short of a doomsday prediction, I think it’s fair to say that those who do not undertake this effort will pay a high price in lost productivity, impacts to business, and the extra-high price of urgent responses to incidents from specialized service providers.  

About the Author

Aaron Suzuki
Aaron Suzuki is the founder and CEO of SmartDeploy and of Prowess Consulting, a successful consulting business. Aaron bootstrapped SmartDeploy software to more than 3,000 customers and millions of managed endpoints. Today, Aaron is leading the company to extend the simplicity and cost-saving principles of SmartDeploy to complete end-user workspace management, including application delivery and compliance.Prior to SmartDeploy, Aaron served as director of Business Development at Entirenet, a Seattle-based technology consultancy. Before moving to Seattle, Aaron was president of Inetz Media Group, a web application development company based in Salt Lake City. An avid cyclist and passionate alpine skier, Aaron holds a BS degree from Brigham Young University and an MS degree from the University of Iowa. You can hear Aaron share his technology insights and experiences monthly as a cohost on Petri.com’s Enterprise Dish podcast.