Mark Peters, ESG Practice Director, and John McKnight, ESG VP Research and Analyst Services, discuss ESG’s research on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses and employees from three horizons: its immediate impact in the rush to enable working from home, its impact on ongoing 2020 IT spending, and its longer-term impact to IT and digital work.
Mark: I'm here today with my colleague, John McKnight, who heads research at ESG, and we're going to take you through some headlines from some recent research that ESG has conducted on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, John, before we get to any details, we'll talk a little bit about how we went about it, and what we were trying to find out.
John: In terms of what we were trying to find out here, we really took an approach of, if you will, sort of, three horizons, or timeframes. First, most immediate, in the short term, we really wanted to understand what has the experience of both companies and employees been in the immediate aftermath of this work from home transition, the "great office exodus," as we're calling it.
The more medium term view is, what does this mean for the IT market and IT spending for the remainder of this calendar year? And then, the third and final horizon, looking out a little bit longer term, is really around what does this mean for longer term IT and digital work strategies? So that was the objective, or the three objectives of the research, and one of the ways that we wanted to attack this was to have two different audience perspectives.
So, we have a survey of 500 CIOs and senior IT leaders, who can provide the perspective of the employer, but also, a complementary survey of 1000 knowledge workers who are working at home, and we wanted to understand the experience directly from those workers as well.
So we have both perspectives, and I think that makes the research very interesting.
Mark: Let's start with the first horizon first. In terms of experience, what did you find from the worker perspective, if you like, with the knowledge worker, and also from companies, as this massive work from home exodus or change has taken place?
John: Overall, Mark, what we found was the majority of organizations, and indeed individuals, report a fairly smooth transition. Now, again, there's a lot of nuance that goes into that, and there are a lot of problematic areas where we'll get into. But generally speaking, people have reported that things are going pretty well.
We analyzed different organizations, and segmented them based on their work from home readiness, and we calculated that across two dimensions. One, did they have a remote-ready workforce, with people who have, you know, significant or at least some remote work experience? And second, did those employees have access to modern cloud-based applications, collaboration tools, and the like.
And as you can imagine, organizations that were more prepared on those dimensions really reported a much smoother transition to work-from-home than companies that maybe didn't have those things in place.
Mark: Well, smoothness is good, but let's talk a little bit about where companies got into trouble.
John: Yeah, so we asked about what are your challenges right now in supporting a really almost exclusively distributed workforce. So, certainly security is at the top of the list, whether it's securing collaboration platforms, securing users' applications and devices, again, for a pretty much exclusively now remote workforce. A second is in the area of connectivity.
So, this is a big issue for workers. I think 4 in 10 knowledge workers that we surveyed report having a considerably worse internet connection at home than they do at the office. And that's leading to all kinds of issues, whether it's bandwidth contention at home, or poor application performance for collaboration tools and other kinds of apps.
So that was a second big category of challenge which companies and workers are trying to sort out. And then the third and final one, that was very interesting, really wasn't technology-related at all, and that was around training. One in three knowledge workers that we surveyed believed that they didn't really get the right level of training on policies, new applications, tools, process, to really work at home effectively and productively and safely, and again, remember, it's a new experience for the majority of workers out there right now.
So, they felt that they could have used more training, and in fact, when we asked the IT executives to rate their own organization on that dimension, that actually, there was some self-awareness there, and that was the area in which they felt they could have done a better job. So, I think 48% of IT leaders believed, yeah we could have done a better job on training our employees.
So it's a classic story in the IT industry, right. You can give people tools, but you also have to give them the training as well.
Mark: I want to keep this moving along and go to horizon two, which is to do with 2020 IT spending impacts. What stood out to you there?
John: Well, obviously, there's going to be a retrenchment in spending for a significant portion of organizations. So we asked, hey, went into calendar year 2020 with a certain IT budget, and how do you expect that level of spend to vary between now and the end of the year? Thirty-three percent of organizations expect to spend less ultimately over the course of the year.
And those that are decreasing spending, the sort of mean decrease there was a little bit over 10%. We also found that 23% of companies are actually planning to spend more this year than they originally were planning to. There were really three forces at work here. The first is obviously the short term need to support a work from home initiative, so, spending on mobile devices, endpoint security, secure remote access, collaboration tools, etc.
Force number two is we see actually a higher percentage of organizations were using this opportunity to modernize their infrastructure, so that they could be more resilient and withstand this kind of business disruption in the future. And then the third and final force at work here is there's a set of lucky companies, whose business actually is growing throughout this situation.
There are certainly elements of the retail industry, whether it's department stores, or small independent retailers that have been hit very hard, who, lockdowns and closures, etc. But there's also elements, whether it's in areas of ecommerce or home improvement or groceries, or even sporting goods, that are doing quite well, and some are doing very well.
You can't really sort of make blanket statements across industries or the market. This is affecting every organization and every industry a little bit differently, and again, some cases, people will spend more, and some cases, people will spend less.
Mark: Give us some specific examples if you can of what people are spending more on.
John: The big ones, certainly, are anything related to remote work. So, endpoint devices, collaboration tools, networking solutions, etc. The second big area is public cloud applications and infrastructure, so we're seeing early stages of an acceleration of adoption of cloud solutions over and above where they were going into this year.
And then, the last area is, again, cybersecurity. So, we see almost 50% of organizations report an increase in attempted cyber attacks since mass work-from-home began, so CIOs and CISOs are responding accordingly, and are ramping up defenses against those.
Mark: I want to move to the third horizon, the lasting impacts of both the pandemic and all the disruption that's associated with it on business, spending, individuals. So, couple of hints of some of the major findings there.
John: Obviously, the IT leadership, we see lots of early movements towards datacenter modernization, again, more adoption of cloud services, modernizing the application stack, moving to more, continuing to move towards more portable, flexible, cloud-native applications, for example. But there are a couple of things that I think really stood out to me.
From the knowledge worker side, 96% of the workers we surveyed have told us that they believe, from this experience, they have learned that they can do their job effectively from home. And the vast majority of those, 57%, want to do more remote work in the future. So that remote work genie is certainly out of the bottle.
Certainly, we'll see more flexible policies, and, candidly, we'll have a more trained, adaptable, capable workforce that's ready to do that. And then the second, I think, is what we really learned here when we analyzed the best practices of those companies who are faring the best through this, it really comes down to digital collaboration tools.
That was the secret sauce, if you will, that has really separated the haves from the have nots here, being able to master and use those tools. And indeed, when we asked CIOs, when all of this is said and done, it will have lots of kind of far-reaching effects, right. On society, on business, certainly on technology, on your infrastructure.
What do you think will be the last, the most significant lasting impact? And indeed, by a fairly significant margin, their response was, it will be the accelerated mastery of digital collaboration tools. So, these tools have been around for a long time now, but actually, this is forcing everyone to be much more literate in how they use them, and use them effectively.
And that very well could end up being the tech legacy of the COVID-19 situation.
Mark: What can I say. I suppose all of us would rather not be finding out any of this, if we hadn't had the pandemic. Clearly, there are some ups as well as some downs. And I think mankind's ability, IT-kind's ability to adapt and to find an optimum path through is really what I take from this.
Anyway, thank you very much for watching. Thank you, John, and please go read the full report.