Clicks or mortar? Which will win after Covid-19 - TechCentral

Clicks or mortar? Which will win after Covid-19

The author, Paul Ruinaard, writes that digital transformation went from nuanced discussion to business imperative virtually overnight

Businesses have been confronted with one of the most significant challenges of all time. A pandemic that has wholly turned how employees, customers and even supply chain behave, entirely on its head. We are no longer living in a world of absolutes, and while we muddle our way through what our post-Covid-19 world will look like, we know only one thing for sure – it will be a technology-centric and, in part, a digital economy from here on out.

While economies around the world work their way through different stages of lockdown, there is one thing that has become abundantly clear. Business is all in this together. We are all sitting around the virtual boardroom table, considering what is next for our sales models. Will it be clicks and mortar? Will there be more clicks than mortar? And more importantly, how will the customer demand for our services emerge?

Not dot-com 2.0

The closest example of this massive shift in thinking is the former dot-com bubble which was a time when all businesses raced to have the sexiest www address. Shrinking their bricks-and-mortar business empires and replacing them with sleeker, more agile online enterprises. But there was a lesson to be learnt in the era of .com everything – customers still wanted to be engaged. Many still wanted a tactile experience beyond the mouse.

Now, 25 years on, is Covid-19 heralding yet another shift in how businesses future-proof themselves? The battle of the bank branch vs the online bank has been fought and won with a hybrid model emerging. The same can be said for retail, where consumers still prefer having the virtual accompanied by the physical and the freedom to move between them as they still in part want to experience their products before they buy them.

The tech shift

Until February this year, we were still arguing the point of whether to follow a digital transformation route or not. Those were conversations that moved swiftly out of the opinion articles posted by business leaders and firmly into the hands of IT departments that were now told to get hundreds of thousands of remote workers onto a virtual system. Business no longer cared about micromanaging the transformation – they needed it to happen, and it needed to happen quickly.

Business disruptor

What this sparked was a demand for cloud services. In whatever shape and form, if you were peddling a cloud service, you were in the pound seats just a month ago. Customers were moving off-site in droves, not because they wanted to, but because they had to. Traditional data centres are not only the oil tankers of the dot-com era, but they are notoriously run at capacity in African businesses. Meaning scaling out to include a work from home model or to include a virtual desktop environment can prove tricky if there is no space to do it.

Today the demand is still soaring, but it is more tempered as businesses start to feel the cost of the cloud and with bottom lines being squeezed harder than ever before – fluid capital to throw at the cloud is not as fluid anymore.

Integrate your business thinking

The days of business predictability are long gone. They started unravelling with dot-com and now, with Covid, they are most decidedly a thing of the past. But how do we shift our tech thinking in an era where there are no absolutes? If we hark for a minute on how even the industries that were well oiled, such as same-day delivery online retailers and their courier services, buckled under the pressure of the initial lockdown. There are some key lessons to be learnt.

An omnichannel approach needs to extend past just the marketing department and needs to be seen as a means to approach technology decisions. Staff are going to continue to work from home, and it is going to be tough to put that genie back in the bottle. We are going to continue to see a massive shift in purchasing patterns as consumers’ buying behaviour (and trust) changes. As IT, we are going to need to make decisions about where workloads live beyond where people sit – the bloated head office of the past might not be written off just yet but the behemoth on-premise data centre might well be.

We might not yet be an entirely digital world. But we will move to a world of parallels, and as IT, we are going to have to factor in parallel decision making into all things: where we put our workloads, how we engage with the cloud, whether mobility is even a thing for people who can’t move around anymore, and how many channels we need to embrace to ensure our people are continually connected.

As an industry, we have always said change is the only constant – but today it is about innovation and adaptability, a world where only the agile will survive.

  • Paul Ruinaard is regional sales director at Nutanix sub-Saharan Africa

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