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Feeling the impact of coronavirus

Although the number of cases in the UK is still low, there have already been some issues for the channel to deal with

The UK is waiting to see just what the widespread impact of the coronavirus will be as the number of cases continues to mount, but the channel has already had to react to the fallout from the infection.

For vendors, distributors and resellers, there have already been some areas of impact that have caused inconvenience – and sparked some potential opportunities.

Events

The cancellation of Mobile World Congress was unprecedented when the decision was made last month, but it has set the tone and industry events have started to feel the full impact of Covid-19.

Since MWC was pulled, a number of other events have been postponed, including, last week, HP’s Reinvent partner get-together in Anaheim, which had been scheduled for later this month.

The statement made by HP about the reasons for its decision are likely to be echoed by other vendors as they take a close look at their plans for large meetings in April and May.

“HP has made the difficult decision to postpone HP Reinvent in Anaheim until early autumn,” said the firm. “According to the World Health Organization [WHO], coronavirus continues to escalate, rather than subside, with widespread implications in multiple countries and markets. We must place the wellbeing of our employees, our partners, and our media and industry analyst community as our number one priority.”

The list of events that have been cancelled or postponed continues to mount, with Intel, Fortinet, Workday and Facebook all choosing to follow caution rather than hold marketing and partner events.

Supplier risk management

The channel knows only too well the dangers of putting all your the eggs in one basket and has developed strategies to make sure it can get hold of products. The next few months will put risk management strategies to the test.

Peter Groucutt, managing director at Databarracks, said supplier risk management means that those sourcing technology have to be diverse and avoid being dependent on a single supplier for anything that is critical to the business.

“That protects you against problems with a particular supplier, but will probably be no help in this situation,” he said. “It doesn’t help if your two suppliers are dependent on the same distributor. And it doesn’t help if you use two different distributors, but neither can source hardware from the manufacturers.

“We had this in 2011 when floods in Thailand hit both Western Digital and Seagate, leading to shortages and price spikes. The UK is probably in some of the best shape at the moment, with distributors increasing their stock levels to deal with Brexit trade uncertainty.”

Groucutt advised the channel to stay in close contact with suppliers to keep up to date with stock levels, be prepared to be more flexible with brand preferences and, if the resources are there, to increase their own stock levels.

Tech Data has already got its global business continuity team working on the issue and the distributor told partners it was working hard to keep business as normal. “While this is a fluid situation, we are doing everything possible to mitigate service disruptions to our channel partners, including working with our vendors to ensure we have adequate supply to accommodate potential disruptions from China,” it said.

Remote working

One of the other immediate impacts of coronavirus has been a rise in the number of people working from home. Some firms have started to encourage staff to say away from the office to reduce the risk of them coming into contact with infected fellow commuters. From a channel angle, there is a discussion to be had with customers that might, up to now, have been a bit more selective about remote working and, as result, might not have invested in the infrastructure and security tools to support access from outside the office.

“Many organisations already have the systems and processes in place to support remote working,” said William MacDonald, chief strategy officer at StarLeaf. “But as the seriousness of the health crisis rises, remote working is something that every company is going to have to consider now, even if they previously haven’t.

“Organisations will firstly need to establish their remote working policy, outlining what is expected when working outside the office. Depending on your culture, the company might go into detail about all aspects of remote work, including expectations of working hours, legal rights, and privacy/security requirements”

MacDonald added: “To ensure employees can carry out their jobs to the best of their abilities, the right collaboration tools need to be in place. Emails and voice calls are no longer the best way to communicate and can easily eat into an employee’s working time, damaging an organisation’s productivity. It is critical for organisations to have an effective video conferencing solution in place for instant collaboration and content sharing.”

Other managed service providers are already looking at the issue and making sure they can support customers when they inevitably develop a response to coronavirus.

Rufus Grig, chief strategy officer at Maintel, said: “While the virus itself is topping the news agenda, what will the impact of remote working be on UK businesses? Simply asking staff to take a laptop home and carry on working as usual will not be sufficient. Productivity could fall, and companies could leave themselves open to a costly cyber attack if employees don’t connect securely.

“Over the coming weeks, we are likely to see more companies send workers home. The time is now for businesses to get their plans in place to ensure they are prepared for remote working. If IT teams are under too much pressure to activate these plans, businesses could always turn to freelance support or have the headache taken away by a managed services provider.  Regardless, they must ensure that productivity or security isn’t compromised.”

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