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Coronavirus: CIOs should consider a new desktop IT strategy

Although the Covid-19 lockdown is easing, office life will not return to normal any time soon, and few will be buying new PCs

The latest worldwide device shipments forecast from Gartner paints a bleak picture of the PC market, due the economic downturn arising from the Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown. IT decision-makers should start assessing how to support remote working as this becomes embedded in normal working practices.

Ranjit Atwal, senior research director at Gartner, noted that the topline forecast from Gartner paints a depressing picture for the market. In its latest device market forecast, the analyst firm predicted that PC sales would decline by 10%, while smartphones would decline by 14.6%.

“The market is being pushed and pulled by different forces, one of which is the lockdown across many countries which is an upside for the PC market, around working from home,” said Atwal.

He said the lockdown has forced businesses and schools to enable millions of people to work from home and increase spending on new notebooks, Chromebooks and tablets for those workers. Education and government establishments also increased spending on those devices to facilitate e-learning.

Regarding the decline in smartphone shipments, he said: “While users have increased the use of their mobile phones to communicate with colleagues, work partners, friends and families during lockdowns, reduced disposable income will result in fewer consumers upgrading their phones. As a result, phone lifetimes will extend from 2.5 years in 2018 to 2.7 years in 2020.” 

Gartner’s forecast estimates that 48% of employees will likely work remotely at least part of the time after the coronavirus pandemic, compared to 30% pre-pandemic. Overall, the work-from-home trend will make IT departments shift to more notebooks, tablets and Chrome devices for work.

“This trend, combined with businesses required to create flexible business continuity plans, will make business notebooks displace desk-based PCs through 2021 and 2022,” said Atwal.

There is also a drive for e-learning, but, for Atwal, the biggest impact in H2 will be the economic downturn due to the lockdown. “Businesses will not replace PCs,” he added, meaning that sales of new PCs could decline further.

If there is an increase in working from home, Atwal believes businesses will need to think about the IT required to support employees. “They will have to be fully immersed,” he said. “The PC needs to be reinvented to make it more conducive for working for home.”

Facebook is attempting to ride this wave in interest in more seamless collaboration that bridges the office and home-working environments. Julien Codorniou, vice-president of Workplace from Facebook, believes that the coronavirus pandemic has increased the size of the collaboration market by two billion people. It is no longer just about office workers, who may be well-versed in using unified communications and video conferencing.

Pointing to two of its major customers, he said: “Look at Walmart or Nestle. Factory workers never had email. Now with Covid-19, these people need to be connected and supported – the market for workers who need IT has been expanded to frontline workers.”

According to Codorniou, only a few software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies can address this market. Given that many millions of people use Facebook and are familiar with its user interface, he said that using Workplace should be relatively straightforward for those individuals who do not normally require a PC for work.

Such frontline workers may well need a way to communicate with those employees who are working remotely, especially if coronavirus social-distancing measures prevent them from having face-to-face interaction with colleagues. 

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