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ePlus CEO Mark Marron: Solution Providers Key To Helping Customers ‘Navigate The Next’

‘I do believe it’s a great time for companies like ePlus [and our peers] to make a difference with technology, especially with customers that are lagging in the IT space, and help them make a forward leap,’ Mark Marron, president and CEO of ePlus, tells attendees of this week’s Best of Breed virtual conference.

While the IT industry has not in the past dealt with anything like the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, disruption in IT is certainly nothing new.

That’s the word from Mark Marron, president and CEO of ePlus Technology, who Wednesday told an audience of solution providers at the Best of Breed Fall 2020 virtual event that businesses have continually dealt with disruptions ranging from 9/11, the dot-com bubble and the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009. The Best of Breed event is being held by CRN parent The Channel Company.

Technology at the same time is constantly evolving, most recently with virtualization, cloud, artificial intelligence, predictive analytics and robotic process automation, as well as things to automate and orchestrate applications for multiple environments, Marron said.

[Related: ePlus CEO Says He’s Confident Firm Will Weather The COVID-19 Storm]

“With that said, I don’t think anyone expected COVID and what it meant,” he said. “It’s a little bit different from the [other disruptions] because it’s not only a financial situation that affects many of us and many of our customers, but there’s also the physical and mental toll it took on people, and I think it’s still taking on people.”

Organizations were forced to move from on-premises work to working from home almost overnight, Marron said. “And I do believe it’s a great time for companies like ePlus [and our peers] to make a difference with technology, especially with customers that are lagging in the IT space, and help them make a forward leap,” he said.

Herndon, Va.-based ePlus, ranked No. 35 on the 2020 CRN Solution Provider 500 list, has been in business for 30 years and listed on the Nasdaq for 24 years, Marron said. The solution provider, which has technology resale and finance businesses, reported $2.2 billion in gross billings in the last year ended in March.

While ePlus did not have to change its strategy much to meet the new disruptive IT trends, like most companies it had to go through the overnight disruption of work from home because of the pandemic, Marron said.

“For ePlus, it was a little challenging,” he said. “Two weeks before the end of our fiscal year, we were sending everybody to work from home. So you can imagine that caused a little bit of stress internally for us.”

The solution provider was fortunate in that it has strong services and security portfolios as well as its financing business, which lets the company provide flexible payment solutions to customers, which is important especially in the current economic environment, Marron said.

“[This gets] them the technology they need now when they might be struggling,” he said.

While solution providers and businesses have settled into a new normal as a result of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, there are more disruptions to come as the pandemic continues and eventually ends, Marron said.

For instance, he said, the pandemic brings into play a new factor for many businesses: worrying about employees. This includes having to look at current facilities and expected future facilities requirements, and about what happens as employees return to work.

“We’ve got teams in place making sure that when we come back to work, we’re bringing employees back into a safe environment so that they can feel comfortable. ... Really, it’s about how you communicate your plans and how you hold your people accountable,” he said. “It’s one of the harder things to do now. It’s easy when you’re in the office and you can see people. It’s a little bit harder when everybody’s remote.”

Customers are dealing with, and will continue dealing with, challenges from the disruption in their data center, cloud, security and collaboration environments resulting from the pandemic and from digital transformation in general, Marron said.

“There was an acceleration and migration to the cloud, some with proper planning, some without, some with proper budgeting, some without,” he said. “Some are finding they are receiving certain [new] bills, and they’re trying to figure out cost optimization plans and things along those lines. Some didn’t account for the new security concerns and have opened up new risks potentially.”

Such customers are coming to solution providers like ePlus for guidance to help get past challenges and concerns across all these areas, Marron said.

“At a very high level, there are things that we’re working with our customers on to help with their migration to the cloud,” he said. “We’re helping with cost optimization and their cloud sprawl. Customers have capacity issues with their infrastructure and network that we’re helping with.”

There are also a lot of security issues, including employees accessing sensitive company data from home, Marron said. A recent survey by the solution provider found that 53 percent of businesses are not comfortable with their new risk profile.

“And for the remote workforce, it wasn’t something as simple as new laptops,” he said. “It was VPN solutions. It was VDI [virtual desktop infrastructure] on [Microsoft] Azure. It was adjusting based on what our customers had internally and what they were looking to put in place going forward.”

Looking forward, Marron said to expect an acceleration of digital services and the growth of the mobile workforce in the coming years.

“So there’s going to have to be technology and ways to be able to leverage that to help companies succeed going forward,” he said. “I do believe that it’s going to require a lot of technology. So that’s the good thing for all of us.”

Marron said to also expect merger and acquisition opportunities to help companies grow stronger, and for businesses to use the changing environment to make a forward leap from a technology standpoint.

“They may have been lagging for years, and now is the time that they have to put things in place from an analytics perspective, a security perspective, a modernization perspective,” he said. “For the companies that have the right foundations and solutions in place, I think there’s a great chance for us to provide the solutions and the technology that our customers need. And I think it’s important that we all play a big part in navigating the next for our customers and our partners.”

Marron quoted inspirational writer William Arthur Ward who said, “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”

This couldn’t be any more true during the COVID pandemic, he said.

“I think it’s really important for companies like ePlus not to continue doing the same thing thinking that it’s going to get the same results,” he said. “We’ve got to adjust to this new norm. We’ve got to listen to our customers. We’ve got to provide the solutions that they need. But also then provide the insight and the guidance that they need to get to where they want to go from a business outcome perspective.”

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