IT Channel, Clients Can Expect Positive Change Post-COVID-19: XChange Panel

"We've kind of accepted that this is what we look like on video, and we're going to have to live with it. ... I think some people have found that they're actually a little more efficient with their time," says Jason Ulm (pictured, bottom left), vice president of sales at Axia Technology Partners.


The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has forced decisions to be made by businesses across the board, but in its wake will be new ways of doing business that will make the IT industry stronger going forward.

That conclusion, reached by a panel of MSPs who met Wednesday in a virtual XChange forum moderated by The Channel Company's Senior Vice President of Event Content and Strategy Robert DeMarzo (pictured, top center), reflected the several ways the pandemic has permanently altered how solution providers and MSPs do business.

People in general are getting more accepting of video meetings versus having to drive to a face-to-face meeting, said Jason Ulm (pictured, bottom left), vice president of sales at Axia Technology Partners, an Indianapolis, Ind.-based MSP and hosted voice services provider.

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[Related: Some May Work From Home Permanently After COVID-19: Gartner]

"We've kind of accepted that this is what we look like on video, and we're going to have to live with it," Ulm said. "But people are more accepting of communicating this way. And I think some people have found that they're actually a little more efficient with their time."

As people get past the pandemic, on-line meetings will become a new normal, Ulm said.

"That's great," he said. "You can't replace the opportunity to shake somebody's hand or bump elbows or whatever we're doing these days. You can't replace that. But you certainly can go further than just a telephone call. And so I think we're going to see a lot more people leveraging things like Zoom and Teams to be doing their meetings with their own internal employees and also their customers."

Ulm said the change in how people communicate will also extend to vendor meetings.

"We're finding that we're communicating more with our vendors than we were in the past," he said. "Where maybe we had a monthly call, or something quarterly, we're actually getting together weekly and being a little more strategic with them. So I think those things will stay in place because we're finding some efficiencies, and all of us are gathering value from it."

Zoom and other on-line meeting venues will definitely be an important part of doing business going forward, said Dawn Sizer (pictured, bottom right), CEO of 3rd Element Consulting, a Mechanicsburg, Pa.-based MSP with a focus on municipal government and first responder clients.

For 3rd Element Consulting, however, the biggest impact might be on the real estate front, Sizer said. The MSP was planning on purchasing a new building before the pandemic struck, but those plans were put on hold.

"We were looking at significantly more space, a larger place of business, maybe even adding to what we already had, and I don't think we're going to do that," she said. "Now we're looking at a lot more work from home, allowing our people to work from home. That's something that we weren't doing before, but our production has gone up, our efficiency has gone up. So why would I not let them do that? There's no reason not to."

Sizer said her company is also seeing that same thinking among a lot of its clients as well.

"They're very happy with their work from home with their staff," she said. "And that's even in municipal government, which is almost unheard of. So I'm pretty excited about that."

Customer support will also see multiple differences after the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has passed based on lessons learned during the shutdown, solution providers said.

Changes in customer support will in part depend on who the customer is, said Joe Ussia, CEO of Infinite IT Solutions, a Concord, Ontario-based MSP and data center services provider.

Infinite IT Solutions has been talking to, and helping prepare, a lot of its customers for years about possible scenarios that would cause business shutdowns, and larger clients for the most part were prepared for the pandemic, Ussia said.

"The smaller customers, 50 seats and below, we don't have a lot of them, but the ones that we do were much more hesitant because of the costs that they would have to incur in order to get ready for something like this," he said. "Well, those customers have all signed up."

Infinite IT Solutions called the pandemic a week before any of its customers did, and on the Monday of the following week only one of its employees had to come to the office, Ussia said. "We're doing this as a service to our customers, [so] how could we not be ready for it," he said.

Infinite IT Solutions had prepared in advance, but never went through a dry run test of its plans, although in hindsight it wishes it had, Ussia said. But because of that experience, it was better able to empathize with what customers went through in the transition to work from home, Ussia said.

Many MSPs are finding the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is providing time to focus on other parts of their business.

Ussia said that once his company got over the initial hump of transitioning customers to work from home and all the related end-user support issues, it was better able to help clients with other projects.

"We found that customers were now going back to projects that they had put on hold," he said. "We did a couple of massive file server migrations to SharePoint that we'd been positioning for over a year. Customers [used to be], 'No, no, no, I don't want to spend the money, the licensing costs.'"

Axia's Ulm said clients are starting to see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel and as a result are starting to open up to working on other projects.

"As the phases [of opening] roll out across the United States and different areas in what people are allowed to do, it's giving people hope," he said. "We work a lot, for example, with the automotive racing industry. The fact that NASCAR and IndyCar have gotten back to racing, those race teams are back to running the technology. And a lot of folks don't know that racing is a lot more technology than just pushing the gas fast."

This is happening across all the different verticals Axia is working with, Ulm said. "[Clients] slowed something down, they pressed pause, but we are seeing them back in the cycle of getting those projects on target to go either this quarter or the third quarter."

3rd Element Consulting's Sizer said her company has migrated six or seven clients to SharePoint during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's been crazy keeping all the balls in the air," she said. "But we've also had some very large storage servers and things coming through for video projects and things like that. It's been a mixture. It's been project work that we already had scheduled. It's been stuff that we had to get ordered in. It's been normal budgetary spending. And then we've had new clients, too. So it's been a little bit of everything for us."

The COVID-19 pandemic has opened the door to new opportunities going forward, said Brian Ruschman (pictured, upper right), president of C-Forward Information Technologies, a Covington, Ky.-based MSP with about 30 employees and about 140 clients.

C-Forward is now working with a local software design company to develop kiosks aimed at companies in certain industries looking to better serve people coming into lobbies post-pandemic, Ruschman said.

"It's something now that we feel is going to be in the forefront of peoples' minds for a while," he said. "So we were spitballing what that would look like, and trying to determine different industries where it would really be appropriate or really be necessary."