7 Tech Leaders On How COVID-19 Will Accelerate Digital Transformation

CRN asks seven CEOs, channel leaders and executives about how COVID-19 is forcing digital transformation and what 'the new normal' will look like in a post-pandemic world.

A Whole New World

It’s safe to say that the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic turned 2020 on its ear. The outbreak sent most businesses scrambling to get many—if not all—employees equipped to work from home in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus as stay-at-home orders and quarantines affected people all over the globe.

Meanwhile, certain segments of the tech industry have boomed. The demand for secure videoconferencing and collaboration tools went through the roof as employees worked remotely but still needed to keep in touch with their colleagues and customers. Networking software, cloud and security products took off, and many IT vendors rolled out more automation capabilities into their offerings to help take some of the pressure off IT teams. And that was just the beginning.

While many companies were already at least dabbling in digital transformation, COVID-19 has made it a requirement. New use cases are popping up, anywhere from nearly every restaurant enabling their websites for takeout orders, to hospitals and physicians relying on telehealth appointments with patients for the first time. Many of the world’s leading tech CEOs, channel leaders and executives don’t think demand for cloud, software and automation will be going away anytime soon. Even if COVID-19 is eliminated or a vaccine becomes available, these executives say that the lessons learned from the coronavirus outbreak will stay with businesses, many of which will most likely keep the door open for at least part-time remote work or even in lieu of offices completely.

CRN spoke with seven tech CEOs, channel leaders and executives to hear their thoughts on how the coronavirus is accelerating digital transformation right now and into the near future, and what the “new normal” will look like. Here’s what they had to say.

Aruba Networks

Keerti Melkote, Co-Founder, President

I believe that as this work-from-home [trend] is becoming the new norm, [partners] are taking a more proactive stance now that the reacting is done and people are able to connect from home on making the experience more pleasant and productive so they can gain benefits from it.

Fundamentally, I think the transformation that is going on will be accelerated. The post-pandemic response is going to be the emergence of the edge as an important area of work for our partners. To me, the edge is all about data—new types of data that [are] being created at the edge and how we process that data. AI and AI technologies are going to be extremely important to address this emerging rise of the edge. We will talk a lot more about how AI and AI operations in general are going to help customers with automating what they are going to do at the edge and provide insights into their business-critical systems. I think it is very clear that digital transformation is going to accelerate because of this pandemic. If you ever had a doubt that digital is not foundational to your business, that doubt has been completely removed by how we we've all basically come around to using digital platforms to continue our work and be productive.


Jim Chirico, President, CEO

There are 60 million knowledge workers in the U.S. and 2 [percent to] 3 percent were working from home— I'd imagine that number has grown significantly. A more distributed workforce will become the norm. I do think people will eventually migrate back to the office simply because that’s who we are, and we get collaboration and energy flowing when you're in the office. But I think folks will continue to take advantage of the home office more than ever.

The capabilities, technology and security are there—you can get quite a bit done. We've been saying now we live where we work, so it's a different mindset. I honestly think the work-from-anywhere model will start to take hold more. I do think it's here to stay and it will drive new demand. We're quite excited about the opportunity in front of us.

Cisco Systems

Julia Chen, VP, Partner Transformation, Global Partner Organization

At Cisco, we’ve been talking about the importance of digital transformation for years. But there’s nothing like a global pandemic to underscore the urgency of that imperative. Never has the importance of secure, agile, intelligent IT been as high as it is at this moment.

Digital transformation is what will help us accelerate out of the economic slowdown created by this crisis. We have adopted new ways of working that will continue to be in demand. Customers need more remote support, but they need it securely and at scale. Managed services are taking center stage with a focus on delivering the business outcome, not just the IT requirements. The utilization of the cloud is expanding while customers optimize supply chains. All of this is giving way to new business models and applications to support businesses in new ways. At Cisco we see three critical areas where partners can accelerate their growth as we move into a post-COVID world: accessing new buying centers outside the enterprise IT department, developing platform-based business outcomes, and building up a world-class customer success practice.


Michael Gold, CEO

I think there will be a new normal, and the new normal will include a lot more remote work and the need to have UCaaS and CCaaS. You can't really operate as efficiently without it.

Right now, many businesses have put together workarounds to get by during this period of time. They haven't necessarily made their long-terms decisions around deployments, so coming out of this as people are getting back to the office maybe they can regroup and decide if this happens again or as we continue to work differently, what do you want that's different? I think partners can leverage this experience and use that to help advise their clients on how to move and what solutions to move to.

F5 Networks

Hitesh Patel, Sr. Director, Product Management, Automation, Orchestration, Ecosystems

COVID-19 has been a force that has made digital transformation real for a lot of companies … and it's highlighted a number of things we've been talking about for a while. Because of the massive scale-up that a number of customers and organizations now have to go and do in the real world, it's testing weak points in their strategies.

The world, almost right away, moved to digital interactions. Those interactions, whether they are meetings or increased use of online collaboration tools, exploded overnight. I don't think this is actually going to go away. I think there's going to be a fundamental shift coming out of this in the way people consume and do things, both in their personal lives and also in their professional lives. There's no way that gets undone at this point.

Juniper Networks

Gordon Mackintosh, VP, Global Channels, Virtual Sales

I do think [COVID-19] will accelerate digital transformation in the mid and short-term. Customers will look to see what can come online and the advantages of leveraging big data, and AI is undoubtedly going to become more prevalent—it's going to give way more insights into people, customers and products and how those are moving around inside companies. I believe there will be rapid uptick in digital transformation.

For me, an investment area we are going to be working through is digital transformation in terms of our partner-facing tools. We want to move toward partner sales efficiency to support a virtual sales organization and let partners price, quote and have access to all the information they need, when they need it, to drive success. This will create a partner experience that is very unique in the industry.


Alan Masarek, CEO

I think for partners and everybody else, [COVID-19] will accelerate the move to cloud. Prem-to-cloud has always had a benefit of cost—if you have 5,000 employees, as an example, spread across 500 retail stores, I would say cloud is essential from a cost perspective. But what you're finding today is whether those 5,000 people are spread across 500 stores or sitting at home, now cloud is essential for business continuity.

The one thing I know for sure, as a public company CEO, is the audit committees of public companies are going to be incredibly focused on their management team, asking, 'What are you doing about business continuity?' Because God forbid something like this happens again, whether it's a pandemic or a natural disaster, you better get to a solution that no longer tethers your team to a particular device or particular office.