Long-Term Impacts of COVID-19 Predicted for IBM i Shops
March 17, 2021 Alex Woodie
The COVID-19 pandemic and the associated economic lockdown will have a long-term impact on how IBM i shops operate, a panel of experts said during the IBM i Futures Conference yesterday. From being innovative and agile to the importance of security and disaster recovery, there are lessons to learn across the board.
It’s been exactly a year since governments around the world instituted severe lockdowns to, ostensibly, stop the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The lockdowns have come, gone, and come again in many parts of the world, injecting a level of uncertainty into our work lives and our private lives the likes of which we have never seen.
As more people get vaccinated against COVID-19, the lockdowns are letting up. However, in light of everything that has happened over the past year, the odds of returning to how things existed in February 2020 seem low. This was the backdrop for the first event in yesterday’s IBM i Futures Conference, titled “IBM i and The Future of Work: Lessons Learned from the Pandemic,” which was hosted by Ian Jarman, a business unit executive with IBM Power Systems Lab Services.
“As we all face the pandemic together, the future of work and workplace transformation suddenly became a very critical priority, not just for one company, one business, but for everybody in every country in every business,” Jarman said. “All of us have faced some kind of challenge in this way. And it’s not just about working remotely. It’s also about business process, our channels, our markets, how we connect with our clients, and so on.”
The pandemic changed how business was done at many IBM i shops. According to Koen Decorte, the CEO of the Belgium IBM i software company CD Invest, the shift from B2B mode to B2C mode due to closure of retail shops may permanently alter the supply chain.
“Those companies [that] did not have any means of selling anymore rapidly changed their business models mostly to B2C. It was a total transformation for some of those companies,” Decorte said. “I don’t think it’s going to stop now that they started going to that way because the consumer as well started buying more expensive items through online ecommerce.”
That sentiment was echoed by Steve Bradshaw, the managing director at UK IBM i consultancy Rowtown IT.
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” Bradshaw said. “I think the challenge that we faced in the UK in the past is we’re very traditional, very set in our ways. Getting people to innovate and embrace change in business has been tough. Well, there’s nothing like a pandemic to shake up a senior management team to say, yes, innovate. Please let me operate! And so what we’ve seen is people thinking about what they’ve done and throwing away the old mantra of, well we’ve always done it that way.”
Tech that’s out: Tape drives, and big centralized printers that “are effectively COVID hot points,” Bradshaw said.
Tech that’s in: Email and VTLs. “We’ve seen a big move to virtual devices,” he said.
The work-from-home mandate put a crimp in established business processes and forced people to use their home computing equipment, including printers, according to Pete Massiello, the CEO of iTech Solutions.
“We had an insurance company that had rolled out ACS [Access Client Solutions] about a year earlier. Everybody had it on their PCs,” Massiello said. Many of them had Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) set up so they could do securely sign onto the IBM i servers to do work from home on the nights and weekends, he said.
“What they were able to do is just start creating remote printers for them, having them print right to their PCs” at home, he said. “It really made their lives so much easier. Considering we went into a total lockdown, they really only took two or three days and really didn’t miss a beat once that was done. The rollout was very quick and easy.”
While administrators commonly had home VPN connections, there were a number of companies that needed to expand VPN access to more employees under the work-from-home mandate, according to Carol Woodbury, the president and CTO of DXR Security. Getting these VPN connections setup and — perhaps more importantly secured — took time.
“One of the many unfortunate issues with this season of life is that the less optimal parts of society have taken advantage of people, especially in the work-from-home” environment, Woodbury said. “There’s been a lot of phishing . . . going on and workstations being infected, which then infects other parts of the organization.”
“That work-from-home environment is nowhere near as secure as controlling all of the connections within a physical building,” she continued, “so it’s a great challenge to make sure that that’s connected to the VPN so that people could use ACS and use it securely and get back to their IBM i, because that system holds our precious data. To do that securely was the challenge at the time.”
Some sectors of the economy have been absolutely hammered by the lockdowns, including restaurants and hospitality. But some sectors have seen business volume increase, including healthcare and financial services. Home delivery services exploded during the past year and wait times for new recreational vehicles and boats are six months or greater. Sales of luxury home furnishings are also up, as Decorte noted.
According to IBM i Futures Conference panelist Alison Butterill, the IBM offering manager for IBM i, smaller IBM i shops have been hit the hardest by the changes that stemmed from COVID-19.
“Some of the large clients were impacted significantly, but in a really good way,” she said. “Some of our retailers, for example, are now doing more business online than they were doing in their brick and mortar stores. So we have had to help them get additional capacity. . . . The retailers have told us that it was like doing business on Black Friday in the U.S. but doing a Black Friday everyday.”
Getting more capacity on IBM i servers is typically not a problem that Massiello and his iTech Solutions technicians worry about. “The one good thing about most IBM i customers is they have so much capacity that they can just turn on if they needed,” he said.
When the existing performance of Power 7, Power 8, or Power 9 system isn’t enough, unlocking additional CPWs is not that big a deal. “We had one customer who just needed to turn on another processor,” he said. “We got hooked up, entered the license key, and they doubled their CPW. It was literally that easy and quick to do.”
COVID-19 caused every business to pivot, Jarman said. But in particular, it has brought about what is likely to be a permanent shift in how larger IBM i shops want to consume their IBM i CPWs, he said.
“This has really stimulated a change in approach to private cloud and consumption models of that performance for larger companies,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any going back in that area because the new economics of that private cloud consumption models are highly compelling for these enterprise clients.”
Change can be scary, but if the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that change is inevitable, and so we might as well got on with it, according to Decorte.
“Be less afraid of change,” he advised. “You saw before that many people were afraid of changing something — changing the way they did busines, changing the way they interact with the computer, changing all that stuff. Now they are more open to that. I think we should learn from it and stay open to change and be prepared to change the way we think about this, the way we do things, and move forward from that.”
The IBM i Futures Conference, which is free, continues today at https://www.common.org/education-events/ibmfutures.