Opening move on a chessboard

The Long Game vs. The Short Gain

Over the last two weeks of March we had almost a 100% increase in the number of support incidents and many of these were more time consuming than the typical support tickets we resolve. Some clients already had a business model that permitted staff to work from home and had been tested and refined over time. For many it was the first time they’d ever really been faced with this decision. Here in the Northeast US snow days, hurricanes had all had an impact over the years but never for more than a couple of days was the norm. The Blizzard of 78 was long before the Internet was a thing and the only other time it went longer than a few days was back in 2011 which was a sign of the vulnerabilities of the predominant business model of working at work.

That particular one was an October snowstorm just two months after Hurricane Irene and four months after the EF3 tornado hit south central Massachusetts causing damage from West Springfield to Charlton. The 2011 Halloween Nor’easter knocked out power for some parts of Connecticut for 11 days. Businesses were essentially out of business for almost two weeks with no power and/or no internet access.

Since then there has been a massive rise in business applications that have either moved to the cloud (access from anywhere datacenters host “the cloud”) or started there and have stayed there.

Most businesses today use at least a handful of these cloud-based apps or services and while that is a very good thing and has dramatically increased the speed of innovation and democratized enterprise level software access it has also created a massive vulnerability. No internet, no business.

We strongly suggest (although don’t require) that each of our clients have redundant internet service providers with automatic failover. Over 75% of them do.

That works very well as long as a telephone pole isn’t knocked to the ground or a power outage outlasts the ability of uninterruptable power supplies (UPS) to provide backup power. Some of our clients have backup generators, but not many.

Adapt to New Challenges

The challenge facing businesses today though is not one of natural causes. The virus outbreak and spread worldwide has caused national, regional and local governments to prohibit many businesses from allowing their staff to go to “the office” and work. All across the world, there are supply chain shortages on webcams, laptops and even desktop computers as employees are now having to work remotely and figure out how to stay connected to each other and their prospects and clients.

Companies are laying off salespeople, support people and especially retail and food service staff as they’re business shrinks or goes out of business under this new mandated paradigm shift. Others are hiring, boosting package handling, delivery and other logistics workforce numbers as product delivery shifts to this shelter in place model.

Some companies have made quick pivots to changing their manufacturing or service delivery models to take care and take advantage of changing needs and requirement. Whether it’s automobile manufacturers making medical equipment or distilleries making hand sanitizer, companies large and small are adapting to what is needed now with seemingly little thought to what’s next.

So how do you adapt? How can you win, stay relevant and continue to support your clients, your staff and deliver the goods or services that are so valuable to our local economy? Should you go for the quick wins or perhaps have a different view on this?

Amazon and eBay recently shut down certain sellers ability to sell toilet paper, hand sanitizer and other hard to find items over the last few weeks. These items were being offered at in some cases 10x or higher sale prices than just a few weeks previous. Obviously some people were paying those prices too and it wasn’t just some fringe element willing to pay thousands of dollars for some celebrity’s sweaty socks.

In Albany Georgia, one of the worst hit areas of the US by COVID-19 cases (and way ahead when measured per capita), the local hospital has taken a "whatever the cost" approach to purchasing PPE and cleaning chemicals to keep their staff and patients safe paying many multiples over what they’d paid previously for those items and in some cases going straight to black market sources.

Some of those sellers/vendors are capitalizing on the hospital’s desperation to make previously unheard-of margins on PPE etc. 2020 for those companies might very well be a banner year.

The question is however, will 2021?

I don’t believe so.

Playing the Long Game

I understand letting capitalism, supply and demand, and commerce self-regulate pricing. The market speaks and the buyers and sellers adapt. Every free market economy at least pretends that this is the case.

The reality though is that the short gain mentality can do lasting damage to the long-term good will and market viability of your company, your products and your services.

We live in a time today where compassion and doing good are triumphed and celebrated. Tom’s and Ivory Ella prove how compelling doing good and making a positive impact to the world around you can have to a business and how it can really accelerate your growth if it catches the buying public’s eye, heart and imagination.

The owner of a local sign company in Norwich CT, where we’re located, decided a few weeks ago to make signs that local restaurants could put out in front of their business, you know the plastic cardboard signs that show up every election cycle, with the statement that they were open for take out on one side and the sign company info on the back. It was a huge success and a ton of local restaurants were suddenly featuring his signs out in front of their restaurants and posting their thanks to the sign company on their social media feeds. The local newspapers picked up the story too.


Because he hadn’t charged a single one of them for a sign.

What did he gain? A massive amount of goodwill, lots of karma cred and tons of free exposure that he got for the cost of some signs that were exactly the same. Was it free for him? No, gifts are free for the recipient, not for the giver. Was it a fair exchange? Absolutely. In fact it was a bargain.

He is playing the long game, not capitalizing on social distancing for the short gain.

Some IT companies around the country are raking in revenue right now at a greater than previous rate. How? They like us, have seen a big increase in work from home support incidents and hardware needs.

Some are charging, by the hour or incident and are selling additional services and products to support the workers that have been required to work from home.

Some are charging additional fees for remote access licenses.

Are they wrong, or crocked to do so? No, it’s their business and their clientele and frankly they can do what they want. Is it short-sighted? Maybe.

We chose years ago to allow clients to add remote access (temporarily) for staff working from home and in years past when snow storms or other weather events had forced people to stay at home, with management’s approval we’d grant them a temporary day pass to access their work computer. This time however we have no idea how long they’ll need to have that access available.

We decided to make it possible to access their work computers indefinitely until the WFH order are lifted. We decided to do that without billing a single client for that unless they were using a VPN model with company-owned remote systems.

Are we making changes to how we do business during this time? The short answer is YES. We’ll be announcing shortly that we’re bringing back a service offering that we’d stopped offering a few years back and had traditionally reserved for our non-profit clients, FixedIT. It’ll be available during these uncertain times and should be a big help to companies that need it.

We’ll also be offering our clients the ability to have their employees’ home computers affordably protected and secured for better work from home capabilities and performance for a price that I wouldn’t have even considered before.

Personally I think that the actions taken by governments has removed much of the mental barrier to allowing staff to work at home and from embracing cloud applications and perhaps even full cloud environments. I think that the negative effects to our economy will be far reaching but also that during this time there will be powerful innovation and opportunities that will be transformational.

An environment where you can access your work applications from any device with an internet connection, 5G mobile broadband and being able to hire the best workforce, not the best locally available workforce will increase productivity while simultaneously diving down costs in certain keys areas.

Looking Ahead

I for one am looking forward to what the future holds and I encourage you to look for the opportunities that are available now and also to ask yourself what is it that you actually do or deliver. If Kodak had realized that they were a company who captured moments and memories instead of classifying themselves as a film company, when they invented the digital photocell they would have been able to stay relevant and actually be the innovator and market leader in digital “film”. Instead they didn’t ask that question and had a false and technology-limited view of who they were and what they did and now they’re gone.

Figure out who your ideal clients are, what they need and how best to serve them. How? Ask your staff who your best clients are. They probably know better than you do. Ask your bookkeeper too. Then ask those 5 – 10 clients why they do business with you and how you could serve them better.

Ask, adopt and adapt. Have a long game view and not a short gain mindset and even an economic downturn won’t be able to stop you from being amazing and serving your clients and our region with excellence.