As we approach the end of January, many of us will have spent some time this month looking back on the events of 2020 and to the new year ahead.  Although it’s not quite the fresh start we all might have hoped for, with ongoing uncertainty about the weeks and months ahead, I continue to be impressed by the way our industry reacted to the challenges, and in particular with those managed service providers (MSPs) and IT Retailers who went out of their way to support customers and protect their staff when businesses and stores closed back in March…the IT channel really stepped up!  As we settle into navigating our way through a third national lockdown in the UK, I’ve been reflecting on the key role these businesses have played in ‘keeping the lights on’ for so many others.

MSPs and tech providers played a huge role in the digital transformation efforts that began last Spring, not only dealing with the panic buying and preparation for work-from-home (cue huge demand for monitors, keyboards and mobile computing devices), but also a sudden reliance for core IT support, mobilising customers to work remotely and assisting with the rapid adoption of cloud software, collaboration platforms and security systems.  I don’t think there’s ever been a more challenging time for tech providers, coping not only with increased demand, but also with increased expectation.  Workloads trebled overnight and every support ticket raised required high urgency.  By doing more, at pace, those MSPs and IT Retailers were at the forefront of this transition and proved vital in ensuring many businesses were able to remain open.

If you’re an MSP you’re likely busier than ever and dare I say your business may even have benefitted from the opportunities that came about as a result of the pandemic.  For IT Retailers in the sector, the experience has been very different, with a unique set of challenges (and opportunities), which will continue in 2021.  With repetitive lockdowns and evolving tier systems, having a storefront is more challenging now than it ever has been.  Retailers have demonstrated remarkable resilience, having to close their stores in March, pivot to online operations where possible, prepare their shops for Covid-safe re-opening in July and sadly dealing with store closures again in November and at the start of this year.  Many will continue to operate on an appointment only basis, with limited trading or ‘click & collect’ service…perhaps the longer-term challenge for those in this space will be dealing with the changing psyche of consumers, those who were forced to buy on-line and now have formed new shopping habits; the purchasing journey has undoubtedly changed over the past 10 months and IT Retailers will need to be creative to win back business lost to online.

It’s clear to me that the IT channel has demonstrated real strength over this period, being agile and proactively helping customers adapt to the ‘new normal’, proving that they not only provide integral support to their clients, but also an essential service…but it has me thinking – who supports the service provider throughout these uncertain times?

For me, being a member of a community or peer group provides this support, offering an environment where like-minded people can share information in the knowledge that you are not alone; in times of adversity this can be very powerful.  In my role as Chairman of Network Group, I’m proud of the support we’ve been providing to MSPs and IT Retailers during this time.  Our community responded very quickly, setting up weekly calls for all members several weeks before the initial lockdown was announced. With no formal agenda, they provide a forum for members to talk – to share experiences about the common challenges we are facing and an opportunity to exchange ideas and best practice. The response has been phenomenal and with such positive feedback received week after week, these calls are still active today.

If you or your business are not a member of a group or community to help you though this period of change, then I urge you seek out such an organisation and make contact.  The benefits of engaging in such a community can be immeasurable – ensuring continuity for you and your end users alike.