Learning to operate in a pandemic means learning to operate touch-free
For businesses both in and outside of the technology community, like ours operating in the enterprise networking space, the vantage point of 2019 looked as though 2020 was about to become a bonanza year. Orders were coming in, prospects were seeking demos, the future looked great, and we prepared accordingly.
Then the pandemic hit and, almost overnight, everyone slammed on the brakes. Businesses seemed to be coming down with a bad case of paralysis as sales pipelines slowed in the first quarter. Looking back, we now think of that as the “fear period,” where people worried about whether the floor was about to collapse from beneath them and whether it made sense to spend money on technology when the world seemed on the brink.
All the while, at Gluware we believed that technologies like automation were actually needed more than ever given abrupt shifts in everything from corporate supply chains to staff access to those supplies. This was particularly true for organizations with complex IT environments that were accelerating initiatives like digital transformation and cloud initiatives to support a rapid shift to remote work and digital business operations. We knew that manually configuring those networks and their operating systems, which must be done regularly and securely, would be resource-intensive, time-consuming, and costly – and the bigger or more complex the network, the more challenging it gets. Automation, particularly at the network level, helps IT be adaptable, agile, and responsive in contrast to manual IT management practices, which can stifle productivity, limit flexibility and endanger business operations.
We were affected too. We were no longer able to do what we had become so proficient at doing – traveling at the drop of a hat to meet with customers face to face, introducing them to our technical teams, digging into proof of concept planning across a table, and physically engaging prospects with our technology. It was a very high-touch approach. We enjoyed doing it, and I thought we did it well, but now that was broken too.
Before the pandemic, some of our customers already knew the value that network automation could bring to their organizations and the value of our quality technical support as well. When they requested technical support, we were able to fly experts out to work with their technical personnel for smooth onboarding, support and training. But once the coronavirus began spreading, that was no longer an option. It begs the question: How do organizations manage to give customers the same high-level of customer service and support now that we have in-person restrictions?
We clearly needed a different strategy – a touch-free strategy, so we made several changes. First, we accelerated the development and delivery of our multi-cloud architecture so customers could onboard our automation software remotely. The idea was to make it as painless as possible for customers to start using our platform with minimal intervention or complexity.
Next, we invested heavily in digital marketing, creating high-value online content, as well as self-service testing and verification support that would enable a major organization to go confidently through the entire customer experience in a remote fashion. We also wanted to make it as easy as possible for customers to learn about the benefits that our platform brings through public references, online tutorials and business ROI models.
The customers who are coming to us now are much further down the maturity curve and prepared to solve problems they’ve already identified, using network automation. But you might ask: if that’s our response to a pandemic environment, what will happen when we are able to move past it? I believe the key learnings and initiatives the pandemic brought will impact us for years to come. We are now positioned to deliver quality selling, onboarding, and customer support in a remote-first environment. Now more organizations and the industry as a whole are well-positioned for even greater advances including autonomous, self-operating networks leveraging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA).