2021 Year In Review and Reflections
By Andy Jonak
As the year moves on, I like to take some time (and a lot of words) to reflect on what I feel has been significant in 2021 regarding IT. Each year I write a review of the year, and you can find my take at www.andyjonakblog.com, along with my other blog posts.
I want to preface that this year since we are now part of Converge, a public company, this is my take and not necessarily our company's. Still, it's something I've done for many years, and besides being an end-of-year creative outlet for me, it does give me a chance to discuss what I think was significant this past year. As I say each year, while what I discuss isn't revelatory or anything we don't know, I feel honored to stand on my soapbox and give you my opinion of the year.
First of all, what a year 2021 has been. It's been a unique year and what it's meant for our industry, IT, overall. I think in some ways it's changed what we are all about permanently, which is not a bad thing.
So please join me on my soapbox for the year-end post, and love it or hate it, you'll, at the very least, know how I feel and what's on my mind.
Vicom was acquired by Converge
This year, the most significant thing outside of Covid, which is #2, is that Converge acquired Vicom a little over a year ago. We were Converge's 16th acquisition (as of this writing, they are up to acquisition #26), and we helped them fill a need in the Northeast. Of course, it was a big deal for all of Vicom's employees, as overnight, we went from an 80 person, $100 million organization to a 1500 person, $1.3 billion organization and growing.
So that was a significant change, of course, for all of us, but what it did was allow Vicom to join the realm of a large organization that enables us to offer value to our customers in ways we never had the chance to do before. Vicom was known as one of the preeminent IT solution and service providers in the NE United States with an incredible reputation in the IT industry and our customers.
That hasn't changed, as we now have the backing and resources of the 26 other Converge companies. We don't just offer the value that Vicom has provided over the past almost 40 years, we now offer the value that the other 26 companies bring to the table to complement what we do. That is something we couldn't have imagined a little over a year ago and is a wonderful thing. Not just for us, but most importantly, for our customers, who now receive the combined value of Vicom with the Converge companies. That's a very cool thing.
Of course, the big thing on everyone's mind is Covid for 2021. As of this writing, January 2022, Covid cases have hit record highs in the US and the rest of the world. It has affected just about everyone and business somehow—some more than others. From a business perspective, a significant result is it caused firms to make sure they have a way to continue to work no matter where their people sit. It also caused firms to evaluate what is really important to ensure business can continue, and I'll take about it in the following bullets.
Covid has made firms more diligent and efficient out of necessity and required them to create plans for keeping IT running, efficient, productive while protecting their workers. It's been quite a ride for everyone. For Converge, we continue to grow as firms still need to ensure that their IT can support their IT, business, and operations despite Covid, so they need the solutions and services we offer. Our customers continue to make sure that the money they spend on IT is spent prudently and take into account people aspects of Covid with the needs of growing the business.
Firms had to balance making sure that they survived and thrived while doing what was best for their people. Not always an easy thing, and I feel that this changed the business world permanently. Not necessarily a bad thing, but a change nonetheless. We'll see what this means over time.
This and last year's big thing continues to be the working from home/remote phenomena. While many firms had people working from home in 2020 and before, 2021 is the year it went mainstream. Think of how many meetings we all do now remotely. Think of how long we haven't seen some of our team members in person. Think of those who have hired people they haven't met outside of Zoom, Team, and/or WebEx.
There's a great efficiency remote meetings, but something gets lost in not seeing people in person. I miss that, but this is the reality we live in now. I find it hard after 29 years in sales to NOT be with people in person. Unfortunately, I think this will become the norm. That's a bit sad since business magic is done in person, but I understand why.
A big plus is that firm's implemented tools allow users to be highly productive working remotely while being secure. We'll see how this plays out over time as new people enter the workforce who primarily work remotely, unlike some of us that have worked in person for close to 30 years and now are working remotely just about all the time. Time will tell the "goods and bads" of this and its meaning for work and company culture.
Firms Still Investing in IT
In the tumultuous past two years, a big question was answered: Are firms still investing in IT? The answer is a big resounding yes, and it showed in 2021.
Back in 2020, when the pandemic hit and people started working remotely, we (and all of our IT brethren) wondered what it would mean to our industry, as, after all, we sell IT solutions and services to our customers. Would they still need to invest in IT or put things on hold and wait and see? We found is firms did continue to invest in IT this past year.
First was ensuring remote workers were productive and secure, so tools were put in place to do that. Firms then looked at the IT projects and HW and SW replacements yearly and then prioritized them to see if they made sense. It turns out in most cases they did, and firms moved forward, albeit prudently in their actions and how they spend their IT money. Finally, firms have realized that their way of doing business over the past two years is pretty much here to stay, so they retooled their needs, and IT spends to accommodate accordingly. Then they moved forward on their IT projects.
So we see that our customers are still investing and doing their IT projects, just in different ways than before the start of the pandemic. Interestingly, we see them spending the same amounts of money (or even more) on IT, only with realigned priorities than in the past.
Security in the IT and data world has always been a big deal and always will be. Firms realized in 2020 and 2021—or perhaps it was just brought to a head—how vital a secure IT environment is in terms of business importance, especially with so many working remotely.
All firms have an IT security strategy in place, from simple and barely effective to very comprehensive, effective, and very expensive. No matter the strategy, all have risks, as no solution is perfect; it's just degrees of risk.
Many of our customers have been ramping up their security posture over the past few years, no matter their size. We usually see firms take sweeping security actions after encountering a security breach, which is unfortunately all too common. But this past year, we've seen firms become much more proactive about their IT security overall. That is a very good thing.
Analytics and AI Uptick
We've seen a significant uptick in firms researching and investing in analytics and AI solutions. Analytics in IT is not a new thing, as solutions have been around for a very long time. I believe the significant uptick in data and the need to examine that data to make it valuable and actionable result from that. Many cloud solutions are now available to make it relatively easy (and relatively cheap) to implement, maintain, and use robust analytics solutions. So much so that even small firms can use analytics for their business, which was historically not the case. That will continue in the future.
We see firms looking for practical ways to implement AI solutions and take advantage of its capabilities. AI doesn't always have to be big, complex, and expensive (It's not SkyNet, The Matrix, or Robopocalypse), but a way to bring Machine Learning and automation to help in real world, and what might seem like boring, low key, ways). RPA solutions for document management and repetitive HR or operational tasks, a bot on your website that automatically responds to inquires to form fills as an actual human would and even sounds like one, automating HR onboarding. Small examples and there are countless others where AI can help.
Some of the solutions are very reasonable in scope and price—AI in a box, if you will—so firms all of sizes can use them, and you don't need a team of data scientists to figure it out. That's also where a good partner can help—shameless plug for what we do here at Converge.
AI continues to be exciting, relevant, and valuable and will continue to grow, which is exciting to see. It took a significant upturn in 2021 that will continue to as firms release new solutions that make it easy to get started.
The last significant trend I wanted to chat about is data protection. I know, not sexy and as high profile as AI, but perhaps even more critical. A firm's data is its crown jewel and must be protected. That is nothing new, something we've all known for years. During 2020 and especially in 2021, we've seen firms ramp up their data protection efforts in earnest.
Why is that? First, I think the past two years reminded firms of the importance of their data and its value. Second, many new solutions are available to make data protection easy to implement and straightforward to use, especially with many firms offering As-a-Service, cloud-based options. Gone are the days of giant siloed backup systems and software (though at times there is still a place for them) that take dedicated people to administer. These newer solutions are automated and much easier to use. It makes data protection much more effortless.
So that's my review of 2021. I find it fascinating each year to reflect on what I've seen and taken note of for the year. As I mentioned upfront, these views are entirely my own and not my company's, but many of the things I've discussed have been significant and affected Converge as well. What a past year it's been. Amid the challenges that society has seen, I like to think that IT is a bright spot, at least in the business world.
I look forward to and am excited to see how 2022 unfolds, as I believe it will be another great year. What's your take on 2021? Let me know and firstname.lastname@example.org. As I always end my year-end reviews, I wish you IT and overall success for 2022. I'm pulling for us all.