COVID-19 Clouds More than Christmas Plans
Today is Christmas day. In normal years, you would be bundling up to go to visit family and friends or preparing to host them.
2020 is not a normal year.
In 2020, Christmas’ good cheer is not immune to the realities of a global pandemic. While with a vaccine on the way, there is some hope that a return to normal is on the horizon, it doesn’t take the chill out of knowing that 2020’s trials and tribulations continue. Today, we thought that we would look back on 2020’s small business IT trends and try to forecast how they will affect small businesses in 2021.
2020 in Review
2020 started out like many other years, with optimism and hope. A couple of months in, everything changed. For the small business owner, the situation tested every inch of their entrepreneurial mettle, and for some, there was nothing they could do. In many places, state officials shut down retail and hospitality businesses completely, choosing to only keep businesses that were deemed essential open and running with strict guidelines on occupancy and distancing.
Non-essential businesses, such as many offices, were given no choice but to allow their employees to work remotely, a strategy they had been trying to avoid for many years. Since many of these businesses weren’t set up for remote operations, the suddenness of the stay-at-home mandates almost immediately created opportunities for many cybercriminals. Hackers always thrive during periods of fear and most of 2020 was no different. Unfortunately, the pandemic resulted in some of the highest spikes in successful cybercrime for several years.
As the pandemic gained steam, the financial outlook for many businesses became more than concerning, they became dire. Most businesses make a point to reinvest profits back into the business and therefore don’t usually have the liquidity to handle major events like a global pandemic. You began to see many businesses expanding their business continuity platform to include pandemics, a consideration many did not make beforehand.
Many businesses, especially when it was evident that this was not going to be a short-term problem, began to look to technology to bridge the gaps that were caused when their workforce was dispersed. Cloud computing, specifically software-as-a-service (SaaS) has become more and more popular in 2020 as it allows businesses to lock down their computing costs by purchasing the computing they need and avoid the variable costs that typically come with on-premise hardware and software deployments.
Other technologies that have made 2020 possible include: video and audio conferencing, remote access, distance learning, telehealth, ecommerce, and contactless payment options. While most businesses, healthcare providers, and schools had begun playing around with the implementation of some of these options, the realities of 2020 made it essential that these platforms evolved, and besides a few early missteps, and a coordinated effort from scammers and cybercriminals to use this technology as a means to an end, they did.
What to Expect for 2021
We have a week left of 2020, and many people are going to be pleased as punch to see it go, but COVID-19 is still causing a lot of pain (and worse) for people and while officials expect vaccines to inoculate hundreds of thousands of people in the first few months, literally hundreds of millions of people remain at risk. This is going to take some time, so people are reminded to distance themselves at least six feet from others, wear a face covering, and wash their hands with soap and hot water for 20 seconds. You know the drill. With everything we know now, people should be able to navigate the next few months until they are able to get a free vaccination.
As far as the social aspects of the pandemic and how they will continue to affect businesses, many companies are going to feel the sting from the pandemic for a while. For all the problems of 2020, many small businesses that make it through the pandemic will be more adept at operating their companies in the digital space. This is a major benefit that many businesses had actively fought against because of the risk and uncertainty of it. Now, as they embrace the positives and accept the negatives, you will begin to see more opportunities open up in 2021.
One of the hardest hit parts of the economy, the gig workers, will likely see a major rebound in 2021 as over a quarter of businesses expect to expand their digital presence. It also stands to reason, with many people losing their jobs in 2020, that they will turn to gig work to try to make ends meet. This may drive prices down, but demand will never be higher as most businesses will be looking to forge full-steam ahead after the pandemic.
The continued application of artificial intelligence will accelerate operations by bringing rule-based and machine learning automation to every level of business. Since businesses will be looking to expand online, AI will be a big part of many tools needed to regulate costs and mitigate inefficient human error. With today’s AI, companies will be able to gain better perspectives of their business, their customers, and identify opportunities quicker. It can also help fuel customer support and work to identify inefficiencies in your business.
Finally, with the move to digital, you are going to see companies heavily invested in cybersecurity. Some platforms will include AI-based tools, but regardless of what technology is being used, the increase of remote work and reliance on digital will necessitate companies to take a long look at their cybersecurity policies, procedures, and platforms. It’s no secret that a major data breach is a complete nightmare for any-sized company and can mean riddance for a small business. Making sound decisions about your business’ cyberhealth is going to have to be a major priority for every business that works in the digital space.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
As 2020 winds down and we celebrate in our own ways this holiday season, we should reflect on the millions of people out there who may be struggling or who have lost loved ones to the coronavirus. At Directive, we’d like to thank all of our clients, their families, and our dedicated readers for their trust. We hope that 2021 brings you and yours happiness and prosperity. If you would like to schedule some time to talk about what your business is going to do to improve in 2021, give our consultants a call at 607.433.2200 today.