In this digital rich world, it’s hard to believe that the majority of Canadian households – with at least one child under 18 – only have one Internet-enabled device available to them. Compounding the problem further is that 13.5 percent of this group relies on a mobile device for their Internet, according to Statistics Canada.
This shortage is creating a digital divide in Canada. If the IT industry does not act soon, it could lead to many young Canadians falling behind other countries and negatively impact digital transformation.
Lenovo Canada’s Executive Director and GM, Colin McIsaac has been running the subsidiary for the past seven years and in that time has successfully introduced many innovative products from the Yoga, the Tiny, the Twist, the X1 Carbon, and state-of-the-art workstations for the oil and gas sector that are also used to design cars for Austin Martin.
But despite the business achievements, conquering the digital divide in Canada has turned into a passion project for McIsaac. During an interview for the Jolera Interview Series program, McIsaac said the digital divide, specifically in the education sector, worries him because a lack of access to current technology can severely impact the quality of education a student receives. “This is sobering, and you compound that with the COVID-19 pandemic, and there’s a byproduct with schools not getting back to classrooms or staggering that experience and asking people to engage from home without a device or broadband or they are not comfortable with the environment, and this creates a much bigger gap between those that have and have not,” he said.
In comparison, McIsaac has more than 100 devices connected to the Internet in his home, and certainly, the narrative believed by most is that Canada is a totally connected community. But McIsaac believes there is a much more significant gap in Canada, and one of the pitfalls of the digital divide is the loss of potential.
“If someone is not able to learn properly, you can create a much bigger gap among the classes. Secondarily, we may miss out on some of the best ideas this generation has to offer because they don’t have access to technology. This is something we have to address, and, in my mind, it can’t happen fast enough,” McIsaac said.
SMARTER TECHNOLOGY FOR ALL
Lenovo operates with a guiding philosophy of “Smarter Technology for All”, and this viewpoint works to ensure that everyone can take advantage of technology. Under McIsaac’s leadership, Lenovo Canada is trying to provide a standardized technology experience for classrooms across Canada and in the home. Lenovo has already contributed more than $5 million in donations for Quebec’s back-to-school initiative, a co-sponsored plan with Best Buy to support the Boys and Girls Club of Canada. Most recently, the company made a significant Chromebooks donation to the Government of Alberta’s school initiative.
More needs to be done, according to McIsaac, from the government and the business community to address the digital divide in low-income areas of Canada since they have the highest percentage of mobile-only device usage.
“Technology has an impact on business, and you can draw parallels on the impact it has on consumers in their daily lives. If they do not have the opportunity to embrace technology’s competitive advantage, they will fall behind, and the longer they are unable to leverage technology, the worse it becomes. There are two ends of the spectrum here with people at one end engaging technology to their great benefit and learning experience and the other end, where people are not,” he added.
Watch the Jolera Interview Series featuring Lenovo Canada’s Colin McIsaac to learn more about how Lenovo deals with the digital divide along with its innovation strategy and how the company is embracing the as-a-service market.
Transforming a business at any stage is tremendously challenging and faced with the COVID-19 lockdown Toronto-based My Blue Umbrella (MBU) used this time as an opportunity to not only implement several business continuity measures but also push a new digital transformation plan that will support and empower its customers for the future.
Company founder and CEO Michael Contento did admit that this plan was “aggressive” but added that quick action was necessary because of the unique circumstances regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
This new transformation plan was part of an overall umbrella strategy Contento called Triple S dot T (Survive, Stabilize, Strive, and Transform). This effort involved enabling MBU customers with new cloud-based infrastructure that supports collaborative business automations.
The major part of Contento’s transformation strategy had its own branding: WORKanyPLACE. This cloud-based solution features several artificial intelligence tools resulting in cost and time savings for the customer while significantly improving teamwork and collaboration. WORKanyPLACE is a home-grown offering from MBU that is essentially an Oﬃce-in-a-Cloud, backed by the company’s technical support resources.
More importantly, WORKanyPLACE delivers business outcomes, such as:
Access to ﬁles anywhere
The ability to create calendar invites on the fly that sync seamlessly with videoconferencing apps.
Sharing data becomes a frictionless experience with WORKanyPLACE since its available inside and outside the organization.
Finally, vital data is secure, and automatically backed up, while allowing users access at a moment’s notice.
To get to the transform stage, the team at MBU moved quickly through each stage of the Triple S dot T plan.
When the news broke that a lockdown was coming because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Contento’s only thought was: “How do I survive this?”
Stuck out of the country, Contento understood he needed to act fast. On his way back home, Contento – who has been running MBU for more than 25 years – began to analyze what the pandemic was doing to banks, governments and other entities and realized the exceptional situation he was now saddled with needed a unique solution.
In this short amount of time, Contento developed the “Triple S dot T” plan.
Launching the Triple S dot T plan required a quick but thorough review of available programs and funding.
“I was in Florida. It was March 20th, and my first instinct was to get into survival mode, and I began to talk to the bank for help; get my credit line extended, so MBU had a buffer. That got us some breathing room to build this kind of road map,” Contento said.
Then other issues need to be resolved, such as the best way to support the MBU staff, while setting up new security measures.
To stabilize MBU, Contento and his team enacted a work-from-home program, and the company launched its Business Continuity Program (BCP). MBU staff were equipped with access to data via VPN plus the necessary computer equipment and other tools to operate safely and productively.The company then added extra layers of security to ensure hackers would be blocked from stealing data.
Putting this in place enabled MBU to stabilize is operation. From there, Contento shifted to the Strive portion of the plan.
In Strive mode, the MBU team were empowered to go to a new level of performance in the face of the COVID-19 lockdown. Contento’s message was to not allow COVID-19 to prevent them from doing regular business duties. He asked his team to contact customers to find out if there was anything they can do to help immediately.
This stage saw the MBU team craft new product solutions and support methods for clients. One of the savvier moves MBU made was to resource computer equipment from Rent-to-Own operations.
“The key thing here is to train the staff to communicate in phases and talk in a way to learn how to assess customer needs quickly, provide support and understand the initial need because some may by thinking of how they make payments, while others are thinking about security,” he said.
Lessons learned from the crisis
The perception of MBU during this time of crisis was also very important to Contento.
“We did not want clients to think we were calling to grow our business; we wanted to stay relevant to them. Not sell something extra, but to service them by offering extended financing, cutting costs, help them migrate from on-premise to the cloud and if we had to take a hit and not get billed for 120 days, we would.”
COVID-19 has brought out the best in a lot of Canadians, according to Contento. He has been impressed by how Canadians have dedicated themselves to protecting their neighbour, collaborating with each other, and supporting each other.
“COVID-19 came in as a big negative, but it has pushed true camaraderie…and we need that now. Sometimes our patriotism is questioned in Canada, and I think with COVID-19 it has elevated it a bit.”
Another change caused by COVID-19 has been the reality check to business leaders.
“Business can be quite simple. There is revenue and cost and the difference could be making you a profit or putting you in trouble. What COVID-19 has done is take the complexity out of business. Business leaders are running at 100-miles an hour, and COVID-19 has come in, and it has stopped giants in this industry and forced everyone to do the math really quickly. We are now month-to-month, and it has made people dumb down their math to see if their business expenses make sense and look at how healthy the profit is. Is the revenue sustainable down the road, or do I need to recalibrate it? This has forced everyone to go back to basics,” he added.
As crises go, COVID-19 draws a fine line between personal and business, and it has made decision making much harder for Contento.
“The decisions I make during this crisis have tripled in terms of impact because families are dealing not just with their finances but their health with this virus. It’s not just about the financials, but life and death and in a roundabout way, leaders have been forced to look at not just the math, which is what we would normally do, but the health perspective too”.
John Dathan, the senior vice president and general manager of Insight Canada, admitted that as the COVID-19 outbreak was occurring in China, he didn’t fathom at the time it would lead to a global lockdown and the rise of the remote worker. But as he and his team began to deal with this unique challenge, Dathan switched gears in their approach to the marketplace.
Dathan has been involved in the IT industry for over three decades, most recently as the vice president and general manager for Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Canada. He used this invaluable experience to guide his team at Insight Canada to serve customers as opposed to selling to them. Dathan got to work quickly to build a communication and marketing plan that would embrace Serve over Sell.
“Leaders have to be calm and collected to deliver the right intent. In my message to the team, I talked about Insight values of hunger, heart, harmony and of how. The operation has not changed, but we needed to go back to simple values. If you have that in place, people will make the right decisions. ‘Serve not Sell’ then becomes another layer to your value system,” he said. And, that is precisely what the Insight Canada team has done.
Recently, the Insight Canada team deployed an app for all teammates that remotely connects them to nurses and doctors. It has already paid some key dividends as the app was able to connect concerned parents of a newborn who was suddenly feeling sick to consult with the right doctor and nurse via open video chat. They were able to resolve the issue instead of risking the child going to the Emergency Room. The nurse then followed up with the parents the next day. This app provided peace of mind to the parents of this child, Dathan said.
The COVID-19 lockdown has led to many things, Dathan added. For one, he has spent more time in one place then he is ever had in his 30-year career. His desire to help the business community has gone to a new level, and he believes that the only way for the economy to rebound from this massive hit is by working together.
“To me, it’s interesting when people start to talk about ‘back to normal,’ and you need to put air-quotes when you say that. This is the new normal. Or it is going to become the new normal. People have been working from home for about 60 to 70 days now. The way video (conferencing) has played a role is fascinating. You can undoubtedly work wherever you are. The adoption of video in the last couple of months is the new norm. It has become truly collaborative with team huddles, social events and the ability to connect with people on a regular basis,” he said. He anticipates that traditional work hours of 9 to 5 or 8 to 4 will make way to a single stream of activity. “It’s going to be hard for someone to say ‘its 5 P.M.; I’m done for the day.'” On the flip say it will also be OK to inform co-workers and whomever you report to that you will not be available between 10 A.M. to 2 P.M., for example. Dathan believes there will be trust between staff and management and that companies will empower people to embrace this new working philosophy. “People are going to become comfortable with this, and there will be no more need to apologize because you have to take your kid to a pre-school ceremony,” Dathan added.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for Dathan, but he would not say it the biggest challenge he has faced during his career. That would be the decline of Nortel. “I found that to be personally harder. In many ways, this feels to be a positive (from an Insight Canada perspective as no one has contracted the virus in Canada.) This has been more of a rally with the team to work together to deal with issues and solve problems. To serve our clients while protecting our teammates. I would describe this as more complex, but not as more difficult.”
If you think the current COVID-19 pandemic is a dire one for business and society, then you should walk a mile in Rola Dagher’s shoes. Dagher, the President of Cisco Canada, grew up in Lebanon and routinely dealt with life in a bomb shelter because of the 15-year civil war in that country.
Her perceptions of the current state of business under COVID-19 is that technology has never played a more critical role as the Internet and networks are keeping people connected, productive and secure. Technology has turned what could have been a dire situation into a watershed moment in how we work and what this means for Canadians.
“There is a silver lining here. While the world has paused, we can work from home, and we are truly blessed to have what we have. At Cisco, we were lucky enough to have the technology in place for remote work, which made our transition to remote work pretty seamless. It allowed us to focus on helping our employees, customers, partners and communities,” said Dagher. “We’re donating networking equipment to help hospitals, senior’s homes and other organizations in need manage through the pandemic. We also have free offers on our WebEx and Cisco security products to help business continuity.”
Next month will mark Dagher’s third year at the helm of Cisco Canada. And, while she has orchestrated many successful moves under her direction, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a unique challenge.
And Cisco has tried to meet this challenge head-on by donating more than $225 million in products and services worldwide. This corporate-led endeavour also includes a significant cash outlay on top of the products and services. Additionally, Cisco has encouraged all of its employees to give back to their local communities through Cisco’s matching contribution program or by virtually volunteering their time with Cisco’s community partners.
In Canada, Cisco has provided extended financing options for partners, provided a regular “Ask The Experts” webinars and offered flexible payment terms for small and commercial businesses. They also are ensuring Cisco Canada’s field personnel are protected at all times for any onsite work in cases where they are unable to do the service remotely.
Dagher points to Cisco’s leadership in remote work technology on its WebEx platform to enable people to not just work from home, but any other place too.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, WebEx handled 4.2 million meetings just one day alone. This is more than twice the average on a peak day before the pandemic. Cisco also hosted more than 20 billion meeting minutes in April. That’s up from March’s 14 billion minutes, which was also more than double the number from February. Dagher added that this does not include the many one-on-one WebEx sessions, just group meetings. In March, WebEx registered a record 324 million attendees, with usage more than doubling in the Americas. For comparison, WebEx meetings had 153 million attendees worldwide in January. “We believe at Cisco that work is something you do, not a place you go,” she said.
For Dagher, she wants to put some of her focus on the mental health aspect of COVID-19. “COVID-19 is a big, if not huge, wake up call for every single organization. This is a crisis, and it’s going to be about how you respond and recover,” she said. Her advice to customers and partners in Canada is to ensure employees are all safe, prioritizing their health, and that doesn’t just mean physically but mentally as well. From there, think about the technology solutions required to keep everyone connected safely and securely. “I also urge people to be patient and empathize because sometimes the technology will have glitches here and there. People can get frustrated, and they need to take a deep breath and support them,” she added. “This is the new norm. What we have been doing since mid-March will continue long after. This is a reality check for leaders in all organizations on the way we work today,” she said.
Dagher added that there will be a lot of thought put into if it’s worth a person’s time to commute to work each and every day. Or if operations can be run remotely and what would be the cost/benefit scenarios of a remote business model. Leaders will take a hard look at real estate costs, especially if they are situated in downtown areas of the country. And, finally, leaders will start to measure productivity levels for people who work at home.
“In times of crisis, I believe it brings out the best in humanity. I’ve always led with my heart, my mind and my soul. Today more than ever, we need to rise to the challenge of a lifetime. I lived a difficult life in the beginning, and it toughened me to be the servant leader I am today. I try to empower and inspire people and give them a strong sense of purpose. I encourage people to take care of their mental health. We all need our people to be strong and safe, especially in these types of situations,” said Dagher.
Phil Palmieri, the President of MicroAge Canada, has been involved in the IT industry since 1984. If you think back to 1984, the IT industry saw for the first-time flash memory, a chip that could store 1MB and, of course, the introduction of the Apple Macintosh computer. So, you can say Palmieri has seen a lot during his career in IT. But nothing can compare to what the IT marketplace is going through right now with COVID-19.
According to Palmieri, this is the most challenging time the industry has ever faced. MicroAge Canada, with some forethought in its business continuity planning program, is weathering the COVID-19 disruption well. The vast majority of his staff is working remotely except for a small crew in its Laval, Que., headquarters, which includes Palmieri.
“There are a couple of ways to look at this situation: you can hide under your desk and wait for it to pass or be proactive and look for opportunities and ways to help customers remotely,” he said.
MicroAge Canada chose to do the later and took an active approach in communicating with all their clients to see how they could keep them operational. While MicroAge Canada vigilantly worked to keep its clients going, the company was inundated with inquiries from customers and prospects on issues of security and remote access.
“Call volumes increased five times over normal, and some people were even panicking,” he said.
Palmieri’s team dealt with requests such as how to work remotely, how to work from home securely, how to get the most out of Office 365, how to use Teams for better collaboration and video calls, mobile device management, and back up and data recovery.
If there is any benefit that will come out of this historical time, it’s the value of managed services and IT solution providers. “Our value, as managed services providers, just went up as people start to realize how important we are to the business. Before, you would get the thought that IT was just another department. Not anymore. IT is what makes business roll, and I’m proud of the systems, solutions and processes we deliver. IT is no longer a requirement but a necessity. Without it, a business doesn’t work well,” Palmieri said.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, Palmieri and his team have received numerous messages and calls of thanks and appreciation from customers
Palmieri’s challenges go well beyond just dealing with customers. MicroAge Canada is a network of more than 35 independently owned and operated solution providers across Canada. So, Palmieri just doesn’t have to worry about the Laval operation but all of the other locations as well.
During this time, Palmieri has brought in weekly touchpoints with each location and their field teams. “The network is fine, and I’m very proud of all these people. They have been around a long time, and this group has invested in their businesses, and they know how to sustain themselves during tough times.”
Palmieri believes there is a good lesson to learn from all this. He hopes that after society gets a handle on the COVID-19 pandemic and everything gets back to a newer normal, everyone will see the value in IT providers and not take them for granted. “This community is not a nice to have; it’s an essential service and a must for business.”
You can learn more about MicroAge Canada on their website MicroAge.ca