- Dave Raffo, The Futurum Group
We'll never see a year like 2020 again. Let's hope not, anyway.
We're barely halfway through the year, but it's been chock-full with once-in-a-lifetime or even once-in-a-generation events. We've experienced a pandemic, a major recession, street protests and the occasional riot in major cities around the world.
We've seen major sports seasons interrupted or delayed, only to resume without fans in the stands. Unemployment has spiked to levels of the Great Depression. The U.S. presidential election includes virtual conventions, social-distanced debates and uncertainty as to how ballots will be cast.
The world of technology has changed, too. Working at home is the norm, and we've seen cloud use spiking, buying patterns disrupted and face-to-face communication becoming rare.
Sports fans, economists and political junkies will probably never see another year like this, and they can't wait for life to get back to normal. But for the IT world, many changes will become the new normal.
Some modifications accelerated yearslong trends: a move to the cloud, smaller data center footprints, buying infrastructure as a utility or a service, and a greater emphasis on security and software. But the most sudden change is of a personal nature -- the way we interact. Besides prompting most meetings with co-workers to go virtual, the pandemic changed the way storage and other IT customers interact with vendors.
The IT world goes virtual
Call it software-defined sales, where Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack and streaming virtual events replace face-to-face on-site meetings and physical user conferences. Fast-tracked due to COVID-19, virtual interactions are the new norm and will only become more so in the coming years.
Gartner predicted that only 25% of work meetings will take place in person by 2024, down from 60% at the start of 2020.
"We do not see this shift as temporary. In fact, we see the future of work changing permanently," said Nutanix CEO Dheeraj Pandey.
Pandey said the hyper-converged infrastructure vendor experienced no drop-off in lead generation after the first few months of remote work and virtual communications with users due to the new coronavirus. Other storage vendor executives agreed. While business may have suffered because of economic conditions, there has been no lack of interaction internally or between sellers and customers.
"I am remote, yet more connected than ever with a deeper sense of unity," Dell Technologies COO Jeff Clarke said during his company's first post-pandemic earnings call in May. "I'm not traveling, but I'm visiting with more customers, partners, suppliers and team members. And I'm busier than ever."
Pure Storage CEO Charlie Giancarlo said he talks to twice as many customers as he used to while working from home, and his sales team has been more productive.
"So, if anything, I expect that we're going to see sales in a B2B environment permanently take on more of a virtual digital technique," he said on Pure's May earnings call.
What is the future of IT user conferences?
We're still not sure what the future holds for in-person industry and vendor events. March and April were filled with decisions to shift vendor conferences to virtual shows. There was a spate of virtual conferences in May and June, while others moved to September and October. Going virtual deprives storage buyers of face-to-face meetings with peers and vendors, hands-on training and roadmap sessions.
Dheeraj PandeyCEO, Nutanix
However, more people can tune in without having to jump on an airplane and take time away from their day-to-day duties. Expect vendors to continue to tailor shows just as much to virtual attendees even as they ramp up conferences again in the real world.
Many found early virtual conferences had the feel of webinars more than events. Companies that have delayed their virtual shows until later in 2020 -- such as Dell and Nutanix -- have additional time to prepare and, hopefully, come up with more creative ideas.
"Overnight, we can make this a global event, instead of [a regional] event," Pandey said of the virtual .NEXT conference. "We can stream this to anywhere and everywhere. We're thinking real hard about being creative. Virtual doesn't mean copying what you did in the physical world."
Pandey said he didn't want to "spill the beans" about how creative Nutanix will get, but he gave some hints. He wants the show to have short, broadcast-quality sessions like Quibi or TikTok.
"It has to be engaging," he said. "You can stream it to people who don't want to fly to a physical event. You can get people [to watch] for five minutes, [so] it makes for a good break."
As for whether .NEXT and other conferences will go back to being physical events, Pandey said: "It's like public versus private cloud, onshoring versus offshoring. We know the pendulum has to come to rest in the middle."
The IT world pendulum will never swing back to the "old normal" of the pre-2020 world.