While the disruptions caused by COVID-19 have seen cloud specialist Umbrellar pick up the pace on a new company-wide working model, the organisation’s broader strategies and focus on keeping the customer at the centre of its efforts remain unchanged.
Since its origins in the mid-1990s as an internet domain management and web hosting-focused business, Umbrellar has grown to include virtualised infrastructure hosting and managed services, ultimately becoming a dominant cloud player in the local landscape — a factor that probably positions it well in the current climate.
This is perhaps one reason why the key aspect of the company’s business that changed most dramatically during the worst of the disruptions caused by COVID-19 was not about its product or service offering, but rather around its day-to-day working model.
“Our teams pivoted literally overnight to working from home,” Umbrellar CEO Michael Foley told Reseller News. “And with the practical protocols we put in place, the increases in productivity, engagement, communication and collaboration we saw were so compelling we have not brought our people ‘back to the office’”.
According to Foley, the swift move to a work from home scenario actually represented an acceleration of a pre-pandemic discovery process the company had been going through, using the four-day work week as a target model.
However, rather than land at a four-day week situation, the company has found itself with a full flexible work model that, according to Foley, achieves the same goals, perhaps even better outcomes, in terms of the happiness of the company’s people and their families.
“Which of course means they are significantly more effective at work,” Foley said.
Staying the course
While Umbrellar’s internal working model may have changed dramatically, some things have remained unapologetically the same, with the company largely sticking to its pre-pandemic strategies and approaches to doing business, although new business realities are driving new areas of opportunity.
“We are staying the course on our pre-COVID-19 strategies of simplifying our online provisioning systems and their associated purchase journeys,” Foley said. “[Making] it easier for businesses big and small to find and deploy capabilities that enable them to adopt increasingly online and contactless business models that are elevated in everyone’s consciousness and everyday behaviour through the experiences of the global pandemic."
The company’s cloud business specifically is similarly staying true to the course laid out by its existing strategies and approaches, a factor which, in Foley’s words, revolves around a “mission to make digital enablers and the best of NZ specialist expertise visible, available and accessible to NZ businesses”.
The company is working towards this goal through two key strategies: the Umbrellar Partner Ecosystem; and the recently launched Umbrellar Connect, a NZ-focused multimedia hub for NZ businesses.
In terms of Umbrellar’s technology strategy, the company remains committed to a blend of NZ-hosted enterprise grade virtualised infrastructure managed services, and an increasing focus on leveraging the power of the Microsoft cloud.
“These technology pillars serve both our customers’ and our internal needs,” Foley said. “We adopt a buy [versus] build strategy for our business systems, favouring enterprise-grade SaaS [software-as-a-service] platforms in preference to building our own, although we operate a top notch DevOps team that has developed and continues to evolve our cloud and online commerce platforms and customer portals,” Foley said.
With Umbrellar broadly sticking to its guns on what it does and how it does it, despite operating in a somewhat disrupted market, it comes as little surprise that Foley reckons the elements that make for a successful technology services provider remain largely unchanged from pre-COVID times.
“In truth we don’t think the key attributes of successful tech service providers have changed at all through the pandemic,” Foley said. “In our view, putting the customer at the centre, and empowering them with the best technology and expertise to succeed and thrive in their own industry sectors and contexts has always been what it’s about.
“This belief is what has driven our significant investment in building the Umbrellar Group business,” Foley said.
The makings of a post-pandemic future
While customers are set to remain unwaveringly at the centre of Umbrellar’s approach to business as it emerges from the COVID-19 disruptions, those customers may well waver somewhat as they undergo a period of uncertainty in the coming months.
“We expect to see NZ businesses maintain a cautious stance over the next six to nine months as the global COVID-19 situation plays out and the consequent shape and nature of the recession becomes clearer,” Foley said.
“We also expect to see many more NZ small businesses in particular struggle when the government’s wage subsidy (which Umbrellar Group did not have to take advantage of) comes off.
“That said, we’re seeing a counter-balancing factor with business awareness of the value of online and cloud technologies rising materially. Whilst this sentiment will take some time to gestate we’re expecting FY22 to be a very busy time,” he added.
Indeed, given its areas of specialisation, Umbrellar seems supremely well positioned to take advantage of the surging demand in cloud infrastructure and cloud-based solutions that has resulted from the disruptions thrown up by the pandemic.
Moreover, the work from home pivot is not only something happening internally at Umbrellar, it is happening across the board, with customers and other businesses demanding solutions to make the shift possible, now and into the future.
For Foley, this represents a huge area of opportunity, with the acceleration of the evolution of work “from somewhere we go to something we do”, occurring throughout many industries.
“The evidence from our own Umbrellar Group context is that the benefits to our people and their own networks are immediate and sustainable,” Foley said. “If our example is typical, then there’ll be a general raising of the bar in terms of understanding what productivity means in all its forms, and importantly that being productive does not just mean working harder and longer.”
In service of new modes of working is the area of security technologies, another area of great and growing opportunities, according to Foley.
From Foley’s perspective, security is being fuelled by the realisation that businesses will increasingly be fundamentally reliant on the internet with borders being closed and end-customers pivoting more to online, contactless business models off the back of the heightened awareness of social distancing as a core tactic for limiting spread.
“This is exacerbated by the growing sophistication of the perpetrators of cybercrime and those that would seek to inappropriately influence the functioning of democracies around the globe,” Foley said.
“The adoption of public cloud which was already on the rise, is set to accelerate with more and more proof statements that threat protection/prevention technologies are strongest in the hyperscale domain,” he added.
Foley points out that, at the same time, hyperscale cloud is fast “democratising” a broad array of technology enablers, which “smart people” with specific contexts are applying to address real world problems and opportunities across societal, environmental and economic spheres.
“The adoption curve is steepening more rapidly as businesses look to reset, rather than recovery, strategies,” Foley said.
Another often underplayed area of importance and opportunity in the local tech sector as businesses emerge from COVID-19 disruptions is the ability to create and leverage ecosystems in business, from Foley’s perspective.
“Ultimately we will all rely on one another to drive a vibrant NZ Inc through the global pandemic situation,” he said.
The opportunities are there, according to Foley, now tech providers just have to work out the answer to one final challenging question: figuring out their own context in a global and local market that is characterised by uncertainty.
“The fall-out from the COVID-19 health crisis is (not ‘will be’) felt as a recession and the big question is, what shape is that recession? There will be winners and losers and there’s no silver bullet strategy,” he said.
Reseller News Advance is a centralised editorial resource designed to help partners access forward-looking content as the New Zealand market attempts to reposition for growth.