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What the next big technology refresh will look like

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As you know, in 2020, the tech industry experienced an unimaginable rush on product. With Covid suddenly forcing populations around the world into their homes, businesses quickly realised they needed to make sure staff were properly set up.

In the scramble for laptops, phones, printers, modems and more, it became obvious there wasn’t enough to go around. When global shortages couldn’t meet people’s first or even third preferences for new devices, they had to make do with what was available – businesses would have to maintain operations without necessarily providing staff with the product best suited to their needs.

It goes without saying that this isn’t usually how technology refreshes happen. There simply wasn’t time for businesses to carefully plan, budget and execute.

As a result, more than two years on, some people have learned to work differently. Using the equipment they were able to find, they have adapted – and in some cases muddled through –while the world changed.

Now, as we approach the third anniversary of this Covid-induced technology refresh, I’m asking myself: what will the next one look like?

Global supply chain issues will continue

There is no avoiding the simple fact that all technology companies are facing: the global chip shortage. Demand simply outstrips supply. Even with new factories planned, the lag will likely continue for some time.

This will have an impact on availability and price across the board, which will of course affect how businesses can refresh their technology and when. However, even as this shortage eases, there will be many factors to consider.

Not all businesses will refresh at once

The beginning of the pandemic was exceptional because it affected every business simultaneously. Within weeks, companies and people around the world found themselves in a spontaneous, unplanned technology refresh, scrambling to find what they needed to survive the disruption.

It is unlikely we will see a refresh of this scale again. For one, what happens next will be budget driven, depending in part on how companies have fared throughout the pandemic. There is a big divide between those that have done well and those that are barely operational.

We are likely to see those at the lower end try to extend the life of their existing devices. Rather than refreshing them after three years, they may look to push their use to four years if they can. There has been a lot of debate around the point of “sweating the assets” in this way – anytime businesses rely on using infrastructure beyond its natural life, the value exchange is diminished. If we do see this happening, it will be out of necessity only.

What businesses need from their tech has changed

Everybody is mobile now. There can’t be a desktop market anymore – it’s just not possible. But the first post-pandemic technology refresh won’t just be about buying everyone a mobile device.

Dynabook products are evolving to reflect this balance. We have, for example, created the Portégé X40L – our lightest and most powerful 14” laptop to date, with a focus on security, extended battery life and maximum usability. It’s flexible enough to meet the needs of many types of workers.

Why? Because for a device to be useful, it doesn’t necessarily need to be the best at everything. Having the fastest processor or biggest hard drive isn’t universally necessary; for some people, their priority is the quality of the camera or microphone, or a smaller drive that can be accessed more quickly.

A great deal of workers will be hybrid, that much is true. They will spend their time between a home office and another location, and their equipment will need to evolve to meet that need. What will be important for businesses is to source devices that offer the right portability without compromising on having the power to get the work done. As the refresh rolls out, we will see businesses looking for products that have this dual focus on performance and flexibility, without forcing staff to compromise on what can be achieved for the sake of being able to take the device on their commute.

People-centric workplaces will shift the dial again

During the pandemic, employees have had unprecedented focus on their own working styles. Before now, the vast majority of people went to work in an office and used the workplace’s tools to complete their tasks. These devices were almost passive – secondary to the work, and a means to an end.

Through WFH and hybrid working, people have had an opportunity to discover what works best for them … and, in many cases, it’s not completely aligned with what they were doing before. It might also mean they have discovered that whatever they were able to buy at the beginning of the pandemic is simply not what they have learned they need now.

The way many people think about work has also changed during the pandemic. Where, in the past, they may have had a clear-cut 9-to-5 role – including the workstation that remained at the office when they left for the day – we’re now seeing a more flexible approach. There are multiple priorities to balance. Many people have a renewed focus on “what’s important in life” – and work-life balance is right up there.

Device mobility – being able to take it from one place to the next – may seem an obvious need, but is it true for every person? It seems clear that it will be important for people to have portable tools they can use at home for part of the week, then take into the office the rest of the week, or to work at a café or at a hot desk, or whatever hybrid working looks like for them.

But there will be another group of people who don’t need portable devices. While many businesses will see the return of people to the office, even as part of a hybrid arrangement, others will have staff who work from home 100% of the time, at the same desk every day in their homes. For those people, although their working environment has changed, portability is not a priority. They want a device that’s reliable and performs to the specifications they need.

As a result, the technology itself is no longer driving what can be achieved. In this refresh, we will see people pushing for devices based on their new and heightened understanding of what they need to be able to do.

Decentralised technology will require a different approach

With disparate workforces operating from many locations, on-site IT departments will continue to evolve. It is no longer the norm to take a malfunctioning device downstairs to be serviced by an internal team.

Of course, we are also using more decentralised tools than ever. Everything from our word processors to our CRMs and even manufacturing machinery is cloud-based and/or internet connected.

This poses as interesting challenge for businesses that need to support whichever devices they end up buying. I suspect many will opt for limited CYOD; giving employees a shortlist of possible options means staff have enough flexibility to choose one device over another according to their needs but doesn’t require IT to have expertise in every possible product. We are likely to see businesses rolling out different levels of options from one manufacturer. For example, our range of laptops offers a diversity of performance and portability without further complicating support requirements with different operating systems or unknown parts.

The vast nature of technology refresh is also changing

In this new future made uncertain by Covid, we will see a change in the technology refresh itself – and that this is already happening.

Financial pressure, limited availability and a business need to remain nimble may push the refresh into one of continuous renewal, rather than a business-wide event. New insight from employees around their wants and needs will force businesses to consider a more personalised approach to procurement, even outsourcing it.

One thing is for certain: whichever way businesses choose to approach the next technology refresh; we will once again be reminded that workplaces will never be quite the same again.

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