IT service providers and retailers are booming as companies scramble to set up staff to work from home. But Australia-wide shortages of supplies such as monitors, hard drives and laptops are hampering efforts and making computer hardware “like toilet paper”.
Mac Centre Norwood is experiencing a 30 per cent surge in business this month both in sales at its retail shop on The Parade and also in service calls to its business clients.
Director Dave Hefford said his retail shop had benefitted from the temporary closure of the Rundle Mall Apple Store in recent weeks coupled with an increase in demand for products such as laptops.
“The last year in retail has been pretty tough so we were in the process of trimming everything right back in terms of our casual workers but what’s happening now is the casual hours are increasing and we are trying to stagger our workers on separate shifts to keep them apart in case one of them falls ill,” he said.
“The boom in support has been about prepping businesses as much as possible in their office because that’s traditionally where we support them and putting the right tools on all their machines so when they pop up in their homes we can get to their machines easily and help them out – every home’s different and networks are different.
“I don’t know how quiet I’m going to go but I suspect we’ve had our spike – it’s in the third week now and it’s starting to wind up because if you’re a reasonable sized business and you haven’t even thought about working from home yet then you are in trouble already.”
Hefford said he had been working up to 18 hours on his busiest days setting up clients but had concerns with how the NBN system would cope with the extra traffic generated by so many people working from home.
He said industry colleagues working on in-house teams with larger companies had also been extremely busy.
“Some are really well prepared because they are already heavily cloud based.
“I know a guy with a couple of offsiders and they look after 180 engineers in a big firm and he pretty much got them up and running in a couple of days whereas I’ve heard of other companies and government departments where systems are struggling to cope with everyone going remote.
“I can definitely see speed issues at some houses in some suburbs so it’s definitely buckling under the load.”
Hefford said while the Apple supply chain was fairly “bullet proof” there was an Australia-wide shortage of screens, hard drives and generic PCs and laptops because of increased demand here and supply problems from China.
He said business had boomed in March but he was concerned about the coming months.
“I’ve got clients who have run around and bought 10 or 15 monitors in the past week when normally they would buy one screen per year and clients running down to Officeworks trying to buy 10 hard drives so 10 staff can go home with everything that’s on the server and that stuff has run out now.
“On the PC side of things there no real indication of when that supply chain is going to improve – it’s a bit like toilet paper at the moment.
“Retail is probably up 30 per cent this month for us and our billable support time would be up around 20-30 per cent as well. But what I’m worried about is May, June and the dead heart of winter when everyone is buckled in at home working and businesses go quiet and don’t not need support – then we might be 20 or 30 per cent down.”
Pulteney St business Livewire IT, which services about 30 Adelaide companies, is also experiencing a spike in business.
But managing director Simon Duffield does not share Hefford’s concerns that the boom could be short lived.
“I still think it’s going to be frantic for the next couple of weeks as some people weren’t really ahead of the game and there are still quite a few people working from offices,” he said.
“Now those people are getting really worried about it so we will stay busy but if they don’t have the correct computers at home then some of these people are going to be stuck.
“Once this whole thing is finished and everything starts getting better then we’ll have to undo all the work we’ve just done to get them set up because businesses won’t want staff to have access at home any more.”
Duffield said the lack of hardware was a major problem with some products not likely to be available for 8-12 weeks.
“It’s been absolutely flat out and we’re doing the best we possibly can but the biggest problem is getting enough stock for people – there is no stock of laptops, workstations and if there are any around they are extremely expensive,” he said.
“At the moment we’re setting up VPN access for our clients so they can work from home, making sure they’ve got antivirus software installed on their machines at home and setting up web conferencing so people can still conduct meetings and talk to staff face to face from home.
“Our services are up massively and the phone calls – last Friday (March 20), for example, everyone started panicking and we would have had 50 calls in the afternoon from clients and that’s unheard of.”
Hefford said he believed the COVID-19 pandemic would change the way businesses operated in the future.
“After this people are going to think a lot more about disaster action plans because a few businesses have been really caught out. Moving forward we’re probably going to get asked to do this as a standard part of a set up,” he said.
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OP: Indaily Australia