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When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, many employees grabbed their laptops and headed for what they initially thought might be a few weeks of working from home. 

After it became apparent that many of them would be working from home for months, there was a rush to buy webcams and microphones to improve video conference experiences that have now become a routine part of the working day.

Now many of those same employees are contemplating returning to office, but most likely not on a full-time basis. The trouble is that means in many cases lugging laptops complete with add-on webcams and microphones back and forth from home to the office. Regardless of where anyone is, the video conference has become a staple of the everyday working experience.

man working coffee shop laptop computer smartphone headphones

Work-from-everywhere market

Lenovo is betting end users will soon get tired of the back and forth. 

Instead, many employees will start lobbying for notebook upgrades that come with built-in microphones and cameras that eliminate the need to carry around a bunch of external peripherals. The latest additions to the Lenovo ThinkPad series, for example, include systems that have full high-definition web cameras, improved displays with low blue-light options, Dolby Vision and Dolby Audio Speaker Systems and, most importantly, built-in 5G wireless connectivity.

The PC manufacturer is especially keen on reaching out to so-called borne-of-the-cloud channel partners that focus mainly on software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications, said Rob Cato, vice president of the North America channel business for Lenovo.

Those partners are exercising a lot of influence over SaaS applications without paying much attention to the devices being employed to access them. There’s a significant opportunity for those partners to offer a more complete solution that includes the endpoints used to access applications from both home and in the office, Cato said. 

“Now it’s about work from everywhere,” Cato said.

Of course, Lenovo has thousands of partners that could just as easily head in the opposite direction. There is no reason a reseller of PCs couldn’t add SaaS applications to their portfolio. As channel partners evolve their portfolio, the days when cloud services and endpoints were sold in complete isolation from one another are coming to an end. Most end users now intuitively realize the quality of the cloud application experience is just as dependent on the device being employed as previous generations of on-premises applications.

PC sales up as cloud workforce grows

In fact, that’s one of the reasons PC sales were so robust in 2020. Fourth quarter PC shipments grew 26.1% year over year to 91.6 million units, International Data Corp. (IDC) reports. Overall, PC shipments grew 13.1% in 2020.

Similarly, Gartner reports worldwide PC shipments, excluding Chromebooks, totaled 275 million units in 2020, a 4.8% increase from 2019. That was the highest growth rate in 10 years. The fourth quarter alone accounted for 79.4 million units, a 10.7% increase from the same period a year ago. 

Both reports rank Lenovo as the category leaders, followed by HP, Dell Technologies and Apple. Gartner, however, notes spending on business PCs was again weaker in the fourth quarter, following a spike in the first half of 2020 that was driven by the need to enable workers to work from home. However, it’s difficult to know for certain these days what constitutes a business PC when so many so-called consumer-grade devices are busing used for both work and play, especially in the small-to-medium business market.

Regardless of which type of PC device is employed, more robust spending on PCs may not carry beyond 2021, so channel partners should focus on the opportunity while it lasts. The general expectation is the shift toward mobile computing devices that has been occurring for the past decade will regain momentum at the expense of PCs.

Change in the channel

In the meantime, change to one degree or another is always good for channel partners

The last year has seen a major shift in how end users access and consume software. Many of them are exerting more influence over endpoint criteria and selection than ever. Channel partners that once focused all their efforts on establishing relationships with IT leaders are finding it’s just as critical to establish connections with senior business leaders. In fact, what many of those business leaders prize most in an endpoint device is usually very different from what an IT team that tends to focus more on service and support issues. The truth is most end users don’t know what they want until they see and, in many cases, touch a device. 

The challenge channel partners now face as the entity that often winds up negotiating between two camps within an organization is to find a way to create demand for PCs with the highest margin, without unnecessarily antagonizing an IT organization that has to support it.

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