COVID-19 and the resulting national lockdown, has placed added strain on local firms in what was already going to be a tough year, with the economy sliding and a general air of uncertainty lingering. In times like these, organisations could be forgiven for putting elements like innovation on the back burner while the basics are taking care of.

According to Lenovo South Africa‘s pre-sales and product technologist, Julian Pienaar, however, that would be a mistake, and in these chaotic times, innovation will prove to be more important than ever.

We recently spoke to Pienaar to discuss why this is the case, what steps local firms should be taking to innovate, and what innovative products we can expect from Lenovo in the latter half of the year.

Still a priority

Before delving into the vital role that innovation plays in an organisation, Pienaar explains how Lenovo has gone about equipping its own employees locally with the necessary technology and solutions to continue working while the country copes with a viral outbreak and national lockdown.

“The first thing we did was ensure our employees had the correct tools for them to conduct business from their homes. This included all our employees, all the way down to our receptionists, who were given 3G cards in order to take care of connectivity. We also had our switchboard assigned to cellphone numbers, so we could still interact with customers if they called in,” says Pienaar.

Shifting to innovation, and when asked whether it should be a priority during a global pandemic and national lockdown, the Lenovo technologist is certainly in the affirmative.

“I definitely think it should be front of mind. Right now as people are confined to their homes, online conferencing tools are becoming more popular, and as a result, people will find new ways of communicating. There could be someone working at the moment on a tool that makes collaboration even easier,” he posits.

The need to adapt

“That’s why it is important to continue to make and design tools that help people on a day-to-day basis,” he adds.

Pienaar points to the recent example of Uber Eats as a way in which a company has looked at its existing offering, and found a way to innovate and remain relevant, with it working as an essential goods provider during the lockdown.

He also looks at the local banking sector as an excellent example of how innovation has taken root and turned that industry into one of the country’s leading areas.

“We need to adapt to the models that we’ve got. I think the banks were one of the first to do so. Banks are no longer facilitating financial transactions, they’re selling you smartphones and fibre, they’re becoming service providers. You can get products delivered to you through the bank’s reward programme,” he says.

“It’s a very different time, and businesses need to look at their product sets,” Pienaar stresses.

The new workplace

Looking at how successful organisations have been able to cope during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as other logistical hurdles that a national lockdown would present, Pienaar notes that the truly agile businesses are beginning to shine, as they have the capacity to adjust to drastically changing conditions that other organisations simply cannot.

“The business landscape today is far different to what it was five or 10 years ago, when employees were expected to be in the office. Your manager had to see you, and if you weren’t at the office, you were at a customer. The belief was that if you weren’t in the office, you weren’t working,” he recalls.

“Lenovo has had a work from home or agile working policy in place for a number of years now, and as a result, people are saying their productivity is a lot higher because there is no commute. The main thing is that it now forces us to rely on technology, and here in South Africa there are other unique challenges, such as connectivity and reliable power,” Pienaar points out.

On the horizon

Looking to the rest of 2020, and what may happen once we flatten the curve on COVID-19 and begin to return to a state of normalcy, Pienaar enthuses about some of the innovative hardware that Lenovo has on the way.

For the Chinese firm that means foldable devices, and while South Africans cannot get their hands on the the Motorola razr locally for example, there is the prospect of foldable notebooks and high-powered computing to look forward to.

To that end, the technologist highlights the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold and ThinkBook Plus devices expected to arrive in the country later this year.

“The ThinkPad X1 Fold grabbed the world’s attention last year, when they said that the first foldable PC will take some time to be developed, but Lenovo showcased its device a few months after the first foldable phones were revealed,” says Pienaar.

“We’re on track to launch the ThinkPad X1 Fold in South Africa in October, but this is reliant on our supply chain, as well as components like screens, CPUs, memory and hard drives” he concludes.

As such there is something to look forward to once the lockdown ends, but perhaps more significantly, Pienaar’s insight shows that there will always be an appetite for innovative products and solutions, with organisations needing to ensure that they are best placed to deliver that, regardless of the hurdles.

[Image – Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash]