Thomas Wandler and Marc Röver
Working from home has significantly increased the prices and, in some cases, delivery times of notebooks, webcams and other computer hardware. The authors describe the problems and what companies can do about them through smart purchasing, ingenuity and shift work while working from home. They also address the vulnerability of working from home to corporate cybersecurity.
Rising prices and delivery times
Particularly in the service industry, where working from home is increasingly used, the supply bottlenecks of hardware products are noticeable. For example, employees in accounting, purchasing or order processing have in most cases used a desktop computer up to now. For these employees, companies need to purchase new equipment such as notebooks to enable them to work from home. But the delivery time for webcams, for example, which is needed for the customer or team meetings, is also up to three weeks. Besides, due to the pandemic, people around the world decides increasingly to work from home. Rising prices and delivery times are a global problem. Once that is said, the number of employees which work from home will continue to increase as the working from home concept becomes more prevalent.
Computer hardware price increases
Manufacturers indeed try to produce more, but as every purchaser knows – supply and demand determine the price. Even if more is produced, the price will rise because there is more demand than there is supply. On average, computer hardware prices have risen by about five percent.
Also, some notebooks are available, but their performance is weaker. In the case of an older device, components would then have to be replaced or newly installed. But there are also supply bottlenecks for these parts.
No short-term easing insight
For many manufacturers and suppliers, the question arises as to what extent it is worthwhile for them to increase capacity because at some point market saturation occurs. At this point, demand returns to normal. Therefore, companies tend to react with higher prices instead of expanding their capacities.
Procurement of computer hardware from abroad
Procurement from abroad does not change the original problem. Particularly in the case of IT, one often moves to the Asian market. There a high concentration of producers that are designed for hardware is given. One can perhaps try to get information about the market situation and the stock levels of other dealers worldwide via a dealer with whom one works. But whether this works in this way is the other question, since there is indeed a global problem here.
Customers can expand the computer market by themselves
Many companies need new laptops with their standard configurations, but these are difficult to obtain. In such a case we advise to make the specification more flexible and thus, to be able to fall back on a larger market. To do this, companies need to contact the distributor and explain exactly which device they need for which case so that the distributor can suggest alternatives. And companies should also be open to change suppliers, rather than relying on a single brand. This increases flexibility and ultimately the range of products on offer.
Necessity is the mother of invention
You must get creative. One of our colleagues needed a webcam for the time when he works from home – but there are also supply bottlenecks here. He came across software for his smartphone that turns the phone into a webcam. This costs just five euros and is far cheaper than what a webcam costs on the market.
Scarce calculators: Working from home in shift work
We have also experienced shift work between working from home and the office. Employee A works from home on Monday and Tuesday and Employee B on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. This also helps to contain absences in the event of illness. In this case, the employees work on a stand-alone computer and use a laptop in pairs, which they take in turns to working from home.
As long as this is done within a department, it is not a problem if data is mixed locally. Besides, online storage can be used so that all data can be accessed on the move. The e-mail account can be logged in and out separately. This means that a plan would have to be made as to when who works from home next. This would save almost half of the laptops that would otherwise be needed.
Companies have some catching up to do in terms of digitization
Let us take an accountant. This person can also post invoices from home, while invoice receipt is often still done in analogue. To enter the invoice receipt, he would have to be in the office. New digital tools solve this problem. For example, there are special scanners for accounting that scan invoices and store them directly on a server. Then the accountant could access the invoices from home.
The example also shows that digitization has not yet progressed far enough in many small and medium-sized enterprises. This starts with the company data, which is far too fragmented and unstructured in the various systems. Companies would first have to get this data in order before they could even introduce new digital tools.
Of course, this is then not only good for the employee but also for the companies to become more efficient. They gain important new insights into opportunities and risks in real-time and can make their products more future-proof through digital doping.
Working from home needs a security concept against hacker attacks
Working from home creates many vulnerabilities that must be contained through a planned security approach.
Again, as an example, the accountant. He has to access various accounts in the ERP system. To do this, companies must set up interfaces to enable these accesses to company data from outside. But such interfaces can quickly become weak points.
For example, there are certain tools for purchasing that allow you to access the necessary data, but not the entire ERP system. Hacker attacks while accessing the servers can be avoided in this way.
Problems with bandwidths that are too low
Next, workers need to take care of the performance of their Internet access. For example, with complex design software, a standard Internet connection may not be sufficient. We had cases in our project business that employees of the customer could only transmit the required data to us once they were back on-site at the company due to their quantities.
Thank you very much for the interview!