Free software during COVID-19 – good spirit or clever business?

The current economic crisis has led to admirable acts as businesses look to lend to their support to others – and it will help relationships in the long run.
13 April 2020

The AI race is intensifying as Google unveils Bard, a ChatGPT rival. Source: AFP

Businesses have been thrown into new ways of working – never before have entire industries together felt this kind of external disruption.

There’s no denying that many many companies were blindsided by a sudden shift in operating modes but, overall, businesses have queen quick to adapt to the situational demands, in a big part owed to their resolve and strength of their workforce, but in no small part thanks to the tools available to ‘go digital’.

Whether it’s e-commerce solutions or cloud MSPs, the market is exploding with vendors, all of which can help businesses regain a viable course now, and in the post-Covid economy. Of course, these digital solutions aren’t cheap, and given times of financial uncertainty, many firms aren’t in a position to stump up the costs.

That said, unprecedented circumstances lead to unprecedented responses; the current economic crisis has led to admirable acts as businesses look to lend to their support to others, and enterprise technology is no different.

COVID-19 has been a great leveller, and many businesses in a stronger position have chosen to show charity to support to members of the industry sectors they, in a better economy, are built on.

“Significance not success” is the unofficial motto of many businesses right now, who know that while business may temporarily be halted, they can support their user-base through the hard times, and keep relationships and their own brand perception strengthened for the longer term.

Many of these companies are offering collaborative tools, automation software, password managers and security solutions for free, with some allowing use of tools for as long as six months. Vendors are now showing that they can live up to their promise of being enterprise ‘partners’ when they need them most.

Companies like Google, Salesforce, and Atlassian are offering their collaborative and productivity cloud-based wares for enterprises looking to support their newly-remote workforce.

Maintaining productivity is the biggest challenge for SMEs within the time period. Enterprises need to make sure they have the right tools to communicate, share data, transfer files, and document work processes – in a secure manner at that.

“As more businesses adjust their work-from-home policies and adopt reduced travel plans in response to COVID-19, we’re helping to ensure that all globally-distributed teams can still reliably meet face to face, even if employees are not in the same location,” announced the company in a blog post.

Amid the controversies surrounding Zoom‘s information security system, other vendors have come forward to promote their teleconferencing application with better security features. Cisco‘s Webex, Google Hangouts Meet, Microsoft’s Teams and Intermedia’s AnyMeeting Pro are among some of the offerings available for grab in the markets.

1Password, Okta, Appian, and Ping Identity are offering enterprises interactive dashboards to help executives manage data access policies while working remotely and employees the accessibility to organize their passwords.

Some of these products also feature security solutions to help support remote working applications and provide some comfort to teams in the wake of increased cyberattacks. A few of these vendors have also designed their products to specifically address the needs of businesses that are weathering the operational challenges presented by the pandemic.

A chance to build new business relationships?

While the generosity and professionalism promoted by these vendors in times of crisis are worthy of recognition, there’s no denying that this growing trend of making critical digital tools free is a marketing strategy to help these vendors build new relationships now and in the longer term.

Although there’s no way of telling whether this would motivate purchasing decisions by businesses once they get back on their feet and end up boosting vendors’ sales, the effort will leave a positive lasting impression. That’s not to mention that there will be plenty of leads for vendors to follow up once business returns to a semblance of normality, particularly as users become accustomed to remote working and the tools that have helped them to do it.

Some applications are already seeing a spike in usage. According to deVere Group, there’s a 72 percent increase in the use of fintech apps across Europe alone, since the pandemic came into full swing.

In the meantime, businesses can use this time to reevaluate how digital tools can help augment efficiency and improve operational performance, and be grateful for the tools and software that has been made available during this period. It’s a two-way street that benefits both parties, that’s for sure.