Acer: Adapting to the new normal

Paul Collins, general manager for MEA at Acer talks about strategically expanding the company’s product focus in the Middle East and how the current pandemic has paved the way for technology innovation and adoption

Acer, Laptop, Gaming, Chromebook, Planet9, COVID-19, Coronavirus

In the Middle East, Acer has primarily been a retail player concentrating on its mobility portfolio. Aside from retail, there has been a strong focus in the education segment. Over the past few years, Acer has taken up a stepped approach to focus on its strengths and strategically expand its portfolio in the region.

Highlighting the vendor's strengths in the education segment, Paul Collins, general manager for MEA at Acer, said: "We are the number one Chromebook supplier in the world and are very strong in the education sector. We have the biggest chrome installation in the Middle East education sector. We also offer standard Microsoft notebooks, which is another key area that Acer is working to bring to the education market more aggressively."

As Acer expands its focus in the Middle East region, the company has made some strategic changes to its overall strategy to meet the demands that the current pandemic has brought to the forefront.

Hardware sales have been declining over the past few years. Yet, Acer has reported steep growth in revenues in the Middle East with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait leading in financial results amounting to double-digit growth in 2019 across the region. Acer attributes this success to its gaming models (desktops, notebooks and monitors) as the company announced a record 94 per cent growth in revenues in this segment.

"It is true that analysts have been reporting a decline in hardware sales globally over the last four or five years. However, a surge in gaming and demand for Chromebooks for the corporate and education sectors has culminated into Acer's growth in the region."

From an immediate perspective, Collins added that this industry decline was exacerbated by the shortfall in Intel's production over the past year, resulting in a considerable rise in AMD's output over the past two to three months.

Collins added that there are some short term challenges from a supply perspective for the components the company gets from the factories and strong backlog on logistics. "Quite rightly, the average PC or monitor is not deemed as important as, say ventilators or masks or personal protection equipment. We had some shortfalls, but this is not a long-term issue, and our stocks will be available in retail stores over the next week or two," he explained.

"I don't think we've seen the full extent of the spike. Although companies were talking a lot about remote working in the past, it has become a reality only now, which means there are a few things that have to be in place. We have always struggled to convince customers on the need to upgrade. The pandemic has made people realise that their hardware is not compatible with remote work requirements," he added.

“On the bright side, from a technology perspective, I think the world was reasonably prepared,” added Collins. "With the UAE being primarily a knowledge economy, most organisations were quite ready to adapt to the demands of this pandemic. However, some modifications in technology implementation are expected, such as making sure that you're using appropriate tools like Teams or Zoom or Hangouts and that these tools are secure."

Several vendors have put in much effort into developing collaboration and communication tools. Also, more bandwidth is now available to individuals and consumers that was previously reserved for military and commercial enterprises. "This has enabled more customers to take advantage of the technology and tools already available to maintain business activities. We also expect an increase in the adoption of cloud-based services, especially by small businesses, who need to move to a hosted environment as their existing infrastructure is unable to keep up with the changing demands."

Collins emphasised that this is an ongoing process and challenges will revolve around soft issues like managing the workforce remotely, maintaining regular communication and keeping the remote team motivated when there is no real face to face interaction. "It seems that everyone is prepared for the digital workspace, from the vendors at the back-end to the customers at the front, which is why we expect an acceleration in the uptake of cloud and other technologies supporting remote working environment," he added.

Redirection of funds to mainstream and entertainment-oriented computers

Collins added that the uptake in hardware sales will extend over a longer period and will broaden to include other hardware products as well. "Today, it is not only about working from home; it includes learning from home and entertainment from home. So, the average family that would usually have one PC or laptop at home, and maybe another work machine need more devices to keep up with kids' e-learning and adults' work-from-home requirements."

According to Collins, it was the early adopters that spiked the demand for these devices initially. "However, there's going to be a lot of mainstream adopters and laggards who will drive this demand over the next year to 18 months. A large population worldwide expects things to go back to normal, but this is the beginning of a new normal. So, there will be a medium-term stimulation in the market as people move to a new way of living."

There has been a redirection of people's disposable income to more mainstream computers and entertainment-oriented computers. "Although Acer's sales are still reasonably robust, we have experienced a change in demand over the last few months. Having said that, I think that entertainment from home will remain very strong and will in fact grow. Another key area that Acer is currently working on is licensing agreements."

Acer will soon launch its gaming platform in the Middle East that was first launched last year in June in Taipei. "Our eSports Planet9 is an open community platform that allows gamers to build their team, train for excellence and battle for victory. Planet9 is an online platform designed to help gamers find teammates with similar skill levels and goals. It also helps players improve by providing them with feedback about their performance. The platform is designed to allow all players to make data-backed decisions about how they can improve, what weak areas they should try to cover and what strengths they should capitalise upon."

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