Google CEO, Sundar Pichai. Source: AFP

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

The current climate has undoubtedly presented SMEs with new business challenges.

Especially when many enterprises have to truly expand their digital capabilities within a short time to adapt to remote and flexible ways of working. Frankly speaking, it hasn’t been easy for businesses that are weathering the impacts of the pandemic.

Between maintaining operations, pushing forward sales, and managing a remote workforce while at the same time ensuring collaborative efforts remain active, businesses need digital solutions more now than ever.

There’s no denying that many SMEs were unprepared for the sudden shift in operating modes, but for companies that are far along in their digital journey, it did not take much time to settle in.

Most are already running as usual and showing an impressive level of productivity with the help of efficient enterprise IT tools and software.

From logistics tracking solutions to cloud MSPs, the market is exploding with vendors. Of course, they can also be expensive, and given times of financial uncertainty, many firms aren’t in a position to stump up the costs.

Of course, COVID-19 has been a great leveller, and many businesses in a stronger position has 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.

True enough, these vendors are living up to their promise of being enterprises’ partners when it comes to effective digitization.

Here are some of the free tools that SMEs can take advantage of:

#1 | Collaborative tools

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.

#2 | Teleconferencing tools

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.

Enterprises that need to maintain daily communication and manage collaborative projects in a synchronized manner can definitely benefit from these wares.

Although their free versions can be pretty limited is one way or another, businesses can do some market research to identify the ones that would support their operations optimally.

#3 | Password and security management tools

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 applaudable, 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.

Although there’s no way of telling whether this would motivate purchasing decisions by SMEs once they get back on their feet and ended 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, SMEs 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.