Amex CEO on how Covid-19 has accelerated consumer adoption of e-commerce

by Joseph K. Clark

American Express CEO Stephen Squeri claims that Covid-19 has accelerated consumers’ adoption of online shopping by three to five years. It remains to be seen how many will switch back to brick-and-mortar stores once the pandemic ends. Squeri commented during the keynote of the Dell Technologies World user and partner conference when the tech giant’s CEO, Michael Dell, quizzed him about the changes in consumer behavior that American Express had noted since the pandemic began in the spring of 2020.

“It was unclear how the world was going to turn, how consumers and small businesses and corporations would react, and then things started to change,” said Squeri. “A lot of small businesses began to pivot to take their businesses online, so you saw small companies start to come back from a consumer perspective. “Not a lot of people were flying, nobody was going on a cruise – but what we did see was people started shopping online.” So much so that the amount of money consumers spend online during the Christmas period was up 25% year on year, he said, which was significantly higher than any projections American Express had come up with in the run-up to the holiday season.

“E-commerce has been accelerated by probably three to five years,” said Squeri. “I don’t know how many people will ever go back into the grocery store instead of ordering online groceries.” Squeri also shared details of the pandemic’s impact on his firm’s digital transformation plans, including how the company worked with Dell to ensure it had the technology needed to embrace remote working as stay-at-home orders came into effect worldwide. This work resulted in American Express ensuring that its 64,000-strong workforce had the PCs and peripherals required to work remotely within three weeks.


Elsewhere in the business, the company is upgrading its many legacy systems and making changes to ensure it is in the best possible position to make the most of the enormous amounts of data its operations generate. “Data is excellent – information is power. “When you look at American Express, we’re a card issuer, we’re an acquirer, and we’re a network, so that means we have perfect data, but as you know, having data is one thing, but having information is something else,” said Squeri. “So we’ve been on this journey, utilizing AI [artificial intelligence] and machine learning to help make credit decisions, to help make fraud decisions, to anticipate for our cardmembers what offers to give them.”

Post-pandemic IT landscape

The way that the pandemic has served to reshape and accelerate the pace of digital transformation in various industries was a recurring theme of discussion during the keynote, with Jeff Clarke, chief operating officer and vice-chairman of Dell Technologies, sharing details of how Covid-19 has changed the tech giant’s thinking on remote working. “At Dell, we anticipate that more than 60% of our people will remain in hybrid and remote working situations, and we’re hearing the same for many of you,” he said. “Why? Because it’s good for your people and good for your company.”

For proof of that, Clarke pointed to the business productivity improvements that firms achieve when they allow their employees to “flip the narrative” on work-life balance. “As a company, we’re able to move faster, make decisions faster, respond to you faster and make changes faster inside the company, and open the aperture on talent without geographical limitations,” he said.

On the latter point, Clarke expanded on how the decision to embrace a hybrid working model post-pandemic means it can bolster the diversity of its workforce by enabling the company to tap talent in “under-represented populations and communities” around the world.

“Greater diversity means broader perspective – and a broader set of experiences that fuel innovation,” he added. “New skillsets are needed for cloud, edge, and as-a-service [IT delivery models], and now recruiting and retaining talent from anywhere is possible. We can level the playing field for the opportunity and strength of our company.

“We believe the future is a hybrid workforce and a hybrid cloud for a hybrid world where digital transformation fosters human transformation as we develop cultures that are more empathetic and patient to carry us through.” The impact that remote mass working will have on the underlying infrastructure on which enterprises run their businesses was also touched upon during the Dell Technologies World keynote. Following on from Squeri’s comments, Michael Dell said the data challenge that American Express is facing is one that many enterprises are grappling with. This is because the locations where that data is generated, stored, and must be processed are increasingly distributed.

“We’re in a ‘do anything from anywhere world,” he said. “We used to go to school, work, entertainment, shop, and interact. Now things come to us wherever we are. This is how we’ll move forward, pulling through the silver linings of 2020 to show how we live, work, and learn in 2021 and beyond. And technology is at the center of everything.”

These trends have significant implications for enterprise IT estates, particularly from a complexity point of view, as firms will need to figure out the best place to deploy workloads based on where their users are, said Dell. This means deciding whether hosting them in an on-premise data center, an edge ccomputingfacility, a public cloud environment, or a mix of those would be best.

“Momentum is building towards a hybrid, distributed future fuelled by data analytics that is processed in real-time and to digital and secure processes, operations, and business models,” he said. “And increasingly, in this ‘do anything from anywhere world, it’s a future that will unfold at the edge.

“While 10% of data is processed outside the datacentre today, 75% will be processed outside a traditional datacentre or cloud by 2025.

“That data will be generated in the real world, at the edge, and transforming that data into outcomes will require real-time aanalyticsand intelligence. It is estimated that over $700bn in capital expenditure will be spent within the next decade on edge infrastructure.”

To help enterprises negotiate this shift, the company used the keynote to debut its Apex portfolio of “as-a-service” offerings designed to make it easier for enterprises to manage, compute, and store resources across many different IT environments.

Four products make up the Apex portfolio, offering to help enterprises consume on-premise storage resources in an “as-a-service” way. At the same time, another element is designed to make workload management across multi-cloud environments easier.

Another flavor of Apex is geared towards enterprises that operate a more heterogeneous IT environment that may require a more customized approach, enabling users to create their own “as-a-service” model according to their needs.

Dell Technologies has also partnered with colocation giant Equinix to extend the reach of Apex to workloads that enterprises have outsourced to third-party sites.

“Today’s IT leaders are increasingly turning to as-a-service, and IDC predicts that by 2024, half of the datacentre infrastructure will be consumed as-a-service,” said Matthew Eastwood, senior vice-president at IT market watcher IDC.

“Dell Technologies’ Apex is yet another example of Dell’s agility when addressing the needs of a transforming marketplace and is in tune with how customers want to use, consume and simplify IT.”

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