VMware CEO on preparing for a pandemic no one knew was coming

Pat Gelsinger told ZDNet the decision to make VMworld virtual democratised access to VMware's resources.

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Image: VMware

VMware's VMworld 2020 was, like many other annual tech events, forced to shift online this year. But with a slew of announcements made during the event centred on the future of work and succeeding in this new paradigm, it was almost like VMware was ready for a rapid shift in its customer's operations.

"My job every day is position VMware so that we're better positioned for the strategic future, where technologies are going, and clearly this year, as we would say, for an unpredictable world," VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger said.

Speaking with ZDNet, Gelsinger said his company "flipped" to remote working over a weekend and "hasn't looked back". The lessons the company learned internally were then translated to helping customers.

"We said to all of our customers, partners, 'you need to make these dramatic shifts urgently, you need to move forward quickly', but we've also needed to combine that with empathy," he said. "These are pretty uncertain times, we need to be engaging, supporting, finding ways to give value to our customers."

The CEO ran through a list of announcements made during VMworld as helping customers shift to remote work, but even though many had been some years into a digital transformation journey, having hundreds of staff work from home was a shock.

"I had one big CIO -- a US firm -- he [told me], 'We planned the project in one week, we selected our vendors in the second week, and we executed in the third week, and we went from zero work from home to tens of thousands of people working from home over a three-week project'," Gelsinger recalled.

"Those would be the kinds of things that we're just proud of. At the end of the day, we're a business. We're able to restore normalcy … and I talked to hundreds of CEOs and CIOs -- almost everyone says efficiency is better now that we have a distributed workforce working from home in this environment and not worse."

See also: Pat Gelsinger and his calculated plan for VMware

While he would have preferred the atmosphere of an in-person conference, Gelsinger said virtual allowed more customers to access the company's resources.

"Lots of empathy, people working hard, Zoom after Zoom, and all these challenges but still being able to make it work in the world's largest shift of workforce in human history -- that's pretty amazing," he said of his staff making VMworld digital.

"We made the decision to the virtual event about four months ago … [everyone was thinking] maybe things would improve, maybe we can be physical, then finally, no, we got to go virtual … maybe I can see you in person, maybe I can give you a hug, no, we can't."

He said people are always going to figure out better ways to do things when faced with a situation such as a pandemic.

"We put lots of IT systems together, 150,000-plus registrants for the event … not just in the US but Asia … I had more customers participating because I didn't have to fly them out, some of our public sector customers, they have strict limitations on how many people they can send to a physical event, so a virtual event that's free, all of them can come," he said. "Much larger audiences from places, geographies that we wouldn't have been able to reach before."

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