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Peter Tsai of ‘Spiceworks Ziff Davis’: “The mission of Spiceworks Ziff Davis is to help business professionals do their jobs better every day”

The mission of Spiceworks Ziff Davis is to help business professionals do their jobs better every day. I have a particular affinity for the Spiceworks Community, an online platform millions of information technology professionals use every month, because I used to be the lone computer support tech at a small business. I understand intimately that […]

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The mission of Spiceworks Ziff Davis is to help business professionals do their jobs better every day. I have a particular affinity for the Spiceworks Community, an online platform millions of information technology professionals use every month, because I used to be the lone computer support tech at a small business. I understand intimately that it is a challenging and sometimes thankless job. I’m happy knowing every day that the work I do is making their lives at little easier…whether that’s providing them with free software, helping them find answers to IT problems, conducting research to keep them up to date on tech trends, connecting them with peers, or introducing them to tech vendors who make solutions they can depend on.


The telephone totally revolutionized the way we could communicate with people all over the world. But then came email and took it to the next level. And then came text messaging. And then came video calls. And so on…What’s next? What’s just around the corner?

In this interview series, called ‘The Future Of Communication Technology’ we are interviewing leaders of tech or telecom companies who are helping to develop emerging communication technologies and the next generation of how we communicate and connect with each other.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Peter Tsai, Head of Technology Insights at Spiceworks Ziff Davis, the trusted global marketplace that connects technology buyers and sellers. Over the course of more than two decades, he has lived IT from the inside and out, working as a systems administrator, programmer, and server engineer. Peter now conducts business technology research and shares valuable tech insights through content that helps IT professionals and tech vendors do their jobs better every day.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I have been into computers since I was a little kid. When I was five, my parents bought my brother and I the original IBM PC, along with an impressive-at-the-time 16-color monitor. We would go on to spend countless hours on that computer, playing games and writing simple programs. As the years passed and technology evolved, we got into dialup modems and bulletin board systems (an early precursor to the Web), then eventually Prodigy and AOL. I took computer programming classes in high school and got my first tech job setting up computers for a company that built websites on the brand-new World Wide Web. In college, I studied computer science and continued working in IT, supporting the computer infrastructure and working tech support at a non-profit organization.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Sometimes your career can feel like it’s stagnating, and then an opportunity presents itself suddenly. My career path took a turn in 2009, when “Web 2.0” social media platforms were still a new phenomenon. As an engineer looking for a career change and exploring many possibilities, I was hired to document the South by Southwest Interactive conference for my photography side hustle. During the event — famous for predicting future tech trends — the hot topics were the rise of Twitter and how smartphones would change everything. I dipped my toes into this brave new world, networking with others interested in it — not thinking anything would come of it, but still wanting to learn more.

Fast forward one year and I’m at a “social media conference” — when people still had to be trained on how to use Twitter and YouTube in a business context — where I knew absolutely nobody. During the lunch break, I worked up the courage to introduce myself to a table of strangers, who happened to be looking to hire someone. They were seeking an engineer who was technically proficient, yet equally comfortable writing about tech and recording thought leadership videos in front of a camera…a person who knew how to evangelize this technical content through social media. The next 30 minutes became an impromptu interview over hotel salad and cold cuts, and we mutually discovered that I was perfect for the job. Without trying, I had unwittingly trained for this role for over a year, and I was offered the job within a couple of days of that chance meeting. Thus began my career as a “unicorn” who serves as a bridge between the tech and marketing worlds.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Being a food lover, I’ll share an excellent life tip from Julia Child, who didn’t study cooking seriously until her mid-thirties but went all in once she discovered her love for the craft. She said, “Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.” This quote resonates with me because I’ve always explored seemingly unconnected interests — from computers, to food, to travel, to photography, to blogging — and this led to serendipitously carving out a niche for myself where I can pursue my interests in technology and content creation at the same time. While it wasn’t obvious to me at the time, experiences and skills I was picking up while having fun and pursuing side hustles — like getting over my fear of public speaking, learning how to communicate with almost anyone, and standing up and optimizing websites — helped me tremendously in my professional career.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are too many people to mention. My life has been shaped positively by every family member, teacher, coach, friend, and boss that genuinely cared about me and encouraged me…even when I didn’t believe in myself. We are a product of all of the people we spend significant amounts of time with, and they all shape you into the person you are today.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

The mission of Spiceworks Ziff Davis is to help business professionals do their jobs better every day. I have a particular affinity for the Spiceworks Community, an online platform millions of information technology professionals use every month, because I used to be the lone computer support tech at a small business. I understand intimately that it is a challenging and sometimes thankless job. I’m happy knowing every day that the work I do is making their lives at little easier…whether that’s providing them with free software, helping them find answers to IT problems, conducting research to keep them up to date on tech trends, connecting them with peers, or introducing them to tech vendors who make solutions they can depend on.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about the cutting edge communication tech that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Spiceworks Ziff Davis recently conducted research on the evolution of workplace communications, which have not only played a pivotal role connecting friends and family during COVID-19 lockdowns, but also altered the way colleagues work together. Months into the pandemic, we asked over 1000 IT professionals about the usage of these tools in a business context, and we uncovered significant shifts in the way the corporate world stays in touch such as:

Business chat apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams have experienced explosive usage growth in the past few years, with adoption rates reaching 81% of companies in July 2020 (up 14% YoY). Among businesses that have deployed business chat apps, more than 3 out of 4 said their workforce uses these tools frequently.

Adoption rates of video conferencing apps such as Zoom jumped to 79% of companies during the pandemic (up 10% YoY), with the majority of organizations using them frequently.

With the introduction of newer voice, video, and chat communications options, user preferences are shifting away from older technologies. In 2020, employees in 37% of businesses said they favored modern real-time messaging apps over email (up 6% YoY).

Analog voice is on its way out, in favor of Voice over IP (VoIP), which is much better suited for working in a remote environment. In 2020, adoption of analog voice (landline phones) dropped to 45% of businesses while VoIP adoption climbed to 79%.

In July 2020, in the middle of an unprecedented crisis and the “remote work revolution,” 75% of survey respondents said communications tools were meeting organizations’ needs.

How do you think this might change the world?

High-speed internet connectivity and video communication technologies have made for more natural online conversations that are starting to approximate in-person interactions. Not only have these tools helped families and friends stay in touch during the pandemic, they have also stood in for face-to-face business meetings, and our research suggests they will continue to do so in the future.

For example, video streaming platforms will likely reduce the need for business travel, while simultaneously opening events to a wider audience who don’t have the time or resources to travel to in-person conventions. According to a poll of more than 200 IT professionals, the majority of respondents will be more likely to attend virtual conferences after the pandemic, even after it’s safe to gather in-person again.

Now that organizations have seen that remote work is a viable option and that current communications tools are up to the task, companies are more likely to hire from the global workforce instead of limiting the candidate pool to their immediate geographical area. A recent poll of IT professionals found that approximately one third of companies are now more likely to hire remote employees than before the pandemic.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about communication technology that people should think more deeply about?

Spiceworks Ziff Davis research on the post-pandemic future tells us the majority of organizations will keep flexible work policies in place after the pandemic, giving employees the option to work remotely. We expect 30% of all employees to take companies up on this offer by primarily working from home.

However, when your office is just steps away from the place you eat, sleep, and spend time with family, there’s the risk of burnout and your job becoming all- consuming as the lines between work and personal life blur.

Additionally, as more corporate devices and sensitive data travel outside the relatively safe confines of corporate networks and their protective firewalls, security will become a bigger issue. According to our research, the majority of IT professionals (55%) said endpoint device security is a top remote work concern within their organization, especially given the lax security on most home and public Wi-Fi networks.

In general, as more social and business interactions move online, everyone is leaving a larger digital footprint and generating more data than before, which will need to be secured. For example, more people than ever are having conversations through chat apps, and these presumably private conversations are being stored — possibly for many years — on a hard drive somewhere in the world, which makes security measures such as encryption more important than ever.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

In our research, we’ve been monitoring the rise of business chat apps since 2016. Slack was the dominant early player in this business collaboration space, with an approximately 13% adoption rate among all organizations. While Slack has a free version, many organizations will want to upgrade to a paid plan to get around limits and unlock the full potential of the platform (unlimited messages, group chats, integrations, etc.)

Of course, many organizations are unwilling to pay yet another subscription fee for every single employee in their organization to use a business chat application. But then in 2017, Microsoft Teams launched as a direct Slack competitor, at no additional cost to the vast Microsoft Office 365 user base, which at the time, included approximately half of all companies in the world. Now with no financial barriers to jumping on board this trend, a flood of new companies started using this new communication technology. Within a couple of years, Teams adoption surpassed Slack adoption by a comfortable margin, and within 3 years, the overall adoption rate of business chat apps hit 67% of businesses. Then the pandemic hit, and that usage rate was further accelerated as remote work became more common. According to our research, by 2022, we expect 86% of businesses to be using a business chat app such as Slack or Teams.

What is needed to lead emerging technology to widespread adoption?

For any new technology, most potential users are going to want a proven track record of bringing value to an organization before they’re going to spend the time and money to implement it. In the beginning of an adoption curve of a game-changing technology, the early adopters lead the way and are willing to take on a bit more risk. Less tech-savvy companies or ones without the resources to experiment with new technology (typically smaller businesses outside of the tech industry) will take a wait-and-see approach. But as technologies mature and offer more compelling functionality, ecosystems grow, and costs of adoption falls, mass adoption takes place. We saw this in the business chat space, with Slack leading the way, then Microsoft essentially giving Teams away to existing Office 365 customers helping to drive additional usage.

However, some areas of the world don’t yet have the internet infrastructure in place to support the use of modern, real-time communications technologies. In our research, 72% of businesses say insufficient internet bandwidth (either in homes or in the office) limits some remote workers’ productivity. In the near future, some promising technologies could help underserved areas, such as developing countries. According to our data, one-third of businesses we surveyed will be interested in testing emerging low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite internet services, such as SpaceX’s Starlink, primarily to provide low-latency broadband to workers in rural areas.

The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. How do you think communication technology might be able to address the new needs that have arisen as a result of the pandemic?

The pandemic has served as a catalyst for so many things, with the “remote work revolution” accelerating purchases of laptops and headsets, speeding up cloud migrations, and forcing companies to pay more attention to disaster recovery planning and security protocols for the remote workforce.

Looking specifically at communications technologies, while most companies think these tools served them well during the pandemic, after using them on a regular basis, many are realizing that there’s room for improvement in terms of functionality and user experience.

Going forward, our research has identified the biggest growth areas in the communications space to be among secure messaging platforms — designed with privacy and encryption in mind — and unified communications solutions, which integrate multiple communications functions into a single platform with the goal of streamlining workflows and allowing for more seamless collaboration. For example, on average, businesses currently use between 5–6 different communications technologies, and they often don’t integrate with each other. We might use Gmail for lengthier communications, jump over to Slack for a group text chat, but then hop over to Zoom for a video conversation, and then use a separate telephone-like product altogether. As we’ve seen with the acquisition of Skype by Microsoft and Slack by Salesforce, there will likely be more consolidation in the communications space going forward.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Always keep learning — there are many easy ways to do this, from podcasts, to online training, to earning an online degree in your spare time.

Strive to provide value to the people around you — if you can do this, you’ll always be in demand and a valued member of your community

Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses — only then can you learn what roles you’re best suited for, and what you need to work on

Don’t be afraid to try new things — It’s just as important to explore possibilities to discover what will make you happy, and just as important to understand where your boundaries lie

Your career path might take many twists and turns, and that’s OK — Just because you studied one thing in school, doesn’t mean you need to stick with that field forever. Especially in the tech industry, new categories of jobs are being created all the time, while other jobs become less in-demand.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I realize that everyone is busy these days. You don’t need to start a global movement to make a difference. You can start to affect change by giving back to your local communities and helping out in any way that you can, no matter how small. This could be as simple as sharing helpful information you come across with those around you, giving away possessions you no longer need in your local Buy Nothing group, volunteering at a food bank, or serving on the board of directors of non-profit organizations.

While helping others is inherently a selfless act, a side effect of doing good is meeting new and interesting people and growing your network, which can help you professionally or if you ever need personal assistance.

We also live in a world where social media can reach a massive audience instantly. If you solve even a small previously unsolved problem and share that information online, thanks to Google and the long tail of the internet, you’ll eventually help thousands or millions of people around the world.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

For more research on the constantly evolving world of information technology, make sure to check out https://swzd.com/resources/

If you want to shout out to me personally, you can find me on LinkedIn or follow me under the username supertsai on all of the major social media platforms.

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.


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