If you’re in the technology field and pay attention to industry trends and news, perhaps you’re tired of hearing the marketing term “digital transformation”. Whether you are tired of the marketing lingo or not, there is no denying that our world in IT is changing, and in most cases, not by our choice. This change being described as the fourth industrial revolution certainly causes most of us to stop in our tracks and pay attention.
As IT, we are constantly challenged with new technology hurdles. For those of us that directly support end-user compute technologies, we are facing relatively newer challenges such as:
- Keeping control of corporate data and apps, and providing secure computing environments
- Managing multiple devices, platforms, and applications across both corporate-owned and bring your own device (BYOD) computing models
- Providing users access to applications and services from anywhere, SECURELY
- The proliferation of Software as a Service (SaaS)-based applications that need to co-exist alongside traditional enterprise applications
Why are these new challenges starting to pop up for us? Let me explain the three concepts I subscribe to as the drivers for change in end-user computing.
When the first smartphones began hitting the market, people realized they could perform complex tasks using applications on incredibly mobile devices that were always within arm’s reach. Fast forward almost twelve years and the concept of consumer-friendly functionality with self-service to applications has become the assumed standard. As a consumer, I can be anywhere within the reach of my carrier’s data network and have access to applications and data I want in a moment’s notice. In marketing lingo, we can call that “just-in-time” access.
Now let’s contrast that to the industry standard IT service model. An employee wants access to a new application/tool to perform a job duty. What’s that process look like for them? For most, it starts with a ticket to help desk. Since it’s not mission critical, that ticket typically sits in a queue for a few hours or even days depending on staffing levels. Once IT finally acknowledges the request, they typically must go through an approval chain process that can stretch out for days if not weeks. Assuming the request is finally approved, the application must be packaged and delivered to the user typically using traditional PC lifecycle management (PCLM) solutions. Typically, PCLM solutions are designed to best support specific operating system platforms. If the application needs to be made available on several platforms, each platform-specific management tool must be leveraged to package and deploy the app, which is usually the responsibility of multiple folks in IT. You can see how this process takes a lot of time and effort.
Let’s assume we’ve made it through all the barriers to deployment of this new application and the icon finally appears on the user’s device. How long did the request take to fulfill? How many days/weeks transpired where the user waited in frustration without access to the app they needed? How many IT folks were involved with the request and how much time was invested by all? What are the odds the user is going to make this request again? Chances are slim. Guess what they will do the next time they need a new app? They are going to reach for that personal device, head to the app store, and find a solution to their needs immediately. All of this will occur outside the IT control boundary, which means corporate data is now living on devices and within cloud services that are not secured or accessible by the organization. This is a huge problem in the industry; it’s known as “shadow IT”.
Personalization & Choice
The traditional IT model for deploying computing devices to users is what we can call the “enterprise secure” model. A typical enterprise secure model for deploying devices to end users might look something like this:
- IT chooses a hardware vendor of choice for end user computing devices such as laptops, desktops and mobile devices based on cost, durability, user needs, etc.
- A bulk order for devices is placed with the hardware vendor and the devices are held in storage as spares/loaners or for upcoming hardware refresh cycles.
- Once a new device request comes in, IT takes the device from storage and images it with a traditional PCLM solution such as System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM). Hopefully the tool has been setup correctly by a resident expert to reduce the imaging time/efforts while ensuring the device comes out of the imaging process with the latest updates, applications, firmware, drivers, and security. If not, add some manual efforts from the IT technician to perform these tasks.
- The new device is delivered to the end user and they login with their corporate credentials assuming the device is bound to some sort of authentication/authorization solution like Active Directory.
This model has been the tried and true model for the last fifteen years that I’ve been in IT. In fact, I’ve built much of my career around becoming an expert in tools like SCCM for device lifecycle management that are used in the enterprise secure deployment model. In certain specific use cases these tools and processes might still be a good fit, but let’s look at the problems that are starting to arise with this traditional deployment model in modern organization.
End user compute device manufacturers are constantly refining, updating, and adding new hardware models to their portfolios. IT is tasked with picking a hardware manufacturer, choosing specific device models, testing those devices, and attempting to forecast and purchase for the device needs of the organization over the course of the next 12-24 months. By the time the entire selection and purchase processes are complete, it’s time to start all over again as new models are now available and the “old” models have been retired. Each cycle requires time and effort by IT to absorb the constantly-changing hardware models into the enterprise secure deployment model and requires larger capital expenditures by the organization to stockpile hardware for use in the upcoming months. A large majority of these devices sit in storage, unused, waiting for deployment while the warranty periods wind down.
Wouldn’t it be convenient and cost-effective if a fresh, new device could be purchased on demand and be provisioned immediately without massive efforts by IT? IT is also making a huge assumption in this hardware selection process that our employees will all conform and enjoy the hardware models we’ve chosen for them. Have you met a millennial that appreciates being told they must operate inside the confines of the box you’ve provisioned for them? Good luck hanging on to them in your organization and their amazing abilities to solve problems leveraging technology.
Let’s now shift focus to the operating system that runs on top of the hardware we just discussed. Not all users are comfortable with your enterprise operating system of choice. Employees are entering the workforce today having been educated on many varieties of platforms, not just Windows or macOS. While you may be able to pull the “too bad, that’s what we standardize on” card to squash some of these platform requests, we are providing a disservice to our users and organization by not allowing the user to operate at their peak productivity by leveraging their skillsets on platforms that they know well and are efficient operating within. Let’s add the political hierarchy to the equation and say the request for a non-standard platform is from your CTO, CFO, CEO or other C-suite leader. Are you really going to have the power or persuasion to convince them that their operating platform of choice isn’t something you’re going to support or allow them to use?
Mobility and Work Style
The third concept I subscribe to that’s driving change in end-user computing has to do with how our employees are getting work done. I’ll bring back my earlier comment about starting in IT fifteen years ago and how different the landscape was at that point. “Hot desking” meant your office thermostat was broke and set to 90 degrees. Only key C-level leaders had access to the corporate network from home and that involved a fair amount of effort on behalf of IT. Mobile devices were just starting to emerge for consumers and only the larger enterprises that could afford to buy and provision company owned devices for their employees were using such tools. The typical information worker reported to their office and desktop computer from eight to five, Monday to Friday. When the clock struck five, work was left at the office for the next day. Ah, the good old days, right?! Eh… maybe not so much.
Let’s fast forward fifteen years. Can you imagine not having the ability to access and/or respond to an email after 5:00? I’m fortunate enough to work for an organization that has a strong core value (one of several) around work/family life balance, but even I can’t even begin to count the number of emails I’ve sent or responded to outside the traditional eight to five window just from a convenience and get-it-done mentality, without the expectation from management. The expectation for access to work outside the confines of the traditional workday, physical office environment and productivity tools like email is growing exponentially. We can attribute much of this change to consumerization (the expectation of instant access to technology) and a growing, younger workforce that demands flexibility and a strong work/life balance. They’ve challenged the notion that productivity only happens between 8-5 and proven that work/life balance can successfully intermingle in a 24-hour period when managed responsibly.
Achieving Workforce Transformation
Of course, this is not a comprehensive list of the challenges facing end-user compute professionals, but I believe these three factors are driving our bus down the road towards workforce transformation whether we choose to be onboard or left behind on the side of the road. To be on the bus to transformation requires change (pun intended). For technologists like me, trained in traditional enterprise secure deployment methodologies, this is a transformation of skillsets. For organizational leaders, it’s a shift in mindset of how we get work done and a focus/desire to help our organizations become more productive and agile. For our employees, it’s less restrictive access to technology, more flexibility, mobility, and a greater work/life balance.
You’ve heard my take on the forces of change within end-user computing and what I believe can be achieved when we work towards the goal of workforce transformation, but how on earth do we get there, especially from an IT focused perspective? The goal of this blog series will be to introduce you to a new concept of supporting end-user compute, commonly referred to as “digital workspace”.
“Picture a world where users have secure, just-in-time access to all enterprise applications and data from any platform/device, anywhere.”
Picture a world where users have secure, just-in-time access to all enterprise applications and data from any platform/device, anywhere. A world where a brand-new laptop can be drop-shipped directly from Dell to a new employee’s front door and within minutes of powering on the employee has access to everything they need to perform at their job duties. Or a world where the employee can bring whatever personal computing device/platform they choose to work, and IT can deliver a secure, enterprise computing environment to them without intruding on their personal data.
This is all achievable with the right tools, approach, planning, and expertise. And if you think this is an all-or-nothing expensive solution your organization could never afford, you are in for a surprise! I’m looking forward to breaking this all down in my next few blog posts and showing you how I believe we achieve workforce transformation via digital workspaces. I hope you’ll join me on the bus to workforce transformation!