‘Blueprint’ for Delivering a Digital Workplace

In the final blog post of this short series, we can reflect on the topics discussed to date; the rate of change in the market, the changing role of IT and the impact of the users on the creation of the Digital Workplace.

What we have done to date is to explore independent perspectives of the changes and challenges that a Digital Workplace presents, from a Business, IT and User perspective.  We all know, and often see, that the tensions we’ve discussed exist and cause challenges in the formation and execution of future business strategies.

A true Digital Workplace strategy emerges at the intersect of these perspectives.  Of course, each party will have individual challenges and requirements, but we need to find a point of consensus (a common strategy) and rally round this to ensure timely and effective execution.  In establishing this “joined up view”, we can reveal our full blueprint for the Digital Workplace.

Evergreen Overall Graphic

We know that we need to be more collaborative, more user centric, more agile, and more responsive to the business needs.  We have tried to identify some of the ways to achieve this, and reflect on the changes that are being made in each area.

However, a Digital Workplace requires joined up thinking.  Activities and processes need to be justifiable, understood and embraced across the business, and co-ordinated as a strategy so that the Digital Workplace does not become merely a series of siloed solutions and initiatives.

The opportunity exists to drive change, to disrupt rather than be disrupted.  To give yourselves the scope and capacity to proactively transform, rather than continually react to shocks and surprises within your business and market.

I’d like to offer a few examples of how we are doing that, with our developments and the solutions we are delivering today.

We are moving towards an Evergreen’ state.  Evergreen is a metaphor to describe the “as a Service” philosophy that now underpins much of the IT landscape today.  It presents challenges and some risks; change at a continual and rapid pace, the changes to our operational procedures (which have been honed and evolved over many years of learning), as well as the impact on the complex ecosystems that surround our modern platforms.  These are significant challenges, but evergreen also provides significant opportunities.

Evergreen can only be adopted successfully if allied by changes in IT, user behaviour, and operational processes.  We are exploiting analytics capabilities to improve and enhance user experience but also to allow us to operate at a faster pace.

The practical applications of this are in allowing us to continually monitor and optimise the user experience.  From anticipating issues before the user has need to raise an incident, the continual optimisation of core platforms to respond to demand profile, or the development of new capabilities to eliminate identified friction points impacting the user.  Analytics capabilities allow us to further industrialise to our service delivery, enabling us to know specifically what is happening in an environment at any time, informed by data.  This also allows us to focus more in the activities of our staff and users – such as in the testing, which becomes a new burden in a world of continuous change.  We can target the critical services we operate, whilst using technology to focus on those that pose less risk, thereby reducing the tension and demands on people to drive the pace of change required.

Being able to operate effectively in a digital environment requires not only new capabilities but   new behaviours.  Greater awareness of the market to understand and anticipate its developments, a culture that promotes innovation and embraces change, and a willingness to act on opportunities and drive change are key to maximising the potential that this window of opportunity affords us.

We are looking to help our customers lead and drive this change by reinventing the way that we engage with, and serve them with our capabilities and solutions.  One example of this is our Digithon.  We bring together users, IT and representatives from the business to identify the opportunities and build a partnership to drive change.  To make this transformation requires a form of understanding, a “charter” for how each will work with each other and on their own to help deliver these outcomes.  The old adage of “throwing things over the wall” cannot apply and will not deliver the benefits and outcomes that we are striving from Digitalisation and the Digital Workplace.

All parties need to come together, to flex and adapt in order to find ways to work in unison and orchestrate their activities effectively within the Digital Workplace – it can only be achieved by “joining the dots” and leading the change together.

Building the Modern Workplace – Summary from Microsoft Inspire

The Microsoft Ignite conference was held last week in Orlando, Florida.  Unfortunately I was unable to attend directly, but a number of our Subject Matter Experts did and we had a busy stream of communication with updates and announcements.

There were some significant developments within the Modern Workplace area that I wanted to add my own reflections on.

Teams as the Communication Hub

Even prior to the event there were rumours and some vague news releases about the future of Skype for Business (Microsoft’s primary collaboration platform) and Microsoft Teams, the new Workspace collaboration tool that has taken off since its recent launch.

At Ignite, Microsoft did confirm that Teams will become the primary Communication hub for Microsoft solutions within enterprise.  Though not immediate (new versions pending), Skype functionality will effectively be ported into Teams alongside the raft of other extensible features and capabilities it offers, and eventually customers will need to manage this transition.

We have been using Microsoft Teams at Computacenter for the past few months and I can certainly testify to its effectiveness both in driving collaboration and as a “hub” for activity.  Teams has removed much of the friction of sharing and co-editing of documents, providing a central, highly accessible repository for information and an effective chat and communication function.

However, Teams and Skype are very different tools.  The latter is a lightweight communication tool typically used for chat (though it offers voice functionality), whilst Teams is a far more immersive (and heavy-weight on the desktop) tool.  Beyond the technology differences, we mustn’t lose sight of the user adoption considerations.  As we’ve observed even technologies we deem to be “highly intuitive” still need to be carefully introduced so that users understand and derive benefit from them.

I can understand the changes that have been announced, one criticism I often hear is of overlapping functionality and user confusion as to which tool to use, and Teams has certainly become a “power app” in very short space of time, and so executed effectively,  it makes a great deal of sense to focus development and user experience around it.

Streamlined Device Deployment with Autopilot

The second area to cover relates to Microsoft’s Autopilot solution.  We’ve heard a lot on this over the past few months, and certainly presents a compelling initial proposition of streamlining device provisioning to users over the cloud.

Autopilot works in similar ways to solutions like Apple’s Device Enrolment Programme (DEP), where a device is pre-registered to a management system and on first launch connects via the cloud to receive profiles and configurations that adapt it towards the corporate standard.  We have heard much interest in these kind of solutions, easy enablement and access is a central tenant of the Digital Workplace, but for many customers there will be challenges and constraints to overcome in achieving this.  The premise is not quite the simplistic “visit your local hardware store, buy a laptop and connect it to the network/internet” that some people observe it to be, but it does offer some advantages in some situations.

That said, there are many situations where advanced Supply Chain services are required – for example in inventory management, asset management and ensuring configuration and control of deployed hardware.  We are seeing growing interest in “Device as a Service” solutions (probably worth a blog at a later time!), and so capabilities like DEP and Autopilot could ultimately sit well alongside the range of other techniques we employ to optimise provisioning and supply side processes for enterprise customers.

Transitions to the Cloud with Unified Endpoint Management

One major Workplace announcement this week was “co-management” for devices which can be connected both to Active Directory as well as Azure Active Directory.  The premise of this is to allow a more gradual transition of “workloads” as Microsoft referred to them  between the traditional on premise management platforms to the cloud hosted InTune solution.

There seems to be, and I am sure there is, complexity that sits behind this.  I agree with the direction, in that customers rarely have the opportunity to disregard platforms, tools and processes that they have invested in for a wholesale shift to the cloud with no compelling event or reason.  However there are significant use cases for cloud management that can now be achieved much more flexibly, and this announcement may help provide a “bridge” to manage a transition towards cloud solutions – in a similar “hybrid” model that we see so effective across other elements of the infrastructure stack.  There were also announcements around a broader transition towards a Unified Endpoint Management (UEM) platform with integrations with JAMF – which will allow it to compete more effectively in this new battleground for diverse platform management that we will watch with interest as the EM&S proposition continues to grow and evolve.

A Wider Perspective

There is a vast amount of activity and development not only within Microsoft but in the wider Workplace partner community.  Often it can feel a challenge to keep up with the announcements and developments, let alone consider how to introduce and integrate these into your Digital Workplace strategy.  What is clear is that there is a vast amount of opportunity to be gained in re-evaluating the solutions and operational processes to try to drive towards a more agile and integrated Modern (read: Digital) Workplace.

Finally, Computacenter are proud to be a Platinum sponsor for Microsoft’s Future Decoded event on 31st October and 1st November at the ExCel centre in London.  Come and visit myself and the team to continue the conversation and talk about how we can drive a Modern Workplace that Enables Users and Your Business.

The User and the Digital Workplace (Series Post)

So far we’ve spoken about the Demands and Drivers of a Digital Workplace, and most recently the Changing Role of IT in a world typified by change, uncertainty and disruption. For the latest post in this series of blogs we will focus on another major influence: the user.

I have frequently written about users in the context of Digital Workplace; and why we must focus on their needs and the importance of empowering them. A previous post  Understanding Users is Enabling Users talked about the techniques we are employing to drive clearer understanding of how to make users more productive, effective and engaged.  Adoption is Key for Digital Workplace Success spoke of the need to measure the outcomes, to ensure user adoption is driving behavioural and performance change.

The points raised in each of these articles are as applicable today as they were when first posted, but given the wider context illustrated in our new “blueprint” they perhaps warrant a refreshed explanation

Significance of the user

The user is often cited as “the biggest disruptor” in the modern and digital era.  I disagree with that sentiment.  Users are reacting to external events, technology change and innovation.  They are not the disrupter per se, but those who are fastest and most adept at embracing and understanding what technology innovation can offer.  The tension is caused when they make those “demands” known to IT and the business, which is not how things used to be!

A primary driver of the changing mind-set of the user, that we must now contend with, is consumerisation.  The quality, functionality and ease of use of modern technologies has transformed our lives and experiences in the home, and so somewhat obviously we are seeking similar outcomes in our work lives.  This is difficult, for many reasons, some of which I’ve touched on in the previous posts of this series.  However we cannot let difficulty become our excuse.  Frustrated and un-empowered users represent a huge cost to our businesses in many ways – attrition, reduction in customer service, reduced productivity etc.

So we must continue to strive to provide functionality and tools that enable users to do their jobs effectively, in ways that suit them and that are more engaging.  The secondary challenge beyond the provision and integration of solutions, is in ensuring adoption.  It is critical that the tools that we select, purchase and deploy are actually used and embraced by users and the business, in order to drive the value and benefit they promise.  “Adoption” is often spoken about, often by vendors, who actually mean consumption (activation) and/or billing.  We are striving to deliver meaningful work and behavioural change through the use of appropriate and effective technology over a sustained period of time.  For us, this is both the value and opportunity of adoption.

But with so much choice, so many opinions, some many vendors and products, compiling the service portfolio for users is a complicated challenge.   At a hardware level there continues to be innovation, new devices to cater for, increasingly broader workstyles, and new features and capabilities that we need to identify a practical use case for.  There is a path towards more sophisticated methods of engaging with technology through Augmented Reality and natural interfaces such as speech and gesture.   Across the application portfolio are new trends, with a rapid expansion of Software as a Service (SaaS) and mobile applications to accompany or even replace traditional systems of records, new features and capabilities all being made available at a rapid rate. The challenge is multi-dimensional – evaluation and selection of the solution, the integration and migration with all other elements of the technology platform, and then getting users to use it to drive the benefits!

This is the challenge.  The need to devise a strategy and approach to harness the innovation and change, without overwhelming the users, in order that the solutions can be adopted and meaningful changes to ways of working to be realised.  The opportunity here is that in getting this right, it will satisfy the user needs as well as the business requirements for change.

No single aspect of this can be undertaken or delivered in isolation.  In essence this is the point of developing the overall blueprint.  It is a complicated environment in which the business, users, IT and the ecosystem (partners, vendors etc) all must co-exist and cooperate in order to deliver tangible outcomes and benefits.

As we move to the final post of the series, we’ll reveal the whole graphic and touch on some of the nuances and considerations we need to make, such that each of these entities can cooperate and coexist in order to drive change in an effective operating model.

The Shifting Role of IT in the Digital Workplace (Series Post 2)

In my previous blog I introduced our “blueprint” for the New Digital Workplace and spoke of the Demands and Drivers that result from the “digital” trend that is pervasive across all our industries.

As “Digital” starts to present new opportunities to businesses, we must re-examine the role of the IT department, in order for it to fulfil its potential as an enabler for  change.

Shifting Role of IT

The IT department is often maligned with false perceptions and stereotypes.  It might be fair to say that many do not understand the intricacies and challenges of providing a comprehensive technology platform in the digital era.  Others would argue that they don’t need to understand! Technology should just work and experiences should be fluid and effective.  End of.

But the IT function is changing rapidly.  Technology advances has made IT integral to the modern business, so change and adaptation is critical!  In this post I’d like to try to offer a few examples of how the IT department is adapting in this new context.

The classic, and often perceived, role of the IT department is as a “Gatekeeper”, dictating and controlling decisions on platforms, solutions and devices which are thrust onto users and the business.  The IT department has sought to demonstrate engineering disciplines – creating complex, highly coupled and integrated technologies that are built to be stable, performant and secure.  And as long as these objectives were met, the business was often (historically!) content and tension was minimised.  Perhaps the IT function was the follower of change not the leader? Typically activities would be driven around refresh cycles – providing predictability and an established patterns and principles by which change would happen.

But the world is changing, and the change is significant.  Technology has been a key driver of this.  Cloud technologies, the growth of mobility and ubiquitous connectivity generate new opportunities for how we can engage with both our customers, partners and our users.  There has also been a shift towards alternative methodologies for driving activities and change, with terms like “Agile” and “DevOps” becoming core language.

The opportunity that this technology advancement has offered us has created a need to think, act and respond differently to ensure that adoption is swift in order to compete and differentiate our businesses.  And the IT department is at the heart of this in understanding and identifying how technology can be exploited to unlock these opportunities.

Within this context the IT department is changing from the Gatekeeper role, towards a Broker – an active facilitator of change.  We see this in many contexts, some of the most striking are in establishing frameworks and approaches for adoption of cloud technologies (invariably from a range of different providers that all need to be managed and integrated), through to the fundamental change caused by “as a Service” more generally.  Windows 10 and its continual and frequent updates (“Evergreen” as we term it) is perhaps the most current and certainly most disruptive example in the Workplace IT arena.

As a broker of services, the IT department needs to be able to react much more quickly to change; to be agile, dynamic, and even “entrepreneurial” in its behaviour.  Project timelines will reduce significantly, become much more iterative in nature, and the IT portfolio will comprise tens of projects and initiatives running on similar timescales, competing for resources, impacting users, and challenging the conventional wisdom that underpinned the classic IT playbook.

This fundamentally changes the relationship of the IT department with the stakeholders in the business.  If it isn’t already, IT will need to become more integrated into the business and understand the business challenges more so that it can lead the response with innovative solutions.  Of course, many organisations are operating in this way, it would be wrong to suggest that this is a universal problem.  However for many organisations this shift will be much more profound, and the change will feel much more like a revolution than an evolution.

In the next instalment, of this blog series we will look more closely at one of the key stakeholder groups, Users: their perspectives, challenges and demands of the New Digital Workplace.

All Aboard the TrAIn to Westworld

See what I did there? TrAIn? AI or to give it its Sunday name Artificial Intelligence is everywhere just now. Or rather, it is everywhere in the technology press, but we’re just at the cusp of it coming into and affecting our lives. No longer do we need to worry about Cloud or Big Data as our hype trends, now we have AI and her close friend IoT.  (You forgot Machine Learning – Ed)

However, we are several years away from seeing the true impact of AI. The growth in the number of connected devices allows businesses to transform (you nearly got Digital Transformation in as well for those playing buzzword bingo – Ed) based on the more and varied sources of data. As the number of connected devices grows so our Data Scientists can interpret and turn this deluge of data into business Information.

IOT Infographic

(Image Source; The Connectivist)

At present, this is simply Machine Learning, not true Artificial Intelligence. Current decision making technologies and outcomes are programmed by humans, there is no interpretation with all outcomes driven by complex algorithms. We now have infrastructure solutions more capable than ever of processing information in real time. As an example, Suduko; a typical person would take over two hours to complete a 4×4 puzzle, Google Image Recognition Software can complete the same puzzle in 9 seconds.

Therefore we know advantages can be gained by systems completing tasks faster than humans can possibly consider. We have high precision robots, we can translate signs simply by pointing our phones at them using image recognition and we almost have driverless cars, however the car doesn’t quite understand yet why I want to go via Dominos to collect a pizza on the way home.

The gap to true AI is logic and reasoning; whilst robots can do a significant amount of human tasks they will not know why, they are following a set of instructions. Whilst we can possibly program logic into a robotic operation can we get the same robot to comprehend moral issues? What if a self-driving car is out of control? Does it drive into a wall risking its passengers or hit a bus stop of people? The moral issue has relevance in these situations, and has to be involved in the decision making process.

So whilst we are still somewhat away from holidaying at Westworld[i] the current rate of technological advancement will see it arrive in the next several years. It will have a material impact on all our lives and we will see autonomous vehicles, enhanced customer services and a myriad of options we simply have not considered yet. The data we are generating today is already impacting development of future products and services, from healthcare to transport and everything in between.

The obvious concern is the terminator scenario where computers think for themselves and take over, as per the well-publicised exchange between Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk recently there are differing opinions on this. Whilst unlikely, the potential for computers to adopt human traits of emotion, aggression and protection exist and it’s important that humans retain the ultimate off switch.

I’m not planning to work for Cyberdyne Systems or develop my own Skynet just yet, and I fully intend that any robot will work for me and not the other way about.

 

[i] Westworld, for those living in a bubble, is an American science fiction western thriller television series. The story takes place in the fictional Westworld, a technologically advanced Wild West–themed amusement park populated by android hosts. Westworld caters to high-paying guests, who may indulge in whatever they wish within the park, without fear of retaliation from the hosts, or so they thought.

 

An update from the 2017 graduates

Hello All,

Welcome to the first edition of the 2017 Projects Practice Graduate Blog. My name is Alex and I’ll be the first of eight to be updating everyone on the graduate scheme and what we’ve been getting up to over the coming months.

To first give a background of myself; I graduated from the University of Exeter back in 2016 having studied a bachelors in Mining Engineering – yes mining, nothing at all to do with computers! Having completed my degree, my first proper job was as a graduate civil engineer working in Cornwall before switching tact entirely and opting for a career in project management. So, not your usual route into IT! I must say however, having worked in a different industry and in the public sector gives to some very useful perspective!

Civil engineering is a very busy and prosperous industry within the UK and a fantastic thing to get into. However, as with many industries, the higher up you go, the less technical you become and the more people management begins to dominate your day-to-day working life. So if the end goal was to be a project manager, why not start now? And why not dip my toes into a different industry while I’m at it? Well here I am!

What is becoming increasingly apparent to me, is the wealth of tools and support that Computacenter makes available in order for you to reach your potential. Having briefly worked in the public sector, I was in a much more stagnant environment operating on a very much ‘dead man’s shoes’ principal. Now, maybe that was because I was working in Cornwall and I must say the pace of life is a lot more laid back there, but it’s certainly not what a lot of young people want in their early careers and this inevitably added to the reasons why I decided to move.

In our brief 9 weeks with Computacenter, the grads have had dinner with the Group Professional Services Director- Andy Moffitt, we’ve met the Head of Projects Practice- Zameer Kaderkutty and the Head of Consultancy- Martin Provoost to name but a few. All these hugely important and influential people in the company and they are able to spare the time to meet us and welcome us. I am overwhelmingly impressed; the only time I ever spoke to and shook the hand of the office manager in my previous job was to say “Cheerio, I’m leaving for London!” That was after six months in the job which you’d think is enough time to rub shoulders with your office manager; it wasn’t even a big office! What I’m trying to say is that I did not expect such important people to be concerned with or interested in graduates because my previous superiors certainly weren’t! I’m delighted to have been proved wrong in this assumption.

Aside from socialising with ‘big wigs’ of the Computacenter society, we have started our rotations where we delve into some of the core divisions of Computacenter. We have spent two weeks with the Central Projects Office which appears to be a very successful and rapidly growing section of Computacenter. It’s probably easier for me to tell you what they don’t do rather than what they actually do as it seems to me as nearly everything. This epiphany led to the development of our new graduate strategy going forward: “If you don’t know where to go, contact CPO!”

After the Central Projects Office, we spent a week with scheduling followed by a week with BECS. Scheduling provided a very useful insight and it’s great to know where all those iRequests that project coordinators raise actually go!  The following week with BECS provided us with a grounding in the pre-sales process and all the work required to win a bid. We were also given a task of developing a background study and a tailored sales campaign for several potential clients entering the market in the future. So who knows? Our background studies may contribute in some small way to a few future bids!

That brings us nearly up to the present. I just want to reiterate how impressed I am with CC- and how well I’ve been received into the company. The guys on Glassdoor weren’t kidding about the level of praise the company deserves! Thank you for taking the time to read my blog, I’ve added a photo of us all on our first day, all trying to look as professional as possible! From the left: Tom D, myself, James, Issie, Laura, Rollie, Tom W and Nick (who seems to have lost interest in looking at the camera!).

group-a.png

The next entry will be by Laura Springall in the upcoming weeks.

The New Digital Workplace (Series Post)

Digitisalisation is having a profound effect on us all.  Across both our professional and our home lives, the maturity of technology and the rapid rate of change are having staggering impacts.  In the business world, no industries are immune from these effects.  New products are emerging, whilst older more established products or suppliers are leaving the marketplace.  Disruption is becoming the new normal, and it’s uncomfortable for many of us.

Across our broad range of customers, and the market as a whole, we are seeing common themes; threats and opportunities that need to be addressed to harness the potential of “the digital age”.  To do this, we need to “re-imagine” our businesses, and look at change at every level.  Now “Digital” is a very broad subject, and so I need to focus this conversation around Workplace IT.  In order to achieve the “Digital Workplace”  working approaches, processes, tools and culture need to change radically.   To help explain this we have developed a blueprint for the Digital Workplace, as shown in the diagram below:

Future Digital Workplace - Intro - Business

We haven’t exposed the whole picture… yet.  There are a number of key topics, each of which warrant explanation in turn, which I will provide  through a series of blogs over the coming weeks. Eventually we’ll have the full “big picture” view to draw it all together.

To start off, let’s look at the demands and drivers for a Digital Workplace environment. This will be  followed by posts addressing the shifting role of IT, the user implications, , and the ways in which you need to run and operate these environments in order to continue to achieve the promise of the Digital Workplace vision.

Demands and Drivers of the Digital Workplace

We continue to see, and are often inadvertently led by, technical innovations and opportunities, and seek to call this assembly of technology a “Digital Workplace”.  But a real Digital Workplace is so much more than just a technology solution.  We are often quick to launch a Pilot or a Proof of Concept, without clear understanding of the business challenge or opportunity that it may help to address.  The current “hot” technologies are IOT, Cognitive services and Analytics… it’s tempting to look at spinning up that Proof of Concept isn’t it!?

Looking top down from the business level, we need to continually respond to the demands and expectations of our customers, and to the competitive threats we face, many of which are exploiting “Digital” to accelerate their progress and growth.  So we must look at how we can exploit new technologies and our methods of delivery in order to compete, differentiate and optimise our businesses.

We need to shift towards digital touch points with the “agents” that interact with us (consumers, suppliers, employees) in order to provide a modern and fluid experience that meets both their needs and expectations.  User familiarity with modern technology has already achieved one outcome, a dramatic fall in tolerance of poor or substandard performance and service (check social media of some of your favoured brands for brutal examples of this!) – so we need to continue to innovate and change in order to continue to delight our customers and users.

To succeed, this requires change in businesses at every level.  From the line of business functions all the way through to the IT department, significant change and disruption needs to happen in order to re-calibrate for the modern world.  This will involve looking inwardly at our processes, tools and resources, and disrupting ourselves, before it is done unto us.  However we cannot shy away from these difficult decisions and activities, as need for change is absolute and clear.

In the next blog, we’ll cover the shifting role of the IT department in this context, and how the IT department is and must change to become an enabler of the digital business…..

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