Anyone been to the Windows App Store recently?

Hands up who has departments that depend on Zoho Invoice, Eclipse Manager or Diagram Painte? Okay I’ve picked some of the more random business applications available in the Microsoft Store for Business, but I’ve not had to leave the home page to do so. Other than the Microsoft applications and a couple of offerings from Citrix there isn’t much there you’d recognise. Because of this the Windows App Store has not so far been a focus for enterprise organisations, but could that be changing?

Microsoft’s attempt to modernise how we install and deliver Windows applications has failed to impress. Continuum was meant to deliver universal applications to run across the entire Microsoft ecosystem, but as good an idea as it was, the developers never came and, so, neither did the apps. That led to the end of Windows phone, while doing nothing to improve the dearth of business content in the Microsoft Store.  Terry Myerson, Vice President of Operating Systems at Microsoft in 2015 said “tool kits will allow developers to bring their code for iOS, Android, the Web, .NET, and Win32 to the Windows Store with minimal code modifications. Our goal is to make Windows 10 the most attractive development platform ever”. Apple and Google have their own app stores though and the benefits of moving away from ‘how we’d always done it’ weren’t compelling enough. Windows Desktop Bridge was the last initiative to invigorate the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) and so the Microsoft App Store. This time the focus was on migrating 32-bit MSI (so just Windows) packages to APPX (Universal) ones. However, to gain all the benefits of UWP additional development is required and that is a barrier to organisations adopting it. In 2017 Microsoft released the MSIX package format to replace MSI, APPV and APPX extensions and get around this problem. MSIX has all the features of UWP with more container security options and extra application customisations. To further aid the adoption of the new standard, Microsoft open sourced the entire project on GitHub. MSIX is still in its infancy and has only just gained support in Windows 10 1809. The current format does not support driver installation, Windows service installation or modification, kernel or Explorer modification. Having said that the promise is very much in line with the messaging around Modern Management and the continued consumerisation of the Windows desktop. The abstraction of applications from the OS increases the ease at which feature updates can be deployed and offers the self-service experience users now expect.

The previous lack of a cohesive application strategy has held back the promise of a Windows App Store resulting in the chicken and egg problem: if Microsoft can entice software developers to take up the MSIX format people will use the app store, if people use the app store software developers will develop apps for it. The concept is a seismic shift away from how we Windows applications are delivered. but then Windows 10 demands we consider applications in an entirely different way.  As we change the way we manage Windows, so ISVs are having to change the way they develop software to keep up with the moving target that Microsoft is presenting. This ability to distribute software across the globe, through a store, with their latest supported versions immediately available to users as soon as they update Windows is hugely appealing for all concerned.

Whatever platforms and initiatives Microsoft invent they are completely beholden to the developer community and the behaviour of users. A consistent message will go a long way to helping them. The hope is obviously to replicate the consumer experience we take for granted with application update notifications. However, other platforms may not have 30 years of legacy applications to contend with. Business-critical, internally developed applications needing extensive user testing before release, will always be treated differently but ‘Evergreen’ is changing application testing. You aren’t going to test 3,000 apps every six months, so which ones do you really care about? Which will you test proactively and which reactively? The drive to modernise applications continues at pace but plenty of legacy remains that could be adapted to be delivered from a Windows App Store. For now though, we’ll have to wait and see what the uptake of MSIX is, both with the software vendors and internal packagers.

Based on the organisations I speak to, we’ve reached roughly a 50/50 split between SaaS and traditional ones. If we assume that the easy ones get transformed first we’re now into the long Microsoft tail of applications we still have to deploy out to colleagues. To do this we need new solutions and MSIX seems to enable this. Does MSIX spell the end of App-V? Probably. Does this mean the reality of a Business App Store is upon us? Possibly. The demand for, and expectation of, a Windows App Store is certainly there, we just need the applications.  Of course, you could be one of the 16 people worldwide who use Zoho Invoice in which case you’re already living the dream.

Black History Month – “Time to stand proud”​

October is Black History month and celebrated as such in the UK, USA, Canada, Irish Republic and the Netherlands to name a few nations. It reflects on the history of the African, African American, Afro Caribbean community and its experiences both negative and positive within the world as we know it. I have been torn for many years on my viewpoint of the use of a single month in the year to celebrate the achievements of Black people – we are no different from every other race with experiences and achievements illuminated daily through the course of normal life, so why the focus on a single month.

However my stance has softened somewhat in recent years in the midst of the lack of focus and importance placed on reflecting on historical experiences in the many forms irrespective of race, or colour as constant digital recalibration of the past becomes the historical signpost for our future. We live in an information rich world with access greater than ever before to the amazing historical insight available and via the magic of AI & ML now have a platform to “what if” the future. The film “Hidden Figures” told the story of three Black women mathematicians who were fundamental the success of early NASA Apollo space programmes. If the “Black History Month” moniker results in more positive historical stories of a similar nature to be told and heard, it will help so many unwind public domain, lazy stereotypes that may exist.

But our absorption of those knowledge nuggets can be somewhat compromised by the harsh realisation that “written doesn’t mean real” with fake news at times impossible to discern from real news (and who validates real as real). With all of the above guiding our historical lenses, it’s essential an underrepresented community at times from a “good historical news” standpoint is granted a stage or a spotlight to expose past and showcase current good news stories for the present generation to reflect on and learn from.

This post isn’t the forum to chronicle the achievements of black people and how they have positively affected humanity, many are well documented elsewhere. But it is to radiate a digital smile that for at least one month in the year children, adults, all people of all races within the countries that celebrate black History month can be informed, stimulated and educated based on valuable historical information that without focus they may have no imperative to seek out and consume.

Black History Month October 2018

Until Next Time.

Colin W

Twitter: @colinwccuk

LOB CTO UK – Networking and Security

The rise of machines – “Time to worry about the digital soul within”​.

Things just became really interesting.

The recent news is awash with worrying claims from a credible source of “hidden” spying chips embedded within the motherboard of a leading server manufacturer. As yet, no manufacturer has released a statement confirming their existence but the information illuminating the potential is compelling. Surely it forces us all to consider our own personal, personal and professional “digital state” in this heavily connected world. Do we technically appraise every computer based device we use at design and component level to determine the source, use and security impact of all of the minute elements that make the device work. Of course we don’t, not only would the majority of us struggle to find out how to even open the device (have you tried to open a modern mobile phone with the myriad of specialist tools and hidden pressure points to make things pop open), we no way of actually understanding the function and outcome delivered by the components (when they work in harmony).

Can we be sure the most innocuous of household device has no secret and potentially malicious embedded elements that whilst not explicitly installed to be utilized in a nefarious way in the right hands can’t be leveraged to invoke a surveillance, recording or tracking function? It is this total ambivalence to the likelihood of it, until possibly today that means the potential may be more likely that we ever dreamed.

The days of hardcoded firmware delivering static intelligence to all but the most expensive and programmable devices is from a bygone era. Even the simplest digital device consists of user or system driven remotely programmable aspects that in some cases are core to the function of the device. Whether it’s used from software updates, device troubleshooting or in the case of some advanced modern vehicles to deliver totally new functionality, device or system programmability is a fundamental aspect of modern IT that enhances the consumer or user experience by making it “personal”.

Could we be shifting to a position of worry so great that we “sweep for bugs” when entering a room or prior to switching a device on in true James Bond mode – highly unlikely. But I suggest the recent announcements will ensure many IT leaders and operational teams increase the priority of network based security visibility platforms, AI or machine learning systems that examine and re-examine the most granular elements of telemetry and security aware behavioral analytics platforms that understand things we can’t comprehend.

Ask yourself when considering the IT platforms that underpin your business (or social existence), what can you really see, are you sure you know how they work and do you really understand the security heart that beats within?

Who would have thought, we are not even close to the iconic year 2020 and already we may be worrying about the moral intent in the digital soul of our machines. The future ahead is likely to be way more interesting than we have ever previously dreamed.

Until next time.

Colin W

Twitter: @colinwccuk

LOB CTO UK – Computacenter Networking and Security

Yet more Windows announcements – MMD, WVD – what does it mean?

September has certainly been a busy month for people involved in the End User marketplace and particularly those tracking the Windows 7 to Windows 10 transition.

A couple of weeks ago I posted about two really key announcements, the first relating to the extension to Windows as a Service (or Evergreen) support ability for Enterprise users (up to 30 months) and also the confirmed availability of Extended Security Updates (ESU) for Windows 7 beyond its planned end date of January 2020.

Both of these announcements are good news for businesses.  The first giving more time to deploy updates in complex estates and providing more stability to the desktop environment.  The second provides transparency to customers on the impact of not completing their migration from Windows 7 by 2020.  To take ESU will get expensive for customers of a given scale, but its a back-stop solution and allows for an informed business case for completing the move to Windows 10.  The harsh reality is the enterprise was never going to have completed this by January 2020 anyway, so Microsoft providing an option early diffuses the issue somewhat.

But that’s old news.   In the past two weeks there have been two other announcements that are worth noting, as placed alongside the existing announcements add more option, maybe more complexity to the migration planning situation

Microsoft Managed Device (MMD)

Computacenter are delighted to have been chosen as an initial launch partner for Microsoft’s “MMD” offering.   We have been working closely with Microsoft as the MMD concept has developed and matured and are excited about the opportunity this brings both to ourselves and our customers in helping them transform to a Modern Workplace powered by Microsoft 365 and cloud technologies.

This strategy aligns completely to our Digital Me proposition which we’ve been using to help our customers transform to a modern workplace environment and enable their users and develop significant business performance from a truly mobile and collaborative workplace.

We will be working in partnership with Microsoft as MMD develops in the coming months and are excited by the opportunities to enhance our existing solutions and accelerate the transformation to the Modern Workplace.

For further details, we’ll be talking about this topic in a specific presentation at Microsoft Future Decoded on 31st October at the London ExCel centre. 

Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD)

At Microsoft Ignite in Orlando this week, Microsoft announced WVD.  This is a very significant, not least as Microsoft themselves have held up this market for many years with complicated and restrictive licensing models that effectively prohibited running Client Operating Systems in this kind of way.

But times change and Microsoft have now announced that this too will be available (Soon) allowing you to run Windows 10 Virtual Desktops in the Azure platform.  Citrix were also quick out of the blocks to build on this announcement, adding more capability and function to the base Microsoft offer.

The really interesting bit in this is not the headline announcement itself.  Why? My view is that Public Cloud Desktop as a Service will find its own trajectory in the market based on organisations public cloud and security appetite and the classic application adjacency and performance issues – but nice that there is now a viable option in the market.

What caught my eye most was that Microsoft are offering Windows 7 ESU for free within the WVD proposition.  What does this mean? Basically you can charge on with the deployment to Windows 10 but for any of those troublesome apps or workstyles that Windows 7 is creating a constraint, you now have a containment strategy to host them on WVD without incurring the additional support costs.  There are nuances, you’ll clearly have to pay for the Azure resources to run this, but it gives yet another option to deal with the Windows 10 migration challenge.

WVD is in a limited preview stage and we’re awaiting more details on formal launch

Summary

Piece all of these announcements together and we’ve now got a number of different options and solutions to content with the transition to a Modern Desktop.  A few weeks all we really had was a date in early Jan 2020 that we knew the market was going to struggle to hit.  Microsoft have responded, and responded in force.

We’re looking forward to talking to customers about MMD in particular, but even aside from that all the other announcements are going to create some  different customer conversations through the rest of 2018 and 2019

Contact us for more details or come and see us at Future Decoded

Changes to Microsoft Windows Servicing and Support Models

A week ago today (6th September) Microsoft made two significant announcements relating to the Support of Windows 7 and the Servicing Model for Windows 10, commonly known as “Windows as a Service” or “Evergreen”.

Many organisations have been progressing at pace with the planning and delivery of their Workplace transformations, and these important announcements come at a critical time with approximately 15 months remaining support on the original Windows 7 End of Extended Support Deadline of 14 January 2020.

What Was Announced ?

Permanent Extension to Windows 10 Support Model

Microsoft operate a bi-annual release strategy for Windows 10, described commonly “Windows as a Service” (alternatively “Windows Evergreen”).  Each version of Windows 10 was to be supported for 18 months, significantly shorter than any previous version of Windows – and the source of much tension and concern within enterprise organisations. For those who have been following this as closely as I have, this culminated in an “Open Letter” to Microsoft about some of the issues that the regularity of these updates are causing, as well as the quality of the updates when issued!

Microsoft have now decided to amend the Windows service model, providing a longer support period for Enterprise and Education products .   Moving forwards Windows 10 will comprise a “Spring Release” (launched in circa March of each calendar year) and a “Fall Release” (launched in circa September of each calendar year).  Importantly, the Spring release will retain the default 18 month support lifecycle whilst the Fall release will be supported for 30 months.   The reason for the shorter support period for the Spring release is somewhat unclear, Microsoft suggest this is for customers with the agility to adopt at a faster pace, but this now seems unnecessary and uptake from enterprise organisations will, I feel, be very minimal for Spring release.

This announcement also applies to all existing (supported) versions of Windows 10, from 1607 onwards.

Windows 7 Extended Security Updates (ESU) to January 2023

Windows 7 was due to end its extended support lifecycle on January 14th 2020 and it is this date that is helping to drive the transformation to the Modern Workplace and Windows 10.  Microsoft have announced they will now offer Windows 7 Security Updates through to 2023 for customers within the Volume Licensing Programmes.

This support will be available on a paid for basis (per device) and the costs for this support will increase year on year from 2020 to 2023 in order to encourage the transition to Windows 10.

What does this mean to my organisation?

These announcements are significant, and the fact that both changes were announced at the same time is an interesting move from Microsoft.  With over 250m commercial users of Windows 10 , the move from Win 7 to Windows 10 seemed to be a fairly embedded motion, and whilst these things are always complicated – many organisations are well progressed on this.   That said, estimates range that enterprise adoption of Windows 10 was sub 10%, and so clearly Microsoft needed to act and respond to feedback.

The extension to the support lifecycle for Windows 10 offers two key advantages.  The first is consistency of the version of Windows 10 being deployed  into larger estates.  Under the former model, the length of support allied with the rate of transition meant that many organisations would need to intercept a new Win 10 version midst their migration programme, and so potentially would have multiple “flavours” of Windows 10 in their environment.  With a longer support period this should be mitigated for many organisations.  Furthermore with an extended period of support gives a chance for a period of greater stability and for customers to extract further value from each release deployed.

What Should I do Next?

These announcements should not be a reason for complacency or to delay current activities.  Windows 7 was released in 2009 and in that time both the security landscape as well as the user experience expectations of users has changed dramatically.  Windows 10 offers a fresh and modern workplace platform that is  more secure and enables your users to be more productive and effective t.

We’d encourage organisations to continue to work towards the original January 2020 date for Windows 7 replacement within their estate. Whilst the cost for the further extended Win 7 support is not intended by Microsoft to be punitive, the funds could be better invested in more progressive solutions rather than in maintenance of older platforms.

However as ever, things are not always that simple and there are various other dynamics and considerations to contend with.  We are at a key point with regards to hardware chipsets transitions that impacts Windows 7 and Windows 10 supportability, with significant commercial considerations that need to be evaluated.   Added to that are the prevalent topics throughout 2018 of  “Device as a Service”  procurement models and technology evolution to modernise Deployment and Provisioning as just a few examples.  All of these factors need to be considered not least to enable you to make the transition to a Modern Workplace, but allow you to operate and manage it effectively in a world where the rate of change is going to be much faster than we’ve ever experienced below.

Finally just to say that in the cold light of these announcements Windows 10 is a three year old product, it is mature and a significant improvement on the prevalent Windows 7 environments within corporate IT.  Computacenter have been helping customers deploy and manage Windows 10 throughout this time period, so if you need any help or advice in this process, feel free to make contact with us.

Meeting about a Meeting?

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Have you ever been in that meeting about a meeting? In the busy lives that we lead, having unnecessary meetings puts a great burden on our valuable time and resources. What is worse is that often those meetings are not as productive as they should be due to the meeting space used and/or the technology provided, whether this be physical or virtual.

It is estimated that $37 Billion per year is spent globally on unproductive meetings and 15% of an organisation’s collective time is spent in meetings, and this has grown annually since 2008[1]

The problem is the one meeting about a meeting that should be taking place rarely happens. That’s the meeting with all the parts of the organisation which are involved in deciding how the meeting and collaboration spaces should look and function.

More Than Just a Room

When we think about the how and where people work, what the culture of the organisation is and the technology strategy employed, you can see that a variety of groups and stakeholders need to work together to provide input into the strategy around meeting rooms and collaboration spaces. I often engage with HR, Facilities, IT, End User Teams and of course the users themselves to ensure that we have a consolidated and agreed strategy leading to a better user experience.

It is imperative that the modern workplace with its diversity of collaboration tools, from the user devices through to the meeting rooms and collaboration spaces, enable a consistent user experience. Failure to do this often means that users become frustrated, efficiency and productivity drops, and meeting and collaboration spaces become a hindrance to productivity rather than an enabler.

In addition, all collaboration and meeting spaces need to have consistency across geographic locations and room type or size, enabling your users to be productive wherever they may be. But to ensure all of these elements work for your users, the end-to-end experience, from booking a meeting or collaboration space through to finding and using the space must be easy and intuitive, and this too is sometimes neglected.

Know Thy Space

Common problems that companies experience are Meeting spaces being the wrong type and size; often I see large meeting rooms with 2 people in them or vice versa, Meeting spaces show up as being booked yet a walk around the building shows many rooms unoccupied, further adding to the cost of unproductive meetings. People often search for meeting rooms if they don’t often use that particular office and can arrive late or flustered leaving them in the wrong mindset to be fully productive.

As space becomes more of a premium, better use of what you currently have, or changing the configuration of existing rooms becomes invaluable in getting the best usage and driving effective collaboration and meetings.

To help organisations drive toward a better collaborative meeting experience, Computacenter provide an advisory service called “Meeting Spaces Assessment Service” (MSAS).

MSAS

 

The service provides guidance on how best to shape and drive collaboration and meeting spaces based on the following criteria:

  • Understanding what is currently in place for the meeting and collaboration spaces including booking tools and room surveys
  • Examine the current tools being used and how these fit into the wider collaboration strategy
  • Have that meeting about meetings that really matter and bring the necessary stakeholders together to agree the approach
  • Speak with people who use the rooms and understand what opportunities there are to enhance the collaboration and meeting spaces
  • Provide clear guidance and costs associated with driving these changes into the business

We understand the challenges associated with enabling users to collaborate and engage across multiple devices, locations and technologies, and can help to solve these. Your employees won’t need to keep having unproductive meetings about meetings, if you  have that one meeting about all meetings, and set up your collaboration and meeting spaces to provide a great, consistent experience and enable your users to be more productive.

[1]https://www.inc.com/laura-montini/infographic/the-ugly-truth-about-meetings.html

Getting user adoption right

The need for change

We are living in a world where the rate at which technology changes seems to be increasing exponentially. Combine this with a working population drawn from multiple-generations, with differing levels of digital dexterity and varying attitudes to change, and the result is a complex list of requirements that will need to be met when implementing any change.

It’s no wonder that organisations have a tough time getting all these factors to align, ensuring everybody is considered, and whether they have the right technology at the right time?

How organisations deal with these different elements will have a huge effect on how any change will be accepted by such a diverse user base and ultimately how effective your users will be.

Most organisations recognise the importance of user adoption and how it affects their change initiatives. Getting your users to welcome and use the latest software or technology is key to the success of any change project. However many organisations would confess to having limited success in their approaches to making this happen effectively.

Past initiatives have in the majority of cases treated the technology as the most important element of the change, which often resulted in a great solution which then faltered when user adoption levels were low. The user element of the change can often be given little airtime in the project and quite often gets squeezed if timescales or budgets are tight.

Failure to achieve user adoption is typically encountered during the middle or the end of your change life-cycle. The cause of this is likely to be rooted within your organisation or embedded within your original approach. Traditionally organisations have usually only factored in basic training or communications into their change initiatives. Whilst these are valid components, unless they consider the needs of your users they are likely to fall short during their latter execution. Expecting users to embrace your change and align to new working practices requires a significant effort to remove or avoid the change barriers inherent within your organisation.

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Recognising the effect and importance of user adoption on your change initiative is just the first step on the journey. Identifying your user or organisation’s barriers is a key element to realising your investments and delivering successful change. Do this by making your users feel part of the process, ask them what they need and how they like to be communicated to, involve them along the way and build the project and outcomes with them in mind.

Build a strategy

The secret to driving successful adoption is to have a strategy for it. Recognise that the views and perspectives of your users are essential to this. Incorporating their needs and challenges will ensure you get the outcome you designed. Remembering that your desired outcome will only be a success if you change your users’ behaviours. Do this by ensuring your adoption strategy considers how it will create meaningful and engaging content that is relevant and beneficial for your users. Assuming your users will see the benefits and make the leap by themselves is a sure path to failure. Put yourself in their shoes, consider how this will look from their perspective. How would you like to be informed and what would make you change your behaviour and adopt this new tool/process or practice?

Execute it well

You now have an adoption strategy that considers the right messages, content and benefits aligned to your business and its users. Whilst a great strategy is essential, poor execution can often devalue or comprise your well thought out principles. Make sure you have a plan to execute your strategy, consider how you will make it happen. Ensure your stakeholders and user champions are engaged, build relevant and engaging content. Treat it like a marketing campaign and build interest and awareness of your impending change. Ensure you have training and communications that not only inform your users as to what is coming but also brings to life what it means to them. Ask the questions: ‘How does this work for me?’; ‘Why do I need this?’ and ‘How does this benefit me?’

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Getting your users engaged and embedded in your change programmes; and building relevant and engaging user adoption content that underpins your strategy will go a long way to making IT work for its users and delivering the value you desire.


Neil Cant is Solution Leader for End User Services & Digital Workplace at Computacenter.

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