The promise of Autopilot and Modern Management

Zero touch deployment is something of a Holy Grail in the desktop configuration management world. Even with complex scripting and numerous third-party products it has continued to evade us. Does that now change with the advent of Microsoft Autopilot? Will you become the Indiana Jones of your organisation?

So what is Windows Autopilot? Autopilot is a process more than a technology, which enables you to take a Windows 10 device out of the box, connect it to a network, type in your credentials and voilà! Moments later (timings dependent on many factors, obviously) you’re up and running complete with applications and data. Truly zero touch (if you exclude the typing); but only for the right users, in the right locations, with the right applications.

autopilot.png

At a high-level you upload – or more likely your hardware manufacturer will – your device IDs to your company’s Azure tenancy and you get your policies and applications applied as you login without the need to re-image. The technology behind this is based upon modern management (unified endpoint management) so this will work with any Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) vendor. Modern management makes use of the APIs enabled in Windows 10 and allows you to manage them in the same way you do the mobile devices in your estate. So SCCM equals traditional, AirWatch, Intune etc. equals modernity. The problem is SCCM has a long history and manages the majority of enterprise organisations’ estates today. That’s a good deal of customisation and knowledge that’s been baked-in over the years as well as the features and functionality that the EMM boys are yet to develop.

There’s also the consideration of whether you join your machines to Active Directory. Autopilot is dependent on Azure AD. This brings your identity strategy into question. Are you ready to switch off AD? APIs give you access to a few thousand settings but group policies run to tens of thousands and if you consider that they’re really just registry settings then they’re virtually infinite. So how quickly could you translate all that configuration onto a new platform?

Microsoft is well aware of this though and since Windows 10 1709 allowed Autopilot to work in conjunction with SCCM in a hybrid model. This allows you to join machines to Azure AD and your local AD, which goes some of the way to solving the current restrictions. However, deployment is still triggered by your EMM tool and so the granularity that SCCM offers is somewhat negated. So what does that mean in practice? Statistically, seven out of ten people reading this are not going to be on Windows 10 yet and so have a transformation programme ahead of you. Thousands of users will be sitting in your offices ready for their new devices. They’ll get them, unbox them and individually start downloading 20GB data across your network. How do you see that going?

Modern management, as a technology, is developing fast so it definitely needs to be part of your strategy but you need to know your use cases and requirements to get the greatest benefits from it. Users who spend the majority of their time away from the office and have a limited application set are a great place to start. Generally, for office users you’ll want to deploy to them using a traditional SCCM imaging solution. Once they’re on Windows 10, then modern management is the way to go as you transition away from local AD security policies and traditional application delivery, but that is a process that will take time to reach maturity.

This is the future of deployment, without a doubt, but for the time being it needs to be part of an overall deployment strategy. As colleagues have become more mobile traditional management methods have failed to keep up. EMM platforms were built with the assumption that all users are mobile. The transformation of your environment will most likely be suited more towards SCCM with some opportunity for Autopilot. Once you get to Windows 10 though, more users are likely to be suitable to be managed in a modern way. As the technology develops more new and refreshed devices will come into scope. The key here is to make Autopilot part of your infrastructure now, but understand which users are able to make use of it. Be aware though that in six months’ time those use cases will have changed and grown so they need to be reviewed regularly. In Autopilot Microsoft has finally caught up with Apple’s Device Enrollment Programme and the expectation that users have for how things should work. So maybe you will find the Holy Grail and won’t need the hat and whip!

The Employee and EX

Elements of Employee Experience

Ask anybody what Employee Experience is and you’re likely to get a different perspective nearly every time. Most organisations would probably be able to explain what they expect or want from Employee Experience, improved levels of employee engagement, enthusiasm, identity and involvement. However how do you relate that to what your employees need?

images

Employee experience can’t be defined as a single thing or entity. It’s an amalgamation of your employees’ encounters with your organisation over a period of time.  The experience of an employee will differ from day to day. Some days they might have an extended commute to an office for a meeting and have to experience long traffic delays. Other times they will be working from a home office. But it could equally be working on a corporate device that is still running Windows 7 and legacy Office products and be heavily locked down, restricting their ability to work with both customers and colleagues.

Given the diversity of experiences your employees can encounter, you may consider this to be just too difficult to overcome. How can we change this? Whilst the strive to have a perfect experience for all your employees could be a step too far, most organisations can make significant headway to improve its employee satisfaction by considering some of the basic elements that make up its user experience.

It is important to understand the major elements at play and their effect on the employee experience; these are:   Culture, Technology and Workspace.

These elements define how your employees interact and behave within an organisation and impact their overall experience of their workplace. Considering how these elements need to evolve is key to improving the employee experience

Embracing Employee Experience (EX)

Employee Experience is becoming the watchword for organisations seeking to improve their employee engagement. It borrows concepts and approaches from the customer experience mind-set and applies them to its own employees. This approach seeks to improve employee touch points, from attracting talent and on-boarding through to how the employee performs their job and how they get rewarded.

This all makes sense, and if organisations had the ability to start again I’m sure many would incorporate all of the best practices available to get the best employee experience. But most organisations have considerable debt to consider in this area and cannot always justify the call to action to improve all aspects of its employee’s experience. However be warned this is not a get out of jail free card, organisations will ultimately suffer in the long term if employee experience does not evolve.

Achieving a better employee experience starts with “Understanding”. Knowing what your current situation is and what your employees are thinking, gaining insights into how they work is an essential step to improving their experience. Identifying the areas of your business you would like to address, for instance: is your employee retention rate to high? Are your employee satisfaction scores to low?

In order to address EX organisations should consider a three step approach:

  • ENGAGE with your employees and gain real world perspectives and data on how they are operating across the key EX dimensions. What is working for them and what is not? Listen to your employee’s views, gain insights and valued feedback.
  • EMPOWER your employees by involving them in the solutions, apply an employee centric approach to the thinking. What works best for them? What experience would drive the right behaviours? Acknowledge any issues and work together on solutions to address them.
  • ENRICH their experiences and increase their sense of meaning and belonging by working together to evolve the organisations culture, technology and working spaces by acting on the joint ideas and improvement initiatives.

These three steps should allow you to start to bridge the gap between what the actual employee experience is and what it needs to be. Now is the time to start this journey and engage with your employees and work together to empower them to drive the right experiences that will ultimately enrich their working lives.

 

Full STEAM ahead!

Encouraging the youth of today to become the tech leaders of tomorrow

In technology terms, UK businesses have never had it better. The UK tech sector now accounts for 10 percent of GDP and Tech Nation’s 2018 annual report revealed that the UK firmly leads in Europe, attracting £28bn in technology investment since 2011, compared with £11bn in France and £9.3bn in Germany.

Continuing adoption of cloud and virtualisation technologies and increasing interest in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning capabilities demonstrates that business leaders are aware of the increased productivity and profitability that’s on offer. However, even for those embracing the digital revolution, there remains a significant obstacle to realising the full benefits of modern IT infrastructure technologies.

Whilst the IT skills gap is now old news, it’s also not going anywhere fast. The deficit of skilled tech experts across the globe continues to grow and with Brexit looming in the UK, the outlook is even more uncertain. Many organisations are looking at short term solutions, such as de-siloing their IT departments to make expertise more broadly available and even outsourcing infrastructure to managed service providers (MSPs), but this doesn’t address the core issue. There’s still a real need to develop long term solutions to ensure UK businesses and the wider economy remains productive and competitive in the global marketplace in 2019 and beyond.

Mind the gap

In 2016, the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee delivered a damning report on the state of the skills gap – calling the situation a crisis and revealing that even down to the level of ICT teachers, there is a critical shortage of qualified candidates. That same report revealed that in the previous year over 90 percent of tech-based businesses struggled to fill vacancies and that the growing digital skills gap was already affecting their commercial activities.

To make matters worse, many of the UK’s digital technology businesses have historically relied upon talent from the wider European Union and the looming Brexit situation is only projected to starve the economy further of qualified IT professionals and engineers. Present estimates from the UK Government indicate that the digital skills gap is currently costing the UK economy £63 billion a year in lost GDP and as we transition towards an increasingly digital world, addressing the digital skills gap will be crucial to growth across every industry sector.

Looking ahead then, there are only two clear paths to sustaining growth and success; providing greater opportunities and incentives to cultivate new STEAM graduates through the UK education system, and creating new jobs for these new workers to excel in.

Establishing a meritechracy

At Computacenter our experience of the increased demand for tech resources, paired with the huge IT skills gap, led us to start an initiative to build our own homegrown talent. We believe that it is our responsibility to help school and university students across multiple subject disciplines to realise their true abilities and to become everything they could be.

In 2007 we established a programme of associate, apprenticeship, and graduate schemes to attract and encourage a diverse range of candidates to become the next generation of engineers and tech leaders, and it has been a resounding success. Since January 2015 alone, Computacenter has employed 142 apprentices, with over half of those in Technology based subjects following structured training and development plans with education and work elements. We also offer young people support through an Industrial Placement Programme, where university students spend 12 months working in a job that may relate to their studies and future career aspirations.

Both of these pathways are essential and we feel this demonstrates the level of our commitment to addressing the skills shortage, specifically within IT whilst providing more opportunities for talented young people. With 14 percent of the UK workforce currently aged 28 or under, and having seen a 67 percent retention rate on our programmes to date, we are confident Computacenter is driving this subject right from the top!

A brighter future

As UK businesses continue to voice their concerns around the growing skills gap, the Government appears to be taking heed of the seriousness of the situation and implementing strategies to attempt to reverse the national skills deficit. However, it’s not enough. We will need the entire industry to collaborate and create a long-term solution to address the skills crisis, with a strong focus on training and creating accessible entry level jobs.

At Computacenter, we believe that it’s necessary for businesses to take a more active role in building and nurturing the talent they need to succeed in the future. Given the increasing demand for ‘job ready’ applicants, programmes such as apprenticeships and industry placements will prove invaluable in attracting and developing skilled workers who will enable both public and private sector organisations to leverage the latest technologies and achieve their full potential.


Chris Price is Director of Public Sector & SI for Computacenter.

Cloud or Multi-cloud: Customers need not just one partner or vendor, but an ecosystem of providers

A little over a month ago we officially opened our new office in Dublin. Along with our UK MD, Neil Hall, we presented the investments we have been making in Computacenter’s portfolio of offerings, and how these can help our Irish customers achieve their goals.

While many of our customers who have a presence in Ireland will already be aware of the Computacenter proposition, many new to Ireland may not. In my presentation, I focussed on a couple of key topics: our relationship and capability around AWS & VMware; and the IP we have developed to help customers accelerate their developments with multiple cloud providers. We subscribe to the school of thought that multi-cloud will continue be the dominant approach towards cloud in the enterprise market, and if that is the case, then we also believe we have some very differentiating IP in our Hybrid Cloud Adoption Framework (HCAF).

Recognition of our investment in HCAF, partnerships and capabilities

I had the opportunity to repeat some of these same messages in Arizona last week, while at VMware’s Partner leadership Summit, where I shared with VMware & their top partners from across EMEA what HCAF is, and why it is important in a market where VMware will be consumed alongside AWS, Azure, GCP, etc. I must have done an OK job, as one of the partners from the Middle East offered to buy the IP! Later the same day, I went on stage to pick up the ‘VMware EMEA Public Cloud Integration’ Award on behalf of Computacenter, recognising the work we have done investing in HCAF and our broader public cloud partnerships and capability. What I find exciting about this recognition is the fact we have not even started to tell the story about the work we have been putting into the infrastructure as code (IaC) and containers space.

When it comes to awards, Computacenter & our hybrid IT & platforms team seem to be on a roll just now receiving some long overdue recognition for the work we have delivered to date. Since the week before the event in Dublin, we have picked up a few notable awards, including:

VMware UK&I Partner of the Year
• DELL EMC EMEA Partner of the year
• DELL EMC Presidents Circle
• VMWare EMEA Public Cloud Integration

Industry recognition really does helps us differentiate when we are speaking to our customers. Receiving accolades from across several vendors helps even more, as what our customers need right now is not one partner or vendor, but an ecosystem of providers who will work together and collaborate on behalf of the customer, and that is what we strive to deliver. Neither cloud nor multi-cloud represents a finishing line, where it all stops once you are there. The evolution rolls on as the market continues to find new ways of creating solutions that bring additional value and efficiencies.

Realising the value and delivering the business case

But with cloud, some things do need to be finished to realise the value and deliver the business case. In a recent customer example at Eversheds, click here to view the video case study, the greatest satisfaction was not the winning of the project, or delivery of their new cloud platform, it was the pictures of the man with the sweeping brush in the empty DC once we had migrated everything to the cloud and handed the keys back to the customer. While this might not seem like an important task, failure to finish the job and empty the datacenter means it’s still an asset on the customer’s books and the business case is not realised. As much as we herald HCAF, our cloud partnerships and awards plus our ability and track record of closing datacenter’s and handing keys back, are both up there as key components in our cloud value proposition.


Want to know more about the journey of bridging private and public cloud? Watch the Carpool tech Talk with me and Nick McAllister from VMware.

The Evolution of the Digital Workplace

Earlier this week we hosted a round table event to discuss the evolution of the Digital Workplace.  We were joined by 12 Industry leaders from a broad range of industries and backgrounds for an evening of discussion and dinner. Thanks to our co-sponsors Microsoft and our hosts Nimbus Ninety for making this event such a success.

We centred the discussion on three topics that continue to inform and intrigue our conversations with customers.  Unusually for me it was a change to mostly listen, absorb and reflect on our strategy and approach, and how we might improve.

The topics we addressed over the course of the evening were:

  • What are the main features of the digital workplace?
  • How do you build a business case for workplace transformation?
  • How do you ensure a consistently user-centered approach across workplace transformation initiatives?

There were a number of key insights and findings from what was a thoroughly enjoyable evening of discussion and debate.  I’ll cover each of these in turn

It’s NOT about technology

All too often Digital Workplace programmes are rooted in technology change agendas.  The Windows 10 transformation, the Office 365 deployment of the deployment of new mobile tools.  However, our discussion did not once cover a technology solution area.  Of course a couple of solution examples were given to bring points to life, but the conversation centred on a more outcome based approach that can be fulfilled by a range of both technology and procedural responses.  For us, as an IT supplier and integrator, it was refreshing and intriguing to elevate ourselves above the technology level and focus in depth on the business value and outcomes from the change agenda.

It IS about People and Culture

A large portion of the evening was spent discussing the user and cultural impact of technology and business change and how to deliver this into your users.  Remembering the connection between the internal users (employees/colleagues) and the external users (consumers) of your services.  Is there a distinction? Should there be?

What is clear is that many organisations are wrestling with this change, and in a fiercely competitive economy the war for talent is a very real thing.  If you fail to engage or enable your users they will simply move to an alternative employer or industry.  This is a startling reality that is affecting many businesses and industries now

It IS about a consumer levels of simplicity

I often cite a Gartner definition of Digital workplace, which references a “consumer like experience” in an enterprise context.  The feedback from our discussion was overwhelming.  It is not about “consumer like” – which infers an attempt to achieve the principles of elegance and simplicity that underpin the digital consumer tools upon which we are all so reliant.  The aspiration is for an experience that is equivalent to our consumer experiences.  No compromises.

For many this will be a new challenge.  We know what good looks like from a consumer perspective, yet we get bogged down in the translation of this to an enterprise context.  Various examples were cited of adopting consumer like tools and approaches, yet the enterprise challenges of security and compliance are very real and must not be understated

How do you build and deliver internal platforms that are as intuitive as what we enjoy in our home lives? How do you ensure the “inside out” support experience looks and feels the same as the “outside in” (consumer) lens of their engagement to your organisation to ensure common understanding and empathy? To not strive for this creates a barrier between your employees and your customers that your competitors will be actively looking to exploit with a better platform or better service model.

It IS about Change

We discussed “digital” at length.  The context of the evening was “Digital Transformation” but there was an agreement and recognition that organisations have been evolving and changing for a long time.  Digital is merely the mantra that is being used at the moment.  In order to execute the changes that organisations are trying to achieve, all the classic approaches and principles remain true.  The need to secure engagement at every level, from executive to grass roots.  The need to address the WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) and the need for strong sponsorship and support to drive the initiatives in both the good times and the challenging times is key.

We spoke about adoption, the challenges here are twofold:

  • In not communicating what you are doing, and why, to secure engagement and support that will ultimately lead to usage (adoption) and value to your business
  • In declaring success too early. Delivering a solution or outcome and presuming it to be a success, not cognisant that users and consumers can be fickle and there’s a need to continually reinforce and underpin the initial success with an ongoing campaign to promote long term benefits.

NO ONE has all the answers

We brought together 12 leaders from enterprise organisations across a number of verticals.  The opportunity to discuss and engage with like-minded people was an invaluable use of time.  What was clear was that no one has all the answers, and we should take time not only to learn from our external influences (such as our consumer lives) but from colleagues and peers in adjacent industries.  What is clear is we live in a time of unprecedented choice and rate of change, no one has done everything and there is no blueprint for guaranteed success.  Sharing knowledge and expertise is fundamentally a core facet of what the Digital Workplace seeks to achieve…. And we learnt a lot from participating in the discussion.

Thanks again to all our guests and our co-hosts Microsoft and Nimbus Ninety for participating in an enjoyable and insightful debate.

Is this the year of published apps?

Until this year, every year since 2008 has been ‘the year of VDI’. The one where virtual desktop growth would increase exponentially and everything else would be the exception. I did my first virtual desktop project in 2010 (not for Computacenter I hasten to add). I’ll tell you now it was not a great success. Actually, that’s not fair, it did work, there were just some caveats. We explained to the users not to look at web pages with lots of pictures, or view videos (obviously) and to expect some typing delays during busy periods – that sort of thing. I’m sure you can imagine the conversations we had. My efforts to explain how clever it all was were wasted.

That was a while ago. The technology caught up and virtual desktop user experience improved to be at least on a par with their physical counterpart. So why has VDI remained at 10% of the desktop estate for the majority of organisations? Why does no-one talk about the year of VDI anymore and what is the future?

The problem with VDI remains its complexity. Complexity to design, deliver and support. Where mobility and flexibility are important the easiest and most cost-effective solution has been to give users laptops. This left 10% of users for whom virtual desktops made a real difference. These individuals usually worked in areas where focus of return on investment was about enabling ways of working that traditional desktops couldn’t, such as securing access to data from third parties and contractors; where task workers with limited application sets are required (call centres); or to provide the ability to return to a known good state quickly and easily (developers and testers).

Now it’s beginning to feel like VDI numbers are declining or at best have stabilised. The rise of Apple and Google in the enterprise and applications increasingly moving to SaaS (browser-based solutions) means we are no longer so reliant on a Windows operating system. Content management and contextual security has also removed some of the security concerns that previously made the case for VDI.

I’m not suggesting Windows is dead! Yes, device proliferation is a thing, but we will still need to access Windows apps that people lack the desire, or possibly the knowledge, to modernise. What we need is some way of delivering just the application through a client that runs on any OS. We can do that. We’ve been able to do that since 2001 with MetaFrame, earlier if you count WinFrame, so as is often the way, IT solutions previously discounted as ‘old-hat’ has come round again as the solution to all our problems. Things have moved on a bit though.

  • Frame gives you the ability to access Windows apps just using a browser
  • VMware utilise Windows RDSH through Workspace One to provide a fully integrated solution that can be deployed on premises or public cloud
  • Citrix XenApp (the replacement to MetaFrame) can be consumed from the Azure marketplace, any public IaaS platform or on premises

The benefit to the user is the best native experience on the device they have chosen with the ability to access their business applications in a virtually seamless, albeit online-only, manner. The benefit to the organisation is the ability to offer choice while maintaining a simple and secure way of delivering Windows applications. At least it is for the foreseeable future.

I once heard someone say that XenDesktop was a great advertisement for XenApp. When you had a requirement for server-based computing nine times out of ten XenApp was the best answer. The year of VDI never came but server-based computing will be around for a while yet so maybe this year will be the year of the published app. Not that anyone’s going to be stupid enough to prophesy that!

The Stages of Digital Workplace Transformation

It has been some time since the last blog post, such is the frenetic pace of activity through early 2018 helping our customers with their workplace transformations.  This is a topic I’ve spoken of many times, often from a visionary or conceptual level, but I thought maybe now was the time to change the tone of the conversation to focus on HOW you embark on the Digital Workplace journey.

From my engagements with many of our customers throughout the UK and Europe, and recognising that a true Digital Workplace programme comprises a Portfolio of projects and initiatives, I’d summarise the process into the following key pillars

DWP_Programmes

Transform the Foundations

Whilst founded in aspiration towards a radically different state, most conversations related to Workplace Transformation invariably start with, or gravitate to, initiatives that I refer to as “Foundational”.  Whether these are remediation of current issues, or basic enablers for a future solution,  the key to building an effective Digital Workplace is in “getting the basics” right.  These activities often have disproportionate impact in that context, , as often these are the specific issues that are frustrating and inhibiting your users the most.

Key examples of projects at this level are:

  • Pervasive Campus WiFi
  • Core Platform Upgrades (e.g. SharePoint)
  • Facilities Enhancements/Rationalisations

Modernise the Workplace

A lot of the focus of Digital Workplace programmes exhibits itself here.  These may be the introduction of flagship programmes to deliver a dramatic change to the user and technology environment.  These key projects provide significant modernisation of technologies and a more integrated set of capabilities within a solution that propose to significantly simplify the user experience.  Often the initiatives have a significant drivat this stage are driven as much by compelling events as anything, which creates a significant drive to implement them quickly.  However it is important to recognise that this cannot be done in isolation, and must be accompanied by adjacent initiatives to secure their success.

Key examples of projects at this level are:

  • Cloud Productivity and Collaboration – e.g. Office 365 or G-Suite
  • Desktop Modernisation – e.g. Windows 10
  • Adoption of End User Cloud services – i.e. SaaS LoB Applications

Digitise the Experience

The final area of the transformation agenda is in initiatives that drive towards a digitalisation of engagement points and interfaces.  When we consider the examples of companies we would herald as “Digital Businesses” it is the elegance and simplicity of the points of engagement and interaction that we revere.

Within the context of Digital Workplace this is often the most difficult stage to achieve.  This is perhaps because it depends upon user behavioural and cultural change to ensure the uptake and effectiveness of what can be significantly challenging and complex initiatives.  However the promise these initiatives deliver, in terms of user experience benefit, reduction in time to serve through efficiency and automation are significant and they naturally form part of the portfolio.

Key examples of projects at this level are:

  • Digitising Service Desk Engagement via Multi Channel
  • Experience Analytics and Automation
  • Chatbots / Digital Concierge

 

A Digital Workplace vision and programme will naturally encompass a range of initiatives from each of the three categories, covering the technology layer.  It is key to understand the market hype vs maturity in order to evaluate and time your activities accordingly.

But to reiterate, a true programme will not just consider the technology, it will also be comprised of initiatives addressing culture and user behaviour, organisational and operating models and a range of other factors. To achieve success it’s imperative to consider the portfolio approach and understand how each specific activity relates to, is enabled by, or is dependent upon the others in order to ensure its effectiveness and success.

%d bloggers like this: