Alright I admit it, I’m jealous. I joined a start-up! I’ve seen Silicon Valley! We were going to change the world, I was going to be rich beyond the dreams of avarice, leave the rat race behind and open a beach bar somewhere. But you’ll have guessed by the fact that I’m writing this blog that that never happened. With hindsight, I would have joined Frame, the (fairly) new face of cloud-hosted application delivery. Their premise is simple; run any Windows application in the cloud and access it via a browser, no plugins required.
Originally called MainFrame2, the company began life enabling ISVs to offer applications as a service. It got off to a good start but its fortunes improved massively when the focus changed to end users and the business was relaunched as Frame. With recent investments from Microsoft Ventures, Bain Capital Ventures and In-Q-Tel growth continues at pace. On top of that they recently signed a major partnership with VMware to become part of their Workspace One offering with App Express.
Frame is essentially an Application-as-a-Service company, built for the cloud in the cloud. You install the applications into a sandbox environment and then, when you are ready, publish them to the Frame Desktop (as above) for users to consume. Your applications are installed onto Windows 2012 servers (the roadmap is for Windows 2016 and 10 soon) with the ability to make use of the GPUs offered by AWS and Azure to handle even the most intensive graphical applications. Those screen images are then delivered by Frame’s encrypted and highly compressed display-protocol to the end user allowing any application to run on almost any computer. Removing the complexity usually associated with virtual desktop computing to a few clicks.
So what are the uses for technology like this? Here are a few examples:
- Think about those expensive CAD and desktop publishing packages. With Frame you can centralise them in the public cloud of your choice, share the licensing costs, utilise cloud storage to make collaboration easy and reduce the need for expensive workstation hardware*
- Consider the education sector and the ability to use inexpensive Chromebooks to access any type of application and then not having to pay for those resources during the holidays
- Mobilise legacy business applications by migrating them to the cloud and using Frame to provide browser-based access without having to install anything on the client
* and not just hardware as Microsoft have brought in a new Windows 10 Pro for Workstation licence that affects any machine that has an Intel Xeon or AMD Opteron processor.
However, Frame is not for everyone or every use case. It’s not going to be a way to deal with legacy applications to aid that Windows 10 migration. If it won’t install on Windows Server 2012 it isn’t going to work. You also need to understand your responsibilities as a customer. Although you don’t need to licence the OS you still need to patch it, supply your own anti-virus client, update those applications and then secure the network access to it. And don’t think you can escape the fun that is Evergreen!
Cost-wise there’s a $ per month, per-user charge based on standard, pro or enterprise levels of functionality. Then an hourly rate based on usage and the resources that your VMs consume. Automation is key to controlling those costs ensuring that machines are not costing you money when they aren’t being used. There are features within the administrative console and the REST API to schedule the number of machines available and for those machines to be powered off when they aren’t required. Calculating the overall cost, like a lot of cloud initiatives, is not an easy one though and may not be necessarily cheaper than your current on premises solution. But there are features and functionality that no on premises solution will ever give you.
The big differentiator for Frame is its simplicity and ease of use. When you need to bring additional services you just plug them in. You need identity services? Frame supports them. You want to use your user profile management tool? No problem. Want to connect to Dropbox, Box or Google Drive? A couple of clicks and it’s setup, appearing as a mapped drive within the Frame explorer. Want to share your session with someone else to work on a document or drawing simply email them a link to the session? Need additional local storage or a database? Just click the utility server option and select your services.
Just as data and business applications are moving to the cloud, it makes sense for client applications to follow them. Another nice thing about Frame is that where companies utilise multiple clouds you have the ability to place your applications in the best location to serve them avoiding any lock-in. Also, as client estates become more diverse and the demand from users to work from anywhere increases so the ability to deliver applications simply through a browser becomes increasingly enticing.
Frame is very cool technology. If you’re currently considering XenApp running in Azure or XenApp Essentials, or considering at how to mobilise those legacy applications, then you need to take a look. There are limitations as to where it fits as a solution but where it is right there are clear benefits. Frame enables powerful applications to be accessed from almost any device. It enables applications to be delivered to an entire business anywhere in the world minutes after installing it once, regardless of the endpoint they are using.
So my dalliance with the world of start-ups was not a great success. For the guys at Frame I can see a much brighter future. The question though is how long will it last before someone swallows them up?
I’m Laura Springall and welcome to the second edition of the Project Management Graduates blog update. Many thanks to Alex for an excellent update about the whirlwind of our first two months at Computacenter.
To give some background about myself, I am from St. Albans and I graduated this year with 1st class honours in Sociology from The University of Manchester. My biggest misconception of joining Computacenter was that everyone who works at Computacenter comes from an IT background. With applications open for the next year of graduates, I encourage anyone without an IT related degree to not be deterred from applying to the Project Management Graduate programme. A top tip I can give for anyone applying is to not focus on promoting your technical skills, but instead focus on promoting your soft skills. These soft skills are so very critical to the Project Manager role, such as excellent communication, proactivity and leadership.
Computacenter is fantastic for personal development and this has been recognised by The Job Crowd for being a top company for early careers. If you haven’t already, I recommend seeing if Computacenter is visiting your University’s Graduate Fair for some extra hints and tips about the application process and what to expect.
A personal highlight of the Graduate programme so far has been our rotation with the Practice Leads. Over a week we covered many grounds, discussing from the future of the digital workplace to why the Service Operating Model (SOM) emerged, to the Practice Leads’ own career journeys and lessons learned which they kindly passed onto us. The rotation also got pretty intense when a competition was introduced on one of days, all about Digital Me hosted by Steve Hyde, Faizal Ali and Amit Mistry. Unexpectedly it brought out all our competitive sides! Congratulations to James Gale, the (lucky) winner. Thanks again to the Practice Leads for taking time out of your schedules.
The sales rotation also sticks out in my mind as a high point. This was a one week period where we gained an understanding of the different divisions within sales, both the Account Manager and Solutions Specialist role, and a sales perspective of what makes a good Project Manager. A key take away from the rotation was how by only being transparent with customers, gaining their trust and putting them first we can do business. Towards the end of the week, we were also introduced to Basement Jacks, which was a great opportunity to network with the sales team and hear about their journeys into sales.
More recently, over the last two weeks us Graduates have begun our Projects Portfolio Office (PPO) rotation. I am currently on the Post Office PPO and based up in Manchester. I’ve loved being back in Manchester and it’s been great getting to work with the team. It’s also nice to see some familiar friendly faces from Central Projects Office (CPO) who we met a few months before on our rotation. As much as us Graduates are missing each other, we are all thoroughly enjoying this new experience. This rotation allows us to get hands on with smaller projects where we can see them from the beginning of their life cycle right to the end. The rotation further offers the opportunity to put into practice what we have learnt so far, for instance SOM is no longer just theoretical! I have seen first-hand how it fits into the customer request process and the benefits it brings to Computacenter’s projects. I look forward to seeing what the next two weeks of the PPO rotation will bring!
Finally, I like to set a new motivational quote as my iPhone’s background each week, so I thought I would end my blog post by sharing this week’s quote which I felt has been relevant to me starting the PPO rotation and Graduate scheme as a whole.
As cliché as it sounds, I think it’s something all us Graduates believe and we are very grateful for the time and energy that has been invested in us since we joined in August.
Thank you very much for reading my first blog post. The next update will be brought to you by Arolape Adebowale.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.