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.

About Paul Bray

Paul is Computacenter’s Chief Technologist for Digital Workplace @PSBray

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