Archive by Author | Paul Bray

The New Digital Workplace (Series Post)

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

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

Future Digital Workplace - Intro - Business

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

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

Demands and Drivers of the Digital Workplace

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

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

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

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

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

Adoption is Key for Digital Workplace Success

I speak to many customers.  Each of them has their own unique challenges, and each of whom are at various points in what we would term their “Digital Workplace” journey.  Clearly we have those organisations whose businesses are being fundamentally disrupted by Digital.  And we have those for whom this disruption is yet to really manifest itself.

The point is, everybody seems to be doing something – and many organisations are doing quite similar things.  If I were asked for my top 3, businesses are seeking to:

  • reduce their legacy footprint;
  • exploit new collaboration and mobility solutions;
  • consolidate their platforms to a number of key vendors

The last one is interesting in many ways.  We’ve ridden a wave of customers looking at “best of breed” and I now see a trend back towards suites of functionality – where the functionality is good enough to meet their needs, but that being balanced against the integration benefits of using a sole provider.

In each of the objectives above Adoption remains a key, but often little understood concept that can make or break the initiative. We’ve seen a general shift towards a more user focused approach, however it continues to surprise me how little focus is placed upon ensuring the use (Adoption) of the solutions both immediately post deployment and critically through the life cycle of its use.

In order for an initiative to be successful, it needs to be used and valued by its users (think about all those mobile apps you have on your device that sounded great as a concept, but are little used!).  This is where the adoption cycle comes in.  When I speak to customers about Digital Workplace transformations, refer to the following five points:

  1. Ensuring the solutions fit the users
  2. Engaging users in the journey
  3. Balancing user ‘want’ to business ‘need’
  4. Measuring satisfaction
  5. Democratising feedback

Point 1 is easy to talk to, as I’ve covered it several times in terms of understanding users.  Solutions like Workstyle Analysis can and have helped many customers in this area.  This starts the user engagement process but it is important to continue this throughout the life cycle of the initiative to maintain the engagement and enthusiasm of your users for what is about to happen (think of any good teaser marketing campaign you’ve seen in the consumer world!).

However many fear that with such an approach you will create a ‘bow wave’ of user expectation, the proverbial shopping list of wants from users that cannot be rationalised to budgetary, timescale or other constraints that the business may face.  The interesting thing I’ve observed is that while this may be thought of as a disincentive for people to engage the process for fear of this consequence, actually tackling it head on and engaging the users simply builds more understanding and support.

The final two points are really important.  Clearly you should measure the output of your initiative.  This is 101 stuff.  However equally important I’ve found is in democratising that feedback and results, making it available not only to the project sponsors and decision makers, but to the users also.  In being transparent, you can unlock the next level of feedback and support in something of a virtuous cycle that allows you to build upon the benefits and extend their applicability, as well as collectively managing any challenges that may have occurred.

 

These are just my own perspectives on Adoption.  Such is the importance of the topic, and the range of debate it attracts, we’ve created a full Insight Guide featuring myself and a number of my colleagues from Computacenter, Intel and QA.  You can find this here

Digital Workspace Innovations with Citrix IOT

A lot of the focus of previous blogs has been on the creation of an effective Digital Workplace for the individual.  Invariably this has focused on the accepted outcomes of a Digital Workplace strategy such as mobility and collaboration.  Yet whilst sat here in our newly refurbished London office, it is evident that a true Digital Workplace experience must transcend the virtual and the physical world.  One example of this is where the user meets the office and meeting room scenario.

Picture the scene. I’m sure like me, many of you have been here before.  The experience of finding a desk when you visit the office, followed by  the ‘complications’ of hosting and attending effective meetings with all of the challenges of work space IT and remote collaboration.  For many of us this leads to lost productivity, increased travel costs and general day to day frustration caused by a lack of “fluidity” in our physical workplace environment.  An environment that doesn’t reflect and can’t adapt to our needs.

Many meeting space solutions exist to address points within this scenario, whether meeting room booking, or collaboration tools.  Yet the piece that seems to be missing is the end to end integration that creates an effective experience.

Recently, whilst attending Citrix Summit I was introduced to a solution called Citrix Smart Spaces for Collaboration.  This solution addresses many of the common challenges and frustrations by integrating a number of different technologies, using Citrix’ Octoblu platform, which sits at the heart of Citrix’ Workplace IOT strategy.

Rather than explain the solution in words, we took the opportunity whilst attending the event to record a short video.  In the video, Darron Knibbs (Infrastructure Architect for Computacenter) and John Moody (Citrix Systems Engineer) talk through the solution and some of the key scenarios and use cases that the solution addresses.

For me, there are two key takeaways having watched this short overview.  The first is clearly the wider opportunity presented by IOT and the Octoblu platform to optimise the work environment and accelerate the digitisation of mundane, but critical processes.  The second is of the significant benefits that exist by removing these basic points of friction that exist across the tools that form the Digital Workplace.  This is just one example… there are many others!

Hope you enjoy the video!

Understanding Users is Enabling Users

Digital Me is Computacenter’s response to enabling users in the modern digital world.  Amidst the opportunity and challenge in modernising Workplace environments; it is important to remember the success or otherwise hinges on one critical factor, the User.

Digital Me places users at the heart of the transformation. Engaging and empowering users to take advantage of modern Digital tools and capabilities, to improve their productivity, enhance collaboration and ultimately contribute to enhancing the business performance.

In order to do this effectively it’s critical that you understand your users. You may think you already do; but do you really understand how and why users work in the way they do, their frustrations and the short cuts they are taking to get the job done!? Phenomenon such as Shadow IT and BYOD emerged for a reason; that being that corporate IT couldn’t keep pace with users’ needs and expectations – how big an issue is that in your organisation?

A few years back we developed our own approach to enable us to get closer to users and understand how and why they do what they do.  We call this Workstyle Analysis and as the market has matured and the concept of a “User Centric” approach to IT emerged, it’s been really beneficial for our customers.

As I write this today, we’ve asked 16,000 questions over 400 hours of interviews to many hundreds of users. The insights we have gleaned from this have been intriguing to say the least so I’d like to share a few of them with you.

First we need to re-iterate why we feel Workstyle Analysis is so important. Put very simply, when you consider some of the following outcomes from the exercise, why would you not want to do it?

wsa

And now for the findings:

  • Email is still the killer app. In a world where we have millions of mobile apps, collaboration platforms and Line of Business applications, users still revert to email.  As a communication tool, a task management system, a document repository – everybody depends on email!  Some organisations famously tried to force users away from using email, many have tried to augment email with other collaboration channels – but the relatively limited success of introducing new capabilities means that businesses still run on email.  In our findings 74% of users declare email outages as “highly disruptive” to their work.  Is your business prepared for that?
  • Shadow IT is real! Many of us know this to be true, some of us have actively tried to manage it, but is ‘Shadow IT’ a problem in itself or merely a symptom of a wider dis-enablement of users? In our research shadow IT has not been used maliciously, but is done to allow work to be easier, for users to be more productive or to augment deficiencies in the services that IT provides.  Maybe IT doesn’t know the users need these services – hence why both Workstyle and Shadow IT Analysis activities are so effective!
  • Pent up user demand. The candour of the conversations we have with users, allied with the exceptionally high turn-out rates points to users wanting to express their views and to be heard. We report over 90% attendance in our Workstyle exercises.  People with “day jobs” who choose to spend the time talking to us about how to improve their working environment and make their lives easier.  A key facet of successful transformation is engagement and adoption by the users, and it starts by speaking to them.
  • Users are all different. One user says the service they receive is brilliant, the next user complains that it’s poor! How can you reconcile that and establish a baseline? User perception by its very nature is highly subjective – so how can you reliably act upon it? By canvassing a cross-section of your user community you can supress the extreme perspectives.  From here you can focus on key user communities – VIPs or critical functions such as Contact Centres or the Retail Branch environment – but you will know that you’re addressing the right pain point for the maximum impact.
  • Collaboration is missing. One of the strongest insights we have received is around collaboration within organisations.  Whether related to culture or the technical capabilities provided, Collaboration is key.  We know that effective collaboration solutions can enhance user satisfaction and productivity, but we know these solutions have been challenging to implement.  How can we help make this easier for both IT and the users?

These are just the top 5 insights we’ve gleaned from our activities over the past 12 months.  We have much more detail to share. If you are interested in understanding how to better enable your users, then feel free to get in touch!

Why you should already be planning for Windows 10…

If you have not already started doing so, then now is definately the time to be planning for the adoption of Windows 10 into your business.  There are several good reasons why this is the case, but I am going to focus on just 4.

Windows 10 has now been available for just under 12 months, in that time it has taken approximately 14% market share. So far general perception has been positive, and whilst device shipment volumes have continued to decline across the market, Windows 10 continues to have a high degree of interest, particularly across business users.

There are a number of factors that are driving Windows 10 adoption, these are rapidly converging to form  a “pincer movement”.  As such the time to act and plan for the future is now.

User Expectation

The first factor, one we speak of often, is Users and User Expectation.  Clearly adoption of Windows 10 has been focussed in the consumer environment, so awareness of and interest in the platform is high from a user perspective.  Users are starting to take advantage of some of the modern features and benefits that Windows 10 has to offer.  In today’s world of highly influential and “tech-savvy” users, driving Windows 10 as part of your Digital Workplace strategies is a good way to deliver higher user engagement, greater satisfaction and enhanced productivity by using modern tools.  To the IT department, Windows 10 is clearly a core pillar upon which other services will be layered on and integrated to.

Skylake Supportability

The next factor which is highly significant to many organisations relates to the hardware market.  As you may have seen recently, Microsoft has altered its position regarding support to existing platforms (Windows 7 and Windows 8.1) on current Skylake chipset technology.  These OS will now only be supported on these platforms until July 2018, meaning that if they haven’t already, organisations need to start their planning to move to Windows 10 in order to stay supported on their current hardware and best exploit the investments they have made.

Windows 7/8.1 Retirement

Notwithstanding the above, the final date for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 support is January 2020 and January 2023 respectively.  With Windows 7 currently holding c52% of market share and Windows 8/8.1 only c12%, clearly the compelling date is the sooner one!

While Windows 10 offers several enhancements to make the transition from old to new platforms much simpler, the planning for mainstream Windows 10 deployment and adoption across large organisations needs to begin with earnest to ensure your business and users are ready and don’t fall into the kind of “supportability gap” we saw with the XP transition.  Appropriate up front planning will ensure the maximum opportunity to exploit new features and capabilities to enhance user experience and make your users more productive and effective.

Business Opportunities

Many organisations have struggled to fully exploit modern ways of working based on legacy Microsoft platforms.  Windows 7 and 8.x did not provide the kind of mobile experience that users demanded, which in part no doubt led to the BYOD trends we saw emerge over the past few years.  With Windows 10, the business and IT benefit from what is a viable platform to support modern workstyles including mobile and remote workers, across a vast range of use cases.  The technical capabilities of Windows 10 will help organisations be more secure in the modern world of cyber threats, as well as make users more productive and effective with enhanced capabilities and new features that are provided through the new platform.

So…?

The time for action is now. If you are not already piloting or planning for Windows 10 in your business, the time is right to do so.  Whether the starting point is qualifying what it will deliver to your users via a Workstyle assessment, undertaking a Readiness Assessment of your infrastructure to integrate Windows 10, or moving into a pilot or proof of concept, there are a range of activities that can be undertaken to help you prepare for and exploit the opportunities… and importantly, avoid another last minute “XP replacement” rush!

 

Virtual Desktop Solution Evaluation – an Update

As I mentioned in my last post we have been spending time doing a lot of work related to Virtual Desktop platforms in our Global Solution Centres.  That, alongside lots of other activity in the world of Workplace and Mobility, means I am slightly behind in my updates.

So where did we get to?

We recently completed the first stage of our testing and the results obtained have been quite surprising.  Our intent was to assess a range of different platforms and evaluate how they performed against a defined measurement criteria that covered:

  • Technical Performance
  • Commercial Viability
  • Design, Implementation and Integration
  • Operations and Management

We noted a number of interesting variations across the different technologies we tested, clearly enforcing the view that there’s no “one size fits all” from a Virtual Desktop perspective.  Whilst some of the technologies suit certain workloads, such as a Shared Desktop Platform for Office/Task workers, other platforms did seem more suited towards delivery of Virtual Desktops.  As the market has moved and modern technology and solutions have become prevalent, the original price penalty which historically constrained virtual desktop deployments has somewhat diminished, making it suitable for a broader range of use cases.

To give an insight into some of our test results, we set out to assess the performance of each platform in terms of the number of sessions it could deliver before hitting a range of thresholds we had defined on the infrastructure (to avoid overloading). We used LoginVSI for this testing, which is the industry standard tool for this type of work.

graph for vdi

An extract of our findings is provided in the chart below. At 100% the platform will have delivered what was originally specified without hitting any of the defined thresholds, but you can see a very broad spectrum of results both above and below 100%.  The impacts of this test identify potential business risks from undersized platforms, impacts to end user performance but also potential commercial optimisation where a platform delivers +100% of the anticipated load.

This is just one insight from the testing and just to ‘tease’ you with others, we also noted significantly capability differences as it relates to the ability to manage, operate and service the various platforms -which can cause key implications for providing an effective Virtual Desktop Service to your users.

Next Steps

As we move towards this notion of the Digital Workplace (some term it Next Generation Workplace), Virtual Desktop technologies still have a significant role to play.  Some of our customers are looking at Virtual Desktop as a mechanism to mitigate the impacts of Windows 10 and its continuous updates.  Others are using Virtual Desktop technologies as an enabler of their future desktop by providing an alternative Application Delivery approach.

Office 365 is hugely relevant to many organisations, yet the challenges of integrating these solutions into Virtual Desktop technologies (and classic technologies) can still be significant.  We are now extending our work to address this and show how cloud content and services can fit with a Virtual Desktop Solution.

We have a full report of the results of our tests available for discussion with you, covering each of the topics listed at the start of this blog, aside from our wider market insights on how, when and why to transform your Workplace environment (Virtual or not).  If you’d like to discuss further, please leave us a comment and we’ll make sure we get in touch.

SBC, VDI, SHD, VHD…Or shall we just say Desktop Virtualisation?

Usually the blog title would give an indication as to the subject matter, yet the title of this blog is largely made up of acronyms that you may or may not understand.  You are not alone – this confusion has reigned in the Desktop Virtualisation market, and  has perplexed many who  have attempted to buy those solutions for many years.

There’s no denying Desktop Virtualisation is a complex technology area.  It is one for which there are many use cases that spring to mind – Call Centres, offshore locations, mobile/remote users and security conscious environments.  The issue with Desktop Virtualisation technologies historically has been cost- that of the IT infrastructure used to deliver it, disadvantageous licensing models, and the costs of transition from legacy desktop environments.  This is what led to the myriad of Desktop Virtualisation solutions that we now talk about, summarised very briefly:

  • SBC –              Server Based Computing
  • VDI –              Virtual Desktop Infrastructure
  • SHD –              Shared Hosted Desktop
  • VHD –              Virtual Hosted Desktop

Rather than get into the details of these, the “choice” has been whether to provide users with access to part of what is ultimately a shared resource (SBC, SHD), or provide users a dedicated experience and the flexibility they are used to with a classic device (VDI/VHD).  Yes, the former is lower cost option, but there are many other considerations to be taken into account, too.

At Computacenter, we’ve undertaken many deployments across both technology types and support many thousands of users within a Desktop Managed Services – typically in relation to one of the use cases listed earlier. Many organisations have had aspirations to exploit the technology – but have been deterred by cost and complexity.

The market has been changing.  Where once there was only one real option (Citrix), there are now several, particularly with VMWare’s Horizon solution which has evolved significantly in the past few years.  Then there is the infrastructure, the original dependence on expensive compute and storage is being replaced with more commodity solutions and developments in the Hyperconverged area, offering a fundamentally different platform to turn the price/performance challenges on their head. Application layering technologies are becoming more prominent, and of course there is the topic of Desktop as a Service (DaaS – yet more letters).

On top of this we need to add the business drivers – the rapid growth of mobility and flexible working, the changes in the security landscape and the launch of Windows 10 all are driving organisations to reconsider their end user services and to explore new options.

All of these factors have led Computacenter to instigate some work, in our Global Solution Centres, to re-evaluate the market for this solution area, and as a result to redefine our propositions for Desktop Virtualisation.  Over recent months we have deployed a number of these infrastructure platforms into our Solution Centre, and undertaken a comprehensive suite of tests aiming to benchmark the performance, commercial viability, ease of deployment, ease of management and other key solution factors.  And we are doing this across both VMware and Citrix virtualisation solutions and an accompanying ecosystem of supporting tools (user and profile management, application delivery) – as you can imagine it’s a complex myriad of solution options.  Our objective, very simply, is to provide the most optimal desktop experience, but do so in a cost efficient and flexible way that meets all the needs of the modern user, and satisfies the business and IT department – reducing risk and optimising deployment and management processes. We’ve been getting some great experience of the latest technologies, and assisting numerous clients who are already looking into this topic with some early engagement into the process.

As it stands today we’re just completing the final tests and reviewing our findings from the first phase of the testing, and I’m personally looking forward to reviewing the team’s finding.  You can be sure we’ll keep you up to date with our research over the coming weeks.

That said, if you would like further details on the work we are doing, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Cheers

Paul

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