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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.

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.

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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?

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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.

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