The digital workspace of today involves the whole lifecycle of both the employee and the technology they use. This presents most IT departments with a conundrum: how to plan and execute their solutions to meet both business and employees demands.
Two industry experts who deal with these issues daily – Vernon Thaver, CTO at Cisco Southern Africa, and Alex Russell, sales director at EOH Technology Solutions – have some advice when it comes to getting your strategy for migrating to a digital workplace right.
Thaver says that an effective digital workplace, irrespective of sector, boosts productivity and makes it easier for employees to do their jobs quickly and accurately. “That said, in an age when technology seemingly reigns supreme, people remain a company’s greatest asset. After all, disruptive technologies and business models are fuelled not by algorithms, but by people – innovating, collaborating, and taking bold chances.”
“Ultimately it is about how companies can meet the demands of the digital age by employing digital business agility – an organisation’s capacity to understand and react to digital threats and opportunities – to re-imagine how their people work, and mobility is but one of several.”
Russel expands on this by drawing parallels between the concept of “end-user computing + mobility = digital workspace”.
Russel says: “The way traditional end-user computing exists for a user consists of a desktop or laptop that has an operating system installed, contains applications installed locally on the laptop or PC, and the user’s profile or persona coupled to the hardware. You then you have the user’s data, which either resides on the hard drive or the device and/or on a file-share somewhere on the network. This presents, for the user, a locally installed, tightly-coupled, component of their workspace.”
Essentially, if the IT department wanted to effect a change on the layers of this cake, to change the applications, they would have to consider the support of the OS for the new app and, similarly, if the user wanted to move from the device to another device or location, or to access their content via another method, they would have to remove this user’s profile and make it role-based or follow-me data.
“That dynamic change, in line with the user’s expectation, isn’t easily facilitated in IT terms because organisations still view that end-user workspace as non-dynamic,” says Russel. “This whole end-user service cake needs to be changed, and transformed towards a digital workspace. The layers of the cake have to be liberated from one another – imagine putting a thin layer of rice paper between the layers of the cake to allow you to make changes to individual layers without impacting the whole ecosystem. To do that, you centralise and virtualise the components of the end-user workspace.”
“When they’re centralised and virtualised, you can dynamically deliver the components to the end-user’s device: not a specific laptop or desktop, but a device the user has chosen for themselves with the ability to access info irrespective of the device, location or connectivity.”
Asked why anyone would then bother to develop an alternative to Google Apps, which seems to work well enough for many companies, Thaver says that Google Apps have their place in the workplace, providing a solution for a specific function in the overall productivity cycle. He does, however, point out that such a question in the context of workplace transformation is myopic. “What is needed to grasp the scope and implications of the digital workplace transformation phenomena is a structured method for the strategy and planning of a transformation of the workforce experience that is suited to the needs and culture of the organisation,” he says.
“It includes a model to help understand the seven basic needs of the workforce, tools to identify the various requirements, intersections and dependencies of proposed solutions, and comprehensive reference architecture to help establish a common strategic framework for digital work initiatives.”
Russel echoes this sentiment and adds that not all a company’s apps can exist in Google.
“You can have mail, Excel, PowerPoint, Word, but the user requires access to company information, which traditionally exists in two forms: a web-based application that is built on Internet Explorer and/or a client-server application which requires a local install of an executable that connects back to the backend servers in the corporate environment. Financial, ERP, company CRM, BI data and the like are not facilitated by Google. You can take components of what Google has and deliver it, but you can’t move away from company data, some of which is legacy and some of which are dependent on having a specific browser type and version.”
“There is traditionally a need for a user to access all company resources locally, but if the organisation wants to move to something which is more transformative, and decide to go with Office 365 and move from on-premises Exchange to Google, they still need applications delivered to the endpoint. Having the apps delivered centrally removes the need for anything to exist on the endpoint.”
The challenges and effort to migrate completely to a mobile digital workspace is apparent but, as with all things, great rewards demand the aforementioned effort. The rewards must, nevertheless, be worth the journey.
Thaver again points to people being a company’s greatest asset. “Creative synergy of teams is more important than ever for an organisation’s success. Digital workspaces get teams right which is critical to innovation, agility, and competition; and for employees, teamwork builds morale, retention, and productivity.”
Russel expands on the “human factor” which the mobile digital workplace enables and says that, if things no longer exist on the endpoint, the benefit for the user is that they can embrace mobility.
“Mobility for a user is a choice of a work style that works for them. They can do things differently and don’t have to be tied to a physical location or device to be able to do their work. Productivity gains are then in the hands of the user as they can choose their working hours. The benefits to the organisation are a lower cost of maintaining and managing an endpoint and you can sweat your assets. There are benefits around electricity consumption and carbon footprint, you can reduce the size of your office, and do not have to maintain multiple data centres across the country.”
Going forward, one could imagine that IT people will become redundant in this decentralised, mobile environment. While this may be true for some professionals who are unwilling to change, Thaver says at its very core is the question concerning the role of IT in the new digital context.
“The answer is that the role and value of IT are changing fundamentally as a result of the digital transformation that every business in undergoing. Today the role of IT is no longer relegated to back-office functions, but IT is called to lead innovation and well as define and enable a differentiated business strategy that will take the organisation into a digital future.”
Going further, Russel says that the benefit to operational individuals – who still have to maintain user profiles and applications – is that they are doing it in a far more efficient way which allows them to stop focusing only on running the business but instead grow and transform the business. “This is a consequence of the digital age. Organisations are most certainly realising that they need to do more with less, and the people they employ need to be able to do more.”
Looking closer at the entire concept, it is vital to understand how mobility and digital workspaces will be involved in the whole lifecycle of both the employee and the technology they use. It must be understood, says Thaver, that the proliferation of mobile devices is driving two major behavioural changes in the workforce. “First, the boundaries of the traditional 9-to-5 workday are breaking down. While there still may be standard hours of work, many organisations now need workers to be available at almost any time during the day. This is driven in part by the increasing movement towards globalisation found in most enterprises.”
“Second, given the extended working hours, workers now expect some flexibility in their workday. This means the ability to take time to see a child’s school play, or to squeeze in some time for exercise during the day. This seems especially true for younger generations who place a premium on flexibility in their work life and are measuring employers against the ability to support this.”
On a more practical note, Russel points out that the migration will definitely extend the lifespan of applications. “Imagine an app that has a dependency on a particular operating system – let’s say I’ve built an ERP app that works on Windows 2003 Server. To forklift this application to work on the most recent or supported operating system, I would need to change the app, which would entail a significant amount of development that would have far-reaching implications for our business. But if the app has to be mobile – meaning it must work on mobile operating systems like iOS, Android and Windows handheld – virtualisation and centralising the application extends its lifespan until you are ready to invest in changing it.”
Because it implies a mind-set change for both employers and employees alike, implementation does present problems. There needs to be a top-down buy-in to the change and constant change management efforts should be made to facilitate the process, Thaver says.
In addition, to address the challenges and opportunities that digital provides, organisations must adopt a holistic, structured, and architectural approach that focuses on aligning technological, social, and business drivers, he says. “Successful initiatives require but are currently lacking are clear, cross-functional strategies based on business imperatives, not technology, structured frameworks that identify and consider each of the various participants, and clarity in understanding the diverse needs of the participants.”
Russel adds that a big bang approach can also present problems. “Companies are trying to make all their apps mobile by rewriting them for mobility when there are far more cost-effective creative ways to mobilise apps before you rewrite them. Apps can be virtualised, refactored, or rewritten totally. Virtualising an application delivers, by far, a quicker time-to-value and allows the business to delay the need for rewriting, which allows for time to consider properly the way to approach the rewrite.”
Alex Russell, sales director at EOH Technology Solutions.