The workplace of the future is wherever you are - Business Works
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The workplace of the future is wherever you are

Rob Greenslade, Director, Centralis T he workspace of the future can be wherever the employee is, provided they have access to the applications and data they need, with the security and control demanded by the IT function, writes Centralisí Rob Greenslade.

After years of remaining fundamentally the same, the business computing environment is changing rapidly. The shift from desktop PC, to laptop, tablet and mobile is being driven by a confluence of technological development, end-user demand, and more flexible work styles.

We are all familiar with the image of the busy professional working productively from the airport, the hotel or the coffee shop, or the parent finishing early to pick-up their kids from school and then catching up with their work after theyíve put them to bed. For these people, the conventional desktop is already a thing of the past. Work is no longer defined as being a place that they go to, it is simply something that they do.

But the need to be able to work wherever, whenever and through whatever device is not confined to knowledge workers. Increasingly, blue collar workers also want and need access to information and systems from home or in the field in order to be more productive.

At a recent CIO [Chief Information Officer] briefing, I asked many IT leaders what their vision of the workspace of the future is, and consistently received the same response: for users to be able to access applications and data anywhere, on any device and whenever they want. So if this is what the workspace of the future will look like, the key question is: how do you deliver it?

The futureís physical

Today, many IT leaders view the cloud as being the best way of delivering applications and data. Cloud computing can offer minimal upfront capital outlay and provide organisations of all types with the opportunity to realise significant savings in operating costs over the longer term. Under the cloud model, the organisation becomes a consumer rather than a provider of IT.

Desktop as a Service (DaaS) is a subscription-based model, with the desktop [eg. the programmes required] provided to the organisation for a fixed price per user per month. This cloud-based desktop delivers the capacity users need, when they need it, rather than leaving computing power idle on the desktop and in the data centre.

With its 'pay per use' model, DaaS provides an option for organisations that have yet to decide on their future desktop management strategy. It allows them to address specific user sets and continue with traditional desktop for others while migrating at a pace that suits their business requirements.

Despite the rise of cloud computing and virtualisation technologies, itís my belief that the future of the corporate IT environment is physical. The proliferation of device types and the infrastructure required to support them means there will be more hardware to manage than ever before. Likewise, despite expectations that cloud applications should be free, the reality is that they cannot be delivered via an amorphous cloud of virtualised components with the same level of quality or reliability afforded by dedicated physical infrastructure.

Security of data, identity and IPR [Intellectual Property Rights] are also key concerns. And with remote working and mobile media heavily reliant on the availability of the wireless network, a back-up solution and offline access to critical applications and data is necessary. There are numerous options available for data personalisation and storage, while there is also a growing need to accommodate new media such as video. In addition, most people use at least three or more devices, the lifecycles of which change frequently.

Becoming an agent of change

Although most IT leaders are clear at a conceptual level of what they want the workspace of the future to be, the key challenge they face is how to achieve it while ensuring that they donít specify a 'now' technology only to find it doesnít align with their organisationís long-term business needs.

This is made all the more difficult because most IT departments have delivered IT in a standard and highly-controlled manner for many years. A change of mindset is therefore required, with CIOs and CTOs taking a conscious decision to be an agent of change and replace the conventional and somewhat staid IT function with a more dynamic 'IT as a service' approach.

IT management policy must allow for more dynamic technology refreshes as opposed to the inflexible, five-year and fixed-price, accountancy-driven IT investments of the past. The focus for organisations today should be on finding the most appropriate ways of delivering content while considering the total economic impact of making the decision.

Ideally, the workspace of the future will be delivered with minimum infrastructure provision and the flexibility to use internal or external market capabilities Ė ie. using the internal data centre or external cloud provider for storage, provisioning applications locally or from an app store, and allowing access from any device.

Optimised for disruption and change

While most corporate IT strategists agree on what the workspace of the future will look like, putting this into practice remains difficult because continuous change in working patterns will be the norm moving forward. It is therefore essential that IT become an enabler rather than a blocker of change.

Nevertheless, far too many IT projects fail because an organisation jumps into a new technology without first understanding its business requirement and objectives, or what the transition would entail. The challenge is to find a way to integrate all aspects of efficiency, high-quality and ease of use within a single end-user experience, while balancing change against cost, uncertain futures and multiple technology choices.

The first step is a strategic review of the options, which should be considered in the context of external market forces, as well as regulation, security, and threats, together with the organisationís internal capability to take on change (PEST and SWOT analysis). At this point, it may be wise to recruit new members to the IT team and appoint a Director of Change or an external consultancy to broaden the knowledge base and provide an objective perspective.

The next step is to bring strategy, process and technology under a high-level architecture that defines specific functional, technological and user requirements, aligned with the organisationís short-, medium- and long-term strategy. This also means going back to basics, seeking value for money and maximum capability at sensible cost, as well as adopting processes for evaluating and deciding on who gets what.

The challenges of delivering on the vision for the workspace of the future can be daunting. But with a strategy first, technology second approach and a thorough understanding of the needs of every role and individual work style (locations and devices) within the organisation, it is possible for IT leaders to deliver a much more dynamic yet tightly managed and secure infrastructure Ė one in which staff can work how they want, when they want and with the device of their choice.

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