Category: Remote Work News

Microsoft has just defined the ‘Personal Workspace’

Summary

Windows 11 and Microsoft365 is Digital Workspace+. A Digital Workspace is an aggregation of multiple tools and services into a single pane. MS have just accomplished this with a prettier OS and VDI for everyone.

A journey of realisation

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog post stating that VDI does not equal a digital workspace. I stand by that, as it was correct when I wrote it.  Since then however, Microsoft has made some pretty fundamental announcements, and I think these change the equation.

Here’s why I’ve changed my mind:

A Digital Workspace can be described very easily: It’s a single point of aggregation of all a user’s IT services, bound together with a single identity. Whether that user needs a SaaS app, a workflow or a full VDI session, it should all be there with no additional authentication overhead for the user. It may include Unified Endpoint Management (UEM), a VDI solution or powerful analytics, but while they are nice to have (and critically important for most enterprises), they are simply additional parts of a Digital Workspace.

What Microsoft has done over the past month or so is to leverage two key solutions to redefine a new type of workspace – the Personal Workspace.

Think about the Personal Workspace at Digital Workspace+. It offers the same capabilities as a traditional Digital Workspace, but also allows more flexibility and personalisation. Let’s explore why and how.

Windows 11

Windows has never been about making it ‘easy’. Too much focus has traditionally been put on emphasising the Windows platform itself, with lots of ‘Hey look at this!’ mechanics going on. While Windows was such a key part of Microsoft, that sort of made sense. But now Microsoft is all about Azure, it can afford to remake Windows into something a bit different, to shrink its role while at the same time making it much more relevant for the world we all now live in.

Windows was never traditionally about making the user journey easy. There were too many non-intuitive menus and icons. The interface formerly known as ‘Metro’ was an awful beast that stayed around at least 8 years too long. With most iterations of Windows, a lot of time was spent by users and admins trying to undo some of these mistakes. In my experience, a lot of users are still nostalgic for the look and feel of Windows 95!

Windows 11 has changed all that, mainly by removing a lot of the UI ‘bloat’ of Windows 10. Its focus on putting everything the user needs at their fingertips is a breath of fresh air. The icons are easier on the eye, human feedback is more present than ever, and everything is arranged far more neatly, whether that’s a web browser or a productivity app.

It may seem like a small thing, but Windows 11 looks so much ‘cleaner’ than Windows 10. I’m not going to go into the fact that Windows 11 looks like a fatter version of ChromeOS here. The fact is that Microsoft has done what Microsoft does best: it’s seen something better in the market and emulated it.

Another key feature of a Digital Workspace is that it’s a cloud-based service which places few requirements on the end user. There’s been much merriment of the past couple of weeks in the EUC industry, as Microsoft’s Windows365 announcement looked like it was introducing VDI to the world for the first time even though there are probably 10s of millions of seats of Citrix, VMware and other VDI vendors’ products around, and there have been for at the past 15 years or so.

Windows365 does do something different though. It uses Microsoft’s huge heft to get VDI and the concept of Windows-in-the-cloud to the masses. It also promises to make it very simple to administer and use. The big argument (and one that I used before) was that Windows was simply a huge waste of resources when it comes to offering a Digital Workspace service to users. It’s always been complicated to use and is expensive to host. If MS are going to (eventually) offer Windows 11 on a managed cloud desktop for a fixed price, and if that price is competitive, then a lot of that argument is neutralised.

What about this idea of a ‘Personal Workspace’ then?

If Microsoft have truly created a simplified Windows desktop, that’s cloud based, cost effective and dedicated, then the possibilities are much more compelling than just a simple Digital Workspace. All enterprise applications will be available, whether SaaS or locally installed. The desktop will follow you around to multiple devices, irrespective of the OS, location or network. Any changes you make will persist. All the data you work on will be stored locally. Leveraging other MS technology like Windows Information Protection (still needs work, I know), then the Windows desktop could finally become Corporately Owned, Personally Enabled (COPE), like we see with IOS and Android devices.

Windows 11 and Windows365 will finally be the Windows the world has been waiting for, and pushes the envelope for the Digital Workspace. The only question left is which type endpoints to consume it on. I have an idea on that front…

#IGEL

My honest opinion on Citrix vs VMware

Since joining IGEL, I’ve been asked several times, (by people who should know better!), about my thoughts on these two EUC giants. I also realise that I have to be VERY careful when answering questions of this type, as, in the words of Family Guy, IT’S A TRAP!

However, seeing as there aren’t many of us who have worked for both vendors, I’ve thrown caution to the wind and decided to write a short brief on the strengths of both, while avoiding anything that looks like I’m favouring one over the other. And don’t worry, I’ve run this through friends and ex-colleagues at both tech titans and they’re cool with it…

What they have in common

First off, they’re both AWESOME companies. Between them they have created whole EUC markets and forged a path that others have followed. I have a strong belief that EUC doesn’t get the focus it deserves in the tech industry, and both Citrix and VMware have been instrumental in raising its profile.

Ok, let’s have a look at Citrix

Citrix’s core strength is that they get the idea of WORK, which is what EUC is all about. The first time I heard the greatest EUC tagline of all time was at a Citrix Kick Off in Orlando: “Work is not a place, it’s something you do.”

This abstraction from a technology conversation into one that makes sense for actual human beings is quite a difficult thing to do for most tech companies, but Citrix have this nailed.

Citrix have led the EUC field since the late 80s and have become synonymous with the whole field of remote working. In fact, Microsoft’s offerings in this space have their roots in a licensing deal with Citrix struck in 1997.

It’s this heritage that means so many of the world’s largest businesses use Citrix as a foundational piece of their EUC estate, whether that’s via Virtual Apps & Desktops or through their much-loved NetScaler solutions.

Another key strength that Citrix has is their broad embrace of the wider EUC ecosystem. In my experience, Citrix has always understood that a comprehensive EUC solution requires many best-of-breed partners, from analytics to endpoints. When I was at Citrix, it was common to work with a stack of EUC leaders such as AppSense, Atlantis and IGEL to ensure the customer always had the best overall solution for their needs. Citrix is the glue that holds many of these ecosystems together, and the customer is better off for it.

How about VMware?

VMware is a shining light in terms of technology and innovation. VMware has built an EUC offering that covers all of the bases and leads in many of them. VMware has pioneered the Digital Workspace, almost single handedly creating the concept and the market, while others have followed their lead.

VMware’s hybrid multi-cloud strategy is a huge boost for its EUC division, meaning that VMware’s cloud offerings are truly built for the cloud and available in all major public cloud providers. VMware’s VMC platform allows native VMware virtualisation technologies to run on Amazon AWS tin in AWS datacentres; there are similar offerings from Microsoft (Azure VMware Solutions) and Google. This makes VMware’s EUC solutions easily transportable between the major public cloud providers.

VMware has also recruited many of the biggest names in EUC, including Brian Madden, Shawn Bass and Ben Ward (see what I did there?), which is a massive vote of confidence in the overall EUC message. That message has also evolved to take in the latest trends in EUC, including Digital Employee Experience Management, Zero Trust and Intelligence. It’s a constantly evolving platform.

Who wins?

You can probably tell from the above that I’m not about to make a recommendation about whether Citrix or VMware are ‘better’. In my experience, Citrix has a core of very dedicated customers and partners. Many workplace strategists have built their careers on Citrix, and many technology partners have done the same. For some of the world’s biggest enterprises, Citrix’s solutions are core to the way they do business.

VMware has a much broader portfolio of solutions. I’ve found that for many businesses that already use VMware technology, either at the virtualisation layer or further up the stack in networking or storage, using VMware’s EUC offerings just makes sense. Build on top of this the many customers that AirWatch had before VMware acquired it, and many businesses see no need to stray outside of VMware.

Summary

Over the past year, and for all the wrong reasons, End User Computing has finally been thrust into the public consciousness. It is the interface between an enterprise and its employees. It is the driver of success for many, many enterprises, and it has shown itself to be an indispensable toolset for every business in the world.

Every vendor in the EUC space brings something different to the table and has its place in the enterprise. Choosing which ones make sense can be tough, but the fact that there is so much choice is testament to how important the field of EUC is and how a thriving ecosystem is good for everyone. Go Citrix! Go VMware! Go Microsoft! Go IGEL!

GO EUC!

So, what’s the hottest EUC trend in 2021?

I decided to put this question to the public vote, and I’ll be honest, the result didn’t surprise me.

We’ve just been through the most disruptive year since the 1940s, and that’s bound to shake up IT priorities. One of the biggest outcomes of the pandemic has been the massive shift to remote working.

I’ve personally seen customers rapidly roll out Virtual Apps & Desktops projects in super-quick time, along with adopting cloud strategies they’d previously put off. I’ve also seen a renewed focus on security, with Zero-Trust being seen as critical for workers now operating from their kitchens.

Why didn’t the results surprise me? Well, Employee Experience has been booming over the past 12 months. Just look at the exec moves in EUC recently. Jeff Mitchell, previously Global VP of Sales for EUC at VMware, made a move to Nexthink, the DEX leader last year. Earlier this year, long time veteran of Microsoft, Brad Anderson, moved to Qualtrics, another leader in this space.

What I didn’t expect was for DEX to be so far out in front of IAM. DEX leads by a country mile. Also, it’s easy to feel sorry for UEM and Virtual Apps & Desktops. However, it’s important to bear in mind that this is simply a survey of the hottest EUC topics. UEM and Virtual Apps & Desktops still make up the majority of EUC strategies and the EUC installed base.

This has been a fascinating insight. I think I’m going to have to run some more LinkedIn polls! In the meantime, keep a look out for the video I’m creating that explores the above in more detail.

Change is Good

Disasters are bad. We know this. But sometimes, they are an opportunity for change and renewal.

Last week I had a chat with my sons (well, one of them, as the younger one was punching my arm) about the great fire of London, and what it did to that city.

The fire was pretty devastating, destroying about 80% of the city’s buildings. However, after the fire, London was regenerated with new buildings, new regulations and new processes better suited to the modern world. Without the Great Fire, we wouldn’t have St Paul’s Cathedral, one of the city’s greatest landmarks.

In 1940, London was again hit by the disaster of the Blitz. Over 116,000 buildings were damaged beyond repair. In 1944, while the war was still raging, The Greater London Plan was created to start the regeneration of the city and put into place a vision of a brand new, greener London in a revitalised United Kingdom. Many of the towns and areas around London, and the shape of the City itself were designed back during it’s darkest hours.

A 21st Century Disaster

The COVID pandemic has brought with it more dark times, this time for the majority of humanity. It has become an economic and social disaster of huge proportions. ‘Lockdown’ has now become a familiar phrase to so many of us, with our freedoms curtailed to prevent the spread of a deadly virus.

We need to remember though that it could’ve been much worse. For a huge majority of us, work has continued. Thanks to technology innovations from the likes of Microsoft, VMware and Citrix, we have been able to be productive, even from our kitchens, spare bedrooms and home offices.

It’s stark to think that if this pandemic had happened just 25 years ago, in all likelihood we would not have been able to lockdown the economy without huge social unrest. Where would we have been without internet banking, online shopping and the ability to connect with our workplaces?

We need to be thankful for these innovative tech companies. Microsoft has been at the centre of personal computing since the 80s. Citrix has been pushing the message and breaking down the barriers of remote work for over 30 years. VMware has enabled countless businesses to modernise and almost single handedly created the Digital Workspace initiative. Then we have the next wave of innovation coming from the likes of IGEL, which aims to remove barriers to productivity and make tech invisible to people who’s lives are already complicated enough.

Now, in the depth of this latest huge change to envelop us, we need to be planning what the future world is going to look like. We CANNOT simply rebuild what went before. We need to reassess and build the world as it should be, better suited to the new world that has been created by the internet and social media.

An opportunity

This is an opportunity to decide what’s important to us and wider society. To do this, we NEED to focus on one of the most important, underpinning institutions of our society. We need to decide what work is going to look like in the future.

We want our employees to have unfettered access to the tools they need to do the job they love. We need them to have access to these tools from anywhere. Life is distracting enough at the moment, and once we’ve embraced the new way of working, these distractions will be here to stay. To counter this, we need to make sure our people can get access to their tools without distraction, without worrying about the technology they use and without fear of their security being compromised.

COVID is the modern equivalent of the Great Fire of London, bringing devastation to much of what went before, but bringing us a once-in-a-generation chance for renewal. We can build back better.

In short, every business needs to go all in with the tech that makes work easy. Every business needs to be talking to Microsoft, Citrix, VMware and IGEL. Be ready for change.

A conversation about Equality of Access

I recently had the privilege of chatting with Alexandre Lemaitre, a VMware intern who is also studying Sports Science in Belgium. Alex is a vocal advocate for Diversity and Inclusion and has an amazing perspective on what the shift to remote working means for disabled people, and how remote working provides equality of access and equality of opportunity.

Predictions for the ‘New Normal’

Have we moved beyond cities?

Humans have a need to connect. Social Evolution theory suggests that humans became the dominant species on Earth only because we learned to work together for mutual benefit and protection. Nowhere is this cooperation more evident than in our cities.

Cities have served as incubators for ideas and commerce, enabling innovation by connecting like-minded people together and supplying market dynamics to propel these ideas into the mainstream.

The New Normal

The events of the past couple of months have been tragic, frightening and frustrating for so many. We have all learned something new about ourselves, our families and the people we work with.

At a macro level, this may also mark the end of our fascination with cities. I have spoken to multiple customers and business-owner friends who are now seriously considering whether that flashy office in the CBD is actually a necessity. Many are surprised that they have actually not just survived but thrived in this new stay-at-home reality.

Anecdotal evidence from colleagues suggests that some customers are already actively looking to downsize their city offices and place greater emphasis on home working. The CEO of Barclays, Jes Staley even had this to say about his organisation’s recent experience:

“It’s an extraordinary thing that technology has allowed us to keep this bank so functional, given the fact that 70,000 people are doing it from their kitchens.”

Mug’s Game

Predicting the future is a mug’s game, but I’ve never been afraid of voicing my opinion. At the moment, thanks to the chancellor’s support packages, the economy is defying gravity to a certain extent.

But what could this situation mean for our society and economy in the medium term? Here are my current thoughts:

  • Many organisations with City centre bases will be considering reducing their floor space or eliminating their offices altogether. This is already happening
  • There will be a huge investment in remote working and Digital Workspace technology. Again, this already seems to be happening. Organisations that have thought ahead and already have a Digital Workspace have been much better prepared for the recent disruption.
  • We will see a collapse in the value and demand for City real estate
  • Occasional office space offerings, for meetings, events and presentations will see an uptick
  • Businesses will instead invest in regional gathering spaces, for smaller numbers of employees to get together for face-to-face meetings
  • We may well see many former office buildings being converted into city-centre residential or-mixed use developments, with a glut of properties leading to subdued house-price growth for several years
  • Public transport utilisation will drop at an unprecedented rate
  • Car usage and ownership will drop precipitously, and multi-car households will start to become the exception
  • Many local councils will start to replace business rates with a working from home tax, or even a broadband surcharge, to make up for their lost revenue
  • The UK will be able to hit its carbon reduction targets ahead of schedule by moving away from fossil fuels sooner than thought possible
  • Local services, provided by entrepreneurial business owners who previous business model has been interrupted, will start to be seen as essential for operating this new work model. These services may include:Home coffee, breakfast and lunch delivery, same-day office supply delivery and cafes and pubs providing quite working spaces
  • We may see ‘Non-Returners’, children whose parents have decided that home-schooling is a better option for their child than main-stream schooling. Private tutors may well become more in-demand than ever before, and may start to offer one-to-many virtual classrooms
  • A return to more cohesive local communities, as individuals who have previously commuted become more engaged with their local community

Again, these are early days, and it may be that nothing changes after this is all over. I hope though that we all come out of this safely, with a new view of the world and the ability to strike a work-life balance that works for everyone in this ‘New Normal’.

Shock, Horror! Maybe remote working IS a thing after all

In April, Barclays and WPP announced that they were going to review their office usage, as they had managed to continue business operations by enabling people to work from home. Shock horror! 

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/apr/29/flexible-working-will-be-norm-after-covid-19-lockdown-say-barclays-and-wpp-bosses

We have been able to do this for decades. Famed Sci Fi writer Arthur C Clark stated in the 70’s that the only thing preventing businesses from allowing remote or home working has been fear of change. Now potentially 10 – 20 years of gradual change has been forced on us over the space of 2 months.

What changes could we be about to see? Big business has for over a century been all about ‘Big and centralised’ working practices. We may be about to see a return to the Domestic System, an ancient system of ‘Small and Localised’ business. But this time, it’s ironically enabled by ‘Big and Centralised IT’. This will have a seismic impact on our large cities, especially London.

London is a global powerhouse due to the number of multi-national businesses that have their HQs there. This has required a huge number of supporting businesses and services, from TfL, to train companies and many small and medium restaurants, cleaning services, bars and delivery services. I’d argue (as would many in the wind-swept provinces of these islands) that for too long, London has sucked talent and investment out of the rest of the country.

With a move to a more decentralised way of working, will we start to see a renaissance across the rest of the UK? Will the Northern Powerhouse come into being, not through government policy but through the effect of millions of knowledge workers voting with their feet and working from their kitchens? As London declines in importance nationally, will the rest of the country rise to meet it?

We don’t know yet, but these are the questions that are now being asked in the boardrooms of every business across the UK and globally. And I believe that the real change to come out of this emergency will be a structural change, for the better, to the way we work.