The “desktop” is an outdated concept

This content is 12 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

In terms of productivity, yesterday was a write-off – and it looks like today will be too. My company-supplied notebook PC is unusable and I need to get it fixed.

Understandably, a loss of service for one user is not allocated the highest priority and at least a desktop services technician can see me when I make it into the office this morning, for which I’m very grateful.

I hope he has a stock of hard disks though, as I’m not convinced that a simple PC rebuild will be enough – this machine, despite having 4GB of memory and a reasonably-capable Core 2 Duo processor, has been getting slower and slower to the point that, yesterday, it took 15 minutes to send an email and after a restart it wouldn’t even get past the Starting Windows screen. The hard disk light is almost never off, and the diagnostics I’ve run suggest that the disk is about to fail completely.

I did, thankfully, manage to get Windows running in Safe Mode, and managed to copy off the files I’ve updated in the few days since my last backup, but with data transfer rates of around 40 KB per second, across Gigabit Ethernet (security restrictions preventing access to USB disks), something was not right…

So, it’s a PC, these things go wrong from time to time, get over it, right? Yes, I will. It looks like I have my data and I’ll be up and running again in a day or so. But at what cost?

2 to 3 days of my time has a not insignificant price and, with a modern IT infrastructure, I could have been working on another device over that period. Unfortunately, I live in a world where mandatory full-disc encryption inhibits recovery tools, where VPN access is required for internal websites and applications, and where emailing documents to my personal account and working on an alternative device is a breach of security.

Some people would suggest a hosted desktop as an answer. After all, with that, I could just log in from another device and get on with my work. But that’s just applying old-world thinking in a new way.

First up is the VPN. What? HTTPS access to key applications ought to be the norm these days – and it is, inside the firewall. Time to open that up to other locations, surely? Thank goodness I had ActiveSync access to email from my phone (which is a step in the right direction and I should be grateful for small mercies).

Then there’s the full-disc encryption. Firstly, it’s a third party product (for complex reasons involving Microsoft licensing and the need to support a dual Windows XP and Windows 7 estate) but really, surely an encrypted volume (Trucrypt-style) would suffice? Then I could swap out the disc and, providing I can supply the necessary details to access the encrypted data, use it on whatever device I like…

Which leads me to devices. Working for an OEM does present some challenges when it comes to implementing BYOD policies (it doesn’t look good if your staff choose another vendor’s kit) but, if the data is secured, rather than the device, I should be able to use anything I like to access it when things go wrong.

I know the guys who create our standard builds, and I know the effort that goes into creating a standardised PC estate that works for all, even when half the users are technical and want to break things. But the cost of supporting a plethora of devices is tiny compared to the cost of lost productivity, particularly if the support is limited to application and data access, making any device or operating system issues an end-user concern.

In a bring your own device (BYOD) world, I would have bought a new disk (probably an SSD) and been up and running in a few hours. Instead, I’m looking at two or three days total loss of productivity, plus travel costs to see a desktop support technician. Now who thinks BYOD will cause more chaos?

Of course, BYOD is no panacea. I’d suggest that many of the answers to my issues may be found in architecting an IT estate (and supporting processes) where application access is not dependant upon the device or operating system – and that takes time, money and effort. But one thing’s for sure: thinking about “the desktop” (hosted or otherwise) is an outdated concept in 2012.

How does your organisation handle IT for its mobile knowledge workers?

Could not read the calendar. Outlook cannot open this item. The item may be damaged!

This content is 12 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Somtimes, I could cheerfully dump my corporate laptop* and this week has been no exception with abysmally slow performance, new software installs that require reboots and then, after working well (so nothing to do with the Cisco unified communications integration components that I installed yesterday), Outlook decided that it didn’t like my calendar any more. Other people’s calendars were fine; other folders (Inbox, etc.) were fine; and the calendar data was fine, as long as I didn’t want a day/week/month view.

Could not read the calendar. Outlook cannot open this item. The item may be damaged.

OK, but which item? I could take a guess that this was something to do with a corrupted offline folders (.OST) file but a bit of Googling turned up a fix.  In a TechNet Forum post Exchange MVP Rich Matheisen suggests deleting the OST file (the location of this can be found from Outlook’s Account Settings), then running outlook /cleanfreebusy to create a new .OST and pull down the free/busy calendar information.

One slight snag was that I couldn’t rename/delete the existing Outlook.OST file because it was in use. This time, Windows was a little more helpful with its error reporting, telling me that the Microsoft Windows Search Protocol Host had the file open. The answer was to open services.msc, stop the Windows Search service, then work on the Outlook.OST file, before restarting the Windows Search service.

Outlook is now happy again, but I’m not convinced it would have been any quicker to go via the official support channels (probably would have necessitated a visit to the office for the deskside support guys to take a look) than to self-support… which makes me wonder if corporate IT budgets would be better spent on providing cross-platform technology services, rather than maintaining and supporting standard PC builds?

* I make no secret that I’m not a fan of standard operating environments (“gold brick” PC builds) with layers and layers of “security” software. Even though I spent many years implementing such solutions (and reaping the rewards in terms of reduced support costs, etc.), it’s an outdated model that has no place in an age of consumerisation (for many knowledge workers at least – of course, there are exceptions, e.g. in heavily regulated environments). There are many who will say, “so what do you suggest instead?”, to which my response is: a) read this post; b) think about how to secure your data, not your devices; c) empower users to choose their own devices/apps where they wish (accepting that a bring your own model is not for all, but it’s time to move away from a device/operating system centric model to one that focuses on data and applications).

Microsoft Surface: my attempt to cut through the hype

This content is 12 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Over the last 24 hours, I’ve watched the hype build about Microsoft’s mysterious mystery event (thank goodness I missed the build-up last week as I was still on holiday in France…), watched the news break, and watched everyone either go ooooh, ahhhh, or hrmmm…

I couldn’t stand it any more and decided that I too should weigh in with my comments on some of the comments I’ve seen about Microsoft Surface. I may even come back and add to this list over the next few days:

  • Microsoft is too late to the tablet game: Maybe they are. There’s the iPad, and then there’s… well, no-one really. But there’s still plenty to play for. Maybe back in 2007 someone asked for a tablet and got a table instead? Seriously, the device we previously knew as Surface was rebranded PixelSense last year, but we don’t seem to get the PixelSense screen tech in the Surface tablets.
  • It looks good: it does – really good. But we don’t yet know enough about the Surface hardware – if this is underpowered, or battery life is poor, or the screen is unresponsive, then it will fail, just like all the other iPad wannabes.
  • The keyboard in the cover is a gimmick/great idea/an admission that soft keyboards don’t work: horses for courses, I’d say – there are times when I use my iPad keyboard and times when I elect for a physical version – this way we get both.
  • Microsoft is cutting OEM’s throats? Are they really? My view (personally, not as an employee) is that it’s saying “come on guys, this is what can be done when you put your mind to it – stop letting Apple run away with the tablet market and design something that’s just as good, now that we have (finally) got an operating system (nearly) ready for you”. But there is an issue when (presumably) Microsoft doesn’t charge itself $85 per device for a copy of Windows.
  • This will undermine Ultrabook sales: perhaps it will, but however big the marketing push, they would have been niche anyway. Do IT Managers really have money to spend on “sexy” laptops when functional ones cost half as much? It might have killed off the Windows tablet market though, except that Surface will only be available from Microsoft Stores and online, which limits its availability somewhat, and makes it a consumer-only purchase. OEMs don’t really need to worry too much (sure, PC sales are in decline… but there are many factors behind that and mobile devices have been expected to surpass PC for a while now). And for those of us outside the US… we might not even get a sniff.
  • Ah, so it’s for consumers, so it puts Microsoft back in the game when it comes to consumerisation? Hrm Not really. On BYOD, there seems to be a shift towards choose your own device (CYOD) – i.e. we’ll give you more choice, maybe even let you contribute to have a better device, but it needs to run Windows. CIOs do need to re-architect applications to embrace cloud, mobility, big data and consumerisation – but that’s a big ask and it’s not happening overnight. Until then there’s life in Windows 7 (and 8) for a while. And laptops/tablets are only one side of the story; Microsoft is still struggling for smartphone market share…
  • Two versions of Windows, both on Surface devices, one that runs Windows RT and one for Windows 8 Pro – what gives? On this I agree, it will confuse the market. Maybe the x86 hardware should have been a reference platform for OEMs to sell in the business market, with ARM to consumers?
  • Analysts say… Really. There is some really good insight there, seriously. But now what do CIOs say? How about: where will this help me to deliver business value; what’s the impact on the rest of the IT environment; how can I transition to become a competitive (internal) IT service provider who no longer cares about devices and operating systems? Having said that, I think Forrester’s Sarah Rotman Epps is correct to highlight issues with the way Windows is marketed and sold, and IDC’s Crawford Del Prete (@Craw) is right on the money:
MSFT Surface must win the hearts of consumers before the minds of CIOs. Good start #surface
Crawford Del Prete

For some time now, we (geeks, tech journalists and IT types like me) have lambasted Microsoft for being unimaginative, lacking innovation, and for being late to market. This time they have something bold, exciting and that could really shake up the way that PCs look and feel. They’ve also kept it secret and created a buzz (albeit a little too early, some might say) perhaps a bit like another company that seems to get credit for everything it does…

Let’s give the Surface a chance to get out of the door before we write it off, hey? It could actually be really good.


Now, what are they doing about smartphones?

Consumerisation think tank panel at Dell Technology Camp 2012 (#DellTechCamp)

This content is 12 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Yesterday afternoon, I took part in a panel discussion on the evolution of consumerisation as part of a Dell Technology Camp and in advance of the publication of the third part of Dell/TNS Global’s Evolving Workforce research.  It was the first time I’ve taken part in an event like this and I have to admit I was pretty nervous but it was also an enjoyable experience – particularly given the wonderful surroundings of the Saatchi Gallery in south-west London.  I only wish I’d been able to tweet during the event (I did scribble some notes but was focusing so much on the conversation that tweeting would have been a step to far for this Gen-Xer who isn’t so great at “partial attention”!)

Evolving Workforce Think Tank @ #DellTechCampChaired by Stephen O’Donnell (@stephenodonnell), the discussion examined a number of topics related to consumerisation, including: the generational divide myth; recruiting and retaining talent; new working practices; technology choices; security;controlling costs and driving profit; and the impacts of geography and market sector on progress.

Dell have produced a Storify story about the whole day (not just the panel discussion) – and you can catch the recording of the live stream – but, for those who don’t have a couple of hours to spare, I thought I’d blog the highlights… I guess you could think of them as the tweets that never were:

  • Stephen Yap, TNS UK: It’s a myth that only generation Y gets “social” and consumerisation; TNS’ research finds that older generations are more accepting of IT as a transformation agent (and younger people are more sceptical).  [Something that one of my Baby Boomer colleagues, Vin Hughes, suggested over a year ago in a blog post about the digital world and generational labels.]
  • Alexis Lane, The Head Partnership: Organisations need a element of control to stay within the law, including open communication of policies.
  • Stephen Yap: IT is not just a utility – get it right and it can be a motivator for employees.
  • Mark Wilson (@MarkWilsonIT): The IT department is just a provider of “stuff” in our personal clouds – just like our bank, supermarket, email provider, etc. [Credit is due to Joe Baguley (@JoeBaguley) for that one… also see my post on the rise of the personal cloud, inspired by David Gentle (@DaveGentle).]
  • Helen Calthrop-Owen, Axicom: Consumerisation is part of a bigger change regarding how people work together.
  • Tim Weber (@Tim_Weber), BBC: Policies alone are not enough – citing Joshua Klein (@JoshuaKlein) he says that we need to “hack our work“, noting that it could get you fired, or you could be a big winner.
  • Bryan Jones (@BryanAtDell), Dell: It’s not “lazy IT” that holds us back so much as cultural challenges – the key is to create “competitive differentiation”.
  • Mathias Knöfel (@MathiasContext): Consider the cost factors and end user benefit – given a choice users will pay for flexibility.
  • Mark Wilson: Get under the surface of BYO and you’ll find it’s more about choice – giving users the ability to trade up to a “sexier” device [credit due to Garry Martin (@GarryMartin).]
  • Stephen Yap: Emerging markets see employer-provided devices as attractive (they tend not to have PCs at home); meanwhile in the US/Canada it’s about Bring Your Own Cloud [what I called the personal cloud] – questioning the need for corporate IT. Not so much about the choice of device but working in the way in which we have become accustomed to.
  • Alexis Lane: Increasingly difficult to draw lines of ownership (intellectual property and corporate data vs. life) – often old questions arise in a new context (e.g. the ownership of a contact database cf. LinkedIn profile).
  • Stuart Collingwood, Nivio: Enterprise-grade social media does exist; devices are more emotional and entitlement can create friction (i.e. who is entitled to what); light touch integration is required for end users to access corporate IT.
  • Bryan Jones: There is no silver bullet (in terms of technology); what’s required is a “portfolio discussion” about on premise IT; extrenal service provision (e.g. cloud) and how to bridge the gap.
  • Stuart Collingwood: Employee expectations for IT performance are “brutal”; tolerance of “corporate lethargy” and inflexible applications has dropped.
  • Tim Weber: Users tend to blame devices or applications but may be other issues; legacy holds us back (e.g. network performance).
  • Mark Wilson: Returning to issues of cost – tax implications with benefits in kind – need clearer advice from government.
  • Bryan Jones: The consumer knows what is possible – consumerisation is not solely an IT issue but raises business functional questions. The trick is to simplify IT, to become more responsive – and innovation is occurring whether we like it or not – there’s an opportunity to embrace it and to listen across the organisation, not just to IT.
  • Stephen Yap: There’s a shift towards outcome-based working with an unspoken contract between freedom and blurred boundaries [i.e. no more 9-5] and digital natives find this easier to understand.
  • PJ Dwyer, Dell: Flexible working is popular, but some employees dislike the remoteness/don’t feel part of the team.
  • Tim Weber: In addition to recognition issues, some roles require collaborative working and presence; interesting to see that Twitter (distributed by nature) has triggered Tweet-Ups – the Human Being is a social animal and companies are social organisations; consider team dynamics (e.g. in a large team, others suspicious that they are carrying the load) – management becomes a task of ensuring everyone knows what their colleagues are doing.
  • Marie-Christine Pygott, Context: Communications occur in many ways – if employees are not present, they are not on the mind of others (you can’t walk over to their desk for a chat).
Evolving #Workforce: Does a flexible working policy turn you into a flexible but virtual.. hermit?
  • Stephen O’Donnell: We need a virtual watercooler, do we need to use social media to highlight work milestones [or even, “I’m taking the kids to school, I’ll be back in 20 mins”]?
  • Stuart Collingwood: Expect to see that scenario become more common as future generations enter the workplace (and we’re already seeing changing literacy styles, such as use of “text speak” in written English).
  • Carly Tatum, Dell: Communications work in different ways; bringing people into a group situation from social media context can induce a different dynamic [one that doesn’t always work].
  • Mathias Knöfel: Often, meeting people face to face changes the relationship from that point onwards.
  • PJ Dwyer: Emerging markets have different perspectives, due to different stages of development.
Emerging countries leapfrogging with tech as no legacy technology. Getting best tech, big incentive #DellTechCamp
Margo Smale
  • Stephen Yap: In BRIC, for example, skipping PCs and moving straight to smartphones; also leapfrogging legacy in the workplace – not as encumbered.  It will be interesting to see the change as security, etc. become bigger issues in developing nations. Also cultural differences as in some geographies work and technology may act as motivators.
  • Alexis Lane: When talking about the security of information, we need to understand what it is we are protecting. It’s not realistic to say “everything” – what can we be more relaxed about?
  • Tim Weber: The “castle/moat model” makes less sense as we become more mobile and blast more holes in the walls – need to look at data level and see what can be done to protect it; requires clever thinking, supported by technology, to understand how to protect the things that are critical to your company.
  • Stuart Collingwood: We have to think differently about how we build systems – it’s hard (and expensive) to retrofit so we need to re-architect from the ground up.

Graphic Recording from Evolving Workforce Think Tank at #DellTechCamp

Key takeaways

For those who find even that list too much to work through – here are the key takeaways from around the table:

  • Stephen O’Donnell: Consumerisation is happening, it won’t stop – indeed it will accelerate; employees like it, it frees them up from coming to the office as well as from Victorian-style employment contracts; work is becoming more outcome-based; difficult to draw line between work and home; requires serious management – need to think, plan and come up with new ways of thinking.
  • Tim Weber: There is no single solution; every company needs to look at legacy – not just productivity and happy employees but the underlying stategic business model – suss that out and have clarity of thinking to drive company forward; remain flexible as things will constantly change on the roadmap.
  • Mathias Knöfel: BYOD gives opportunities for flexibiity with the right incentives but also risks that need to be thought through more carefully (e.g. legal/risk).
  • Mark Wilson: From an end-user perspective, don’t just think about the “Digital Natives”, also consider “Digital Pioneers” who have seen previous waves of IT transformation and those with no time/inclination too (Digital Luddites); from a management standpoint we need to develop new attitudes to work – become more trusting and results oriented; and the IT department needs to address issues around legacy, removing barriers through innovation and avoiding stagnation; finally, we can’t close lid on this box!
  • PJ Dwyer: It’s happening now; organisations need to be proactive and it affects not just IT but also HR, legal – indeed the whole business. Flexibility and choice are key to success and aspirations vary by market and geography.
  • Marie-Christine Pygott: There are pros and cons to consumerisation – it changes the dynamic of an organisation – the way people work, their flexibility, work/life balance but also who teaches whom – employees suggest more about the technology used; there is no single solution and we need need integrated strategies; communication is vital; also differentiation in different parts of the world.
  • Stuart Collingwood: Consider company culture – not just policy and structural issues – need to instil communications protocols, sensitivities and context within company culture – requires a top down approach.  Culture is safety net and policy handbooks are not enough. People will use technology more responsibly than you might give them credit for.
  • Alexis Lane: Embedding culture of the organisation and taking a decision as to what the company needs to be is important. It’s exciting to consider technology as a motivation – and from a legal perspective we need to get to heart of data issues.
  • Bryan Jones: Not just a technology discussion – people and process too; competitive advantage downstream is enormous; culture is critical to changing the dynamic in a company; it permeates, into how we communicate internally and how we interact with customers.
  • Stephen Yap: Enterprise IT has ever been more exciting than now; we’re at a tipping point, elevating the significance of IT within the organisation and to our lives; not just about IT professionals but it makes a difference to all – in how we work and how we live; not just happy and motivated workers but new business models, new ways of doing things. And the conversations that we’re having are more strategic than 10 years ago; IT is making a bigger difference than ever before.

tl;dr view

Stephen O’Donnell’s summary: there is an enormous opportunity for businesses to adopt and drive the socialisation and consumerisation of IT; to really make a difference in driving down costs, improving agility and improving employee/customer communication. On the other side, there is a risk that we “throw the baby out with the bathwater”, that we don’t follow the processes because it’s all new, that we under manage employees, don’t deal with security appropriately, don’t invest in the underlying infrastructure and so don’t achieve the benefits.

Image credits – Dell’s Official Flickr Page, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0). Visual communication/storytelling by Creative Connection.

IT consumerisation: adapting to meet the demands of an evolving workforce

This content is 12 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

I’ve written (and tweeted) quite a bit about IT consumerisation over the last year or two and tomorrow I’ll be joining a “think tank” on the Evolving Workforce as a part of Dell’s 2012 Technology Camp in London.  Being one of a panel will be a new experience for me but the only reason I’m there is because someone, somewhere has got the idea that I might have some opinions – and it’s the people who read this blog (and consume my stream of consciousness on Twitter) that have got me there… so thank you!

The discussion will work through three areas: people; productivity; and progress looking at topics such as the generational divide myth; recruiting and retaining talent; new working practices; technology choices; security; controlling costs and driving profit; and the impacts of geography and market sector on progress.

Now, this is where you come in – I do indeed have opinions on these topics but, as its the readers of this blog that have put me on the panel, I’d like to bring your views, opinions and experiences to the table:

  1. What do you think about consumerisation? Is it really a “megatrend” that threatens to turn enterprise IT on its head – or has it been blown out of all proportion?
  2. What are the challenges you’re seeing in your organisations as they grapple with the people, process and technology issues mentioned above?
  3. What should IT vendors be doing, collectively or individually, to evolve enterprise IT and to help our customers negotiate this minefield?

If you’d like to take part in the discussion join the live stream or tweet using the the #DellTechCamp and #workforce hashtags tomorrow afternoon (31 May 2012) from 14:15 BST.

A Microsoft view on the consumerisation of IT (#ukitcamp)

This content is 12 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

I never realised that my blog posts were feared. At least not until Microsoft’s Andrew Fryer (@deepfat) said he was less concerned about my event feedback on yesterday’s IT Pro Camp event than on my blog post! Well, all I can promise is to try and be objective, fair and balanced – which is what readers have come to expect around here – even if there is less Microsoft-focused content these days.

I went along to yesterday’s IT Pro Camp on Consumerisation as a result of a Twitter conversation that suggested I come and see what Microsoft is doing to embrace and support consumerisation.  To be fair, I should have known better. For the last 20 years, Microsoft has provided desktop (and back-office) systems to enterprises and the consumerisation megatrend threatens this hegemony. Sure, they also operate in the consumer space, but consumerisation is increasingly mobile and cross-platform which means that Microsoft’s dominance is weakening*.

What the UK TechNet team has done is to put together a workshop that looks at how Microsoft tools can be used to support consumerisation in the enterprise – and, at that level, it worked well (although I’m pretty sure the event synopsis changed at some point between me booking my place and it actually taking place).  Even so, I was naive to expect anything more than marketing. Indeed, I nearly went home at lunchtime as it was starting to feel like a big System Center Configuration Manager pitch and there was very little discussion of what is really meant by the consumerisation of IT.

There is little doubt in my mind that the event provided a great demo to show off a host of functionality in Microsoft’s products (and, to be fair, there is an increasing amount of cross-platform support too) but, time and time again, I was the awkward so-and-so who asked how I would implement a feature (for example Direct Access) in a cross-platform estate (e.g. for BYOD) and the answer was that it needs Windows.

So, earlier in the week I was slating Oracle for an event that basically said “buy more of our stuff” and this week… well, it’s just “stuff” from Redmond instead of (different) “stuff” from Redwood Shores, I guess.

Even so, there were some snippets within the product demos that I would like to call out – for example, Simon May (@simonster)’s assertion that:

“We need to be more permissive of what’s allowed on the network – it’s easier to give access to 80% most of time and concentrate on securing the 20%.”

In a nutshell, Simon is re-enforcing the point I made earlier this month when I suggested that network access control was outdated and de-perimiterisation is the way forward (although Microsoft’s implementation of NAC – called Network Access Protection – did feature in a demonstration).  There was also a practical demonstration of how to segregate traffic so that the crown jewels are safe in a world of open access (using IPsec) and, although the Windows implementation is simpler through the use of Group Policy, this will at least work on other devices (Macs and Linux PCs at least – I’m not so sure about mobile clients).

Of course, hosted shared desktops (Remote Desktop Services) and virtual desktop infrastructure reared their ugly heads but it’s important to realise these are just tactical solutions – sticking plaster if you like – until we finally break free from a desktop-centric approach and truly embrace the App Internet, with data-centric policies to providing access.

There was no discussion of how to make the App Internet real (aside from App-V demos and SharePoint/System Centre Configuration Manager application portals) but, then again, this was an IT Pro event and not for developers – so maybe a discussion on application architecture was asking a little too much…

Other topics included protection of mobile devices, digital rights management, and federation, featuring a great analogy from Simon as he described claims-based authentication as being a bit like attempting to buy a drink in a bar, and being asked to prove your age, with a driving licence, that’s trusted because the issuer (e.g. DVLA in mainland Britain) has gone through rigourous checks.

Hopefully this post isn’t too critical – my feedback basically said that there is undoubtedly a lot of work that’s gone into creating the TechDays IT Pro Camps and for many people they will be valuable. Indeed, even for me (I haven’t been involved in Microsoft products, except as a user, for a couple of years now) it’s been a great refresher/update on some of the new technologies. But maybe IT architects have a different view? Or maybe it’s time for me to get more intimately involved in technology again?


* I don’t see Microsoft being pushed out any time soon – Windows still runs on a billion PCs worldwide and analysts haven’t given up hope on Windows Phone either – at least not based on an IDC event I attended recently.

Short takes: from the consumerisation of IT to open data

This content is 12 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

This week has been a crazy one – and things don’t look like getting much easier over the next few weeks as we enter a new financial year and my job shifts its focus to be less externally-focused and more about technical strategy and governance. This blog has always been my personal blog – rather than something for my work – but the number of posts is inversely proportional to the amount of time I have on my hands which, right now, is not very much at all.

So I’m taking a new tack… each time I attend an event, instead of trying to write up all the key points, I’ll blog about the highlights and then (hopefully) come back with some details later… well, that’s the plan at least…

This week (on top of all the corporate stuff that I can’t really write about here), I attended two really worthwhile events that were very different but equally worthy of note – for very different reasons.

IDC Consumerisation of IT 2012 briefing

Analyst briefings are normally pretty dry: pick a hotel somewhere; sit on uncomfortable chairs in a large meeting room; and listen to analysts talk about their latest findings, accompanied with some PowerPoint (which you might, or might not have access to later…). This one was much better – and kudos is due to the IDC team that arranged it.

Not only was London’s Charlotte Street Hotel a much better venue (it may have had a tiny circulation area for pre/post event networking but it has a fantastic, cinema-style screening room) but there was a good mix of content as analysts covered a variety of consumerisation-based topics from an overview (risk management or business transformation) through sessions on how mobile devices are shaping the enterprise and on the state of the PC market, on to consumerisation and the cloud before finally looking at the impact of consumerisation on the IT services market.

I did cause some controversy though: tweeting a throwaway comment from an analyst about the organisation’s continued use of Windows XP attracted attention from one of the journalists who follows me in the US (IDC suggested that I took the comment out of context – which I would dispute – although, to be fair, much of the industry suffers from “Cobblers Shoes”); and I was not at all convinced by IDC’s positioning of VDI as an appropach to consumerisation (it’s a tactical solution at best – strategically we should be thinking past the concept of a “desktop” and focusing on secure access to apps and data, not on devices and operating systems) – prompting a follow-up email from the analyst concerned.

It used to be vendors (mostly Microsoft) that I argued with – now it seems I need to work on my analyst relations!

Ordnance Survey Open Data Master Class

I recently wrote a white paper looking at the potential to use linked data to connect and exploit big data and I have to admit that I find “big” data a bit dull really (Dan Young’s tweet made me laugh).

So #bigdata is any data set that exceeds your experience in managing it (@). After you've kicked its ass, it's just boring data again?
Dan Young

What I find truly exciting though is the concept of a web of (linked) open data. It’s all very well writing white papers about the concepts but I wanted to roll my sleeves up and have a go for myself so, when I saw that Ordnance Survey were running a series of “master classes”, I booked myself onto a session and headed down to the OS headquarters in Southampton. That was interesting in itself as I worked on a project at Ordnance Survey to move the organisation from Microsoft Mail to Exchange Server in the late 1990s but that was at the old premises – they’ve recently moved to a brand new building (purely office space – printing is outsourced these days) and it was interesting to see how things have moved on.

After an introduction to open data, Ordnance Survey’s Ian Holt (the GeoDoctor) took us through some of the OS open data sets that are available before Chris Parker spoke about Geovation and some of the challenges they are running (working with 100%Open, who also collaborate with some of my colleagues on Fujitsu’s Open Innovation Service). We then moved on to some practical sessions that have been created by Samuel Leung at the University of Southampton, using nothing more than some open source GIS software (Quantum GIS) and Microsoft Excel (although anything that can edit .CSV files would do really) – the materials are available for anyone to download if they want to have a go.

Even though the exercises were purely desktop-based (I would have liked to mash up some open data on the web) it was a great introduction to working with open data (from finding and accessing it, through to carying out some meaningful analysis) and I learned that open data is not just for developers!

[Update 2 April 2012: I won’t be writing another post about the IDC consumerisation of IT event as they have emailed all delegates to say that it was a private session and they don’t want people to publish notes/pictures]

Personal cloud: call it what you want, ignore it at your peril!

This content is 12 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

For about 18 months, one of the items on my “to do” list has been to write a paper about something called the “personal cloud”. It’s been slipping due to a number of other priorities but now, partly due to corporate marketing departments abusing the term to make it mean something entirely different, I’ve started to witness some revolt against what some see as yet another attempt at cloudwashing.

On the face of it, critics may have a point – after all, isn’t this just another example of someone making something up and making sure the name includes “cloud”? Well, when you look at what some vendors are doing, dressing up remote access solutions and adding a “cloud” moniker, then yes, personal cloud is nonsensical – but the whole point about a personal cloud is that it is not a one vendor solution – indeed a personal cloud is not even something that you can go out and buy.

I was chatting about this with a colleague, David Gentle (@davegentle), earlier and I think he explains the personal cloud concept really simply. Fundamentally, there are two principles:

  1. The personal cloud is the equivalent of what we might once have called personal productivity – the consumption of office applications, file storage and collaboration tools in a cloud-like manner. It’s more of a B2C concept than B2B but it is, perhaps, the B2C equivalent of an organisation consuming SaaS or IaaS services.
  2. Personal clouds become really important when you work with multiple devices. We’re all fine when we work on one device (e.g. a corporate laptop) but, once we add a smartphone, a tablet, etc. the experience of interacting and sharing between devices has real value. To give an example, Dropbox is a good method for sharing large files but it has a lot more value once it is used across several devices and the value is the user experience, rather than any one device-specific solution.

Personal cloudI expect to see personal cloud rising above the (BYO) mobile device story as a major element of IT consumerisation (see my post from this time last year, based on Joe Baguley’s talk about the consumerisation of IT being nothing to do with iPads) because point solutions (like Dropbox, Microsoft OneNote and SkyDrive, Apple iCloud) are just the tip of the iceberg – the personal cloud has huge implications for IT service delivery. At some point, we will ask why do we need some of the enterprise IT services – what do they actually do for us that a personal cloud providing access to all of our data and services doesn’t? (I seem to recall Joe exclaiming something similar to that corporate IT provides systems for timesheeting, expenses and free printing in the office!)

As for the “personal cloud” name – another colleague, Vin Hughes, did some research for the first reference to the term and he found something remarkable similar (although not called the personal cloud) dating back to 1945 – Vannevar Bush’s “Memex”. If that’s stretching the point a little, how about when the BBC reported in 2002 on Microsoft’s plans for a personal online life archive? So, when was the “personal cloud” term coined? It would seem to be around 2008 – an MIT Technology Review post from December 2007 talks about  how cloud computing services have the potential to alter the digital world (in a consumer context) but it doesn’t use the personal cloud term. One month later, however, a comment on a blog post about SaaS refers to “personal cloud computing”, albeit talking about provisioning personal servers, rather than consuming application and platform services as we do today (all that this represents is a move up the cloud stack as we think less about hardware and operating systems and more about accessing data).  So it seems that the “personal cloud” is not something that was dreamed up particularly recently…

So, why haven’t IT vendors been talking about this? Well, could it be that this is potentially a massive threat (maybe the largest) to many IT vendors’ businesses – the personal cloud is a very big disruptive trend in the enterprise space and, as Dave put it:

@ Personal Cloud. Call it what you want, ignore it at your peril!


A week of BYOD discussions

This content is 12 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

My corporate laptop infuriates me* – which might explain why I’m such a big advocate for the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) model that a lot of people are talking about right now (and which I’ve written about previously).

This week saw the culmination of a couple of initiatives I’ve been working on in this space and I thought it might be worth sharing some of what I found.

First up is some work I’ve been involved in with University College London, presenting an industry view on BYOD to students studying a Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) module as they work towards an MSc in Human Computer Interaction.

SSM is an approach to information gathering and analysis, not really oriented towards problem solving but for arriving at a situation where all stakeholders can work with some form of concensus. The students have listened to views on BYOD from me (as an IT technology and services supplier) along with IT directors from the government, education and media sectors and, earlier this week, I found myself on a panel listening to the students presenting their findings.

It was interesting to see what they had to say and, whilst the SSM approach didn’t necessarily answer my problem (which is helping customers to adopt BYOD without negatively impacting their business), there were some little nuggets that I thought were worthy of highlight:

  • Firstly, the students told me that my company needed to think about “consumer-driven product design”. Basically, they want sexy laptops [preferably ones with aluminium cases and an illuminated picture of an apple on the lid?] but seriously, vendors like HP, Dell and Lenovo [Fujitsu?] need to either, leave the consumer market to others (because it’s massively commoditised anyway) or come up with something that’s attractive to consumers, rather than to IT departments.  Whilst I can’t comment on what Fujitsu might do in future – it was good feedback – and some of the recent announcements at MWC and CEBIT might show some direction towards meeting this demand.
  • The students also told me that IT vendors need an expanded portfolio of device-agnostic services, that meet security requirements for protection of corporate data, yet provide flexibility (I happen to agree entirely – let IT managers concentrate on data, not devices – more on that in a few paragraphs’ time…)
  • They also want consumer-driven support services, citing AppleCare as an example. I did quip that they meant “expensive” then, but again, it’s interesting to see Apple held up as the gold standard in the eyes of today’s young consumers (many of whom also have jobs – I have to admit having been surprised to see that many of the students were not 22 year-olds straight from their first degree but mature students, studying whilst balancing family and work pressures).
  • Interestingly, generation Y does not think that the demand for BYOD is in any way generational (I’ve long since thought this was something used by companies for marketing, rather than a true phenomenon) – their assessment was that desire for BYOD is more driven out of an attitude to change, combined with personal needs. In addition the students felt that cognitive ability (the ability to abstract or problem-solve) presents an opportunity upon which to focus training in the workplace, and one group suggested the provision of training that provides each generation with an understanding of how others work. Another group felt that BYOD could even be an equaliser between generations.
  • One group felt that, where BYOD is a step too far, the choose your own device (CYOD) model (employed by Avanade, I believe) could work – with employees choosing one of a number of standard devices from an approved list.
  • And another consideration was that not everyone wants to carry a device around with them – either through fears of security with high value items on public transport (that may be a London thing: I’ve taken my devices on buses and trains for years) or because of social activities after work.

Then, yesterday, I was with a group of senior architects, listening to CIO Connect present on some of their research findings in the BYO space, before I gave my own take on things (and how we, as an organisation, can respond to our customer’s needs in this area). For obvious reasons, I won’t be spilling the beans on my employer’s plans but it was interesting to see what CIOs are saying about the trend:

  • Consumerisation is the second-largest change CIOs have seen in their careers, behind ecommerce, joint with business re-engineering and ahead of cloud computing [I found cloud’s position surprising – maybe that’s because I work for a systems integrator].
  • Many BYOD initiatives are being driven from the boardroom (e.g. the CEO’s Christmas present) but there are advantages across the business (dependant upon role).
  • Benefits are employee productivity (44%), employee satisfaction (29%), end user innovation (15%) and cost reduction (12%).
  • Funding model is split with 48% using company funds, 15% co-funding and 37% requiring employees to fund the device costs.
  • Concerns are mostly around security/leakage, company/brand reputation, technical support, costs and software licensing.

In terms of the solutions being employed, I found a little too much emphasis on what I would call transitional technologies (sticking plaster, if you like) – virtual desktops, and hosted shared desktops – but if that’s helping to move things forward in terms of device ubiquity then I guess it’s a step in the right direction.  Ultimately BYOD depends on greater adoption of service-oriented architectures (which is being driven by adoption of cloud applications); on de-perimiterisation (moving from a system of trusted endpoints and secure networks to a new model based on a combination of user, device, application and location); on switching from a mindset that sees devices as assets to one where the data is the asset; and on a willingness to work through a plethora of non-technical issues.

I’m sure I’ll be returning to this subject in future…

*My Fujitsu Lifebook S7220 is a perfectly good machine – and was great when I used to run lots of virtual machines to do lots of techie stuff – but the BIOS doesn’t support client hypervisors, my IT department has crippled it with some awful disk encryption software (not BitLocker, which is built into Windows) and it’s just too big and heavy. In my current role I’d like something a bit smaller and lighter – an ultrabook would be nice… I just have to wait for mine to hit it’s fourth anniversary so I can order a replacement.

Bring your own… or use what you are told?

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

A few days ago, I read an article about the risks presented by IT consumerisation. It rang alarm bells with me because, whilst the premise is sound (there are risks, some serious ones, and they need to be mitigated), the focus seemed to be on controlling data leakage by restricting access to social media and locking down device functionality (restricting USB ports, etc.). Whilst that was once an accepted model, I have to question if UWYT (use what you are told) is really the approach we should be taking in this day and age?

One of the key topics within the overal consumerisation theme is concerned with “bring your own” (BYO) device models. I recently wrote a white paper on this topic (a condensed “insight and opinion” view is also available) but, in summary, BYO offers IT departments an opportunity to provide consumer-like services to their customers – i.e. business end users.

In a recent dialogue on Twitter, one of my contacts was suggesting that Fortune 500 companies won’t go for BYO.  But the tide does seem to be turning and there are significant enterprises who are seriously considering it. I’ve been involved in several discussions over recent weeks and I’ve even seen articles in mainstream press about BYO adoption (for example, Qantas has publicly announced plans to allow up to 35,000 employees to connect their own devices to the corporate network). Interestingly, both those links are to Australian publications – maybe we’re just a little more conservative over here?

Of course, there are hurdles to cross (particularly around manageability and security) and it’s not about undoing the work put into managing “standard operating environments” but about recognising how to build flexibility into our infrastructure and open up access to what business end users really need – information!

We need to think about device ownership too and, in particular, about whose data resides where. Indeed, one of the best articles I’ve read on the topic was Art Witmann’s suggestion that a BYO strategy should start with data-centric security, including this memorable quote:

“Understandable or not, if ‘your device is now our device’ is the approach your team is taking, you need to rethink things”

Virtualisation can help with the transition, as can digital rights management. Ultimately we need to re-draw our boundaries and we may find ourselves in a place where the office network is considered “dirty” (just as the coffee shop Wi-Fi is today) and we access services (secured at the application or, better still, at the data layer) rather than concerning ourselves with device or technology-dependant offerings.

Putting myself in a customer’s shoes for a moment, I expect that I’d be asking if Fujitsu is following a BYO model and the answer is both “yes”, and “no”. As a device manufacturer it presents some image problems if our people are using other vendors’ equipment so, here in the UK and Ireland, our PCs are still provided by a central IT function. Having said that, there are some choices with a catalogue to select from (based on defined eligibility criteria [- a choose your own device scheme]). We also operate a BYO scheme for mobile devices, based on [Fujitsu’s] Managed Mobile service.

So we can see that BYO is not an all-or-nothing solution. And, whilst I’ve only scraped the surface here, it does need to be supported with appropriate changes to policies (not just IT policies either – there are legal, financial and human resources issues to address too).

To me it seems that ignoring consumerisation is a perilous path – it’s happening and if senior IT leaders are unable to support it, they may well find themselves bypassed. Of course, not every employee is a “knowledge worker” and there will be groups for whom access to social media (or even access to the Internet) or the ability to use their own device is not appropriate. For many others though, the advantages of “IT as a service” may be significant and far-reaching.

[This post originally appeared on the Fujitsu UK and Ireland CTO Blog.]