A couple of years ago, the topic of Bring Your Own PC would crop up in meetings from time to time, people were thinking about it, talking about it but not really doing it… with the exception of one or two forward thinkers that allowed their staff to ‘opt out’ of the standard issue laptop with the alternative option of a ‘device allowance’
These days, Bring Your Own Device is a topic of conversation I am having in at least every other meeting I attend.
Device as opposed to PC is pretty much down to Apple – who would have thought that the designer device for non-conformists and arty types would become a bona fide business tool that would be accepted in the workplace rather than frowned upon or laughed at.
This trend was kicked off in the boardroom by C-level execs – the appeal of a MacBook was too great with its light weight, good battery life, nice build quality, bright screens and desktop prowess – purchases were made, expenses were claimed and these devices found their way to the IT department with a post-it note attached saying simply ‘support this’
Since this was a directive from high up, there was no choice but to comply and moves were made to get the Apple talking to Active Directory and other PC-centric resources on the network.
This is an area where Hosted Virtual Desktops (also known as VDI) is catching on rapidly – the ability to virtualise a Windows operating system with standard corporate applications and run it in a datacentre is appealing to many.
It’s just like the old days again, where all the number crunching is done in a centralised, secured, air-conditioned and backed-up location and all the user’s device needs to do is access the backend system and display the goings-on.
Taking so many dependencies away from the device means that it no longer needs to run Windows, or be a member of the domain. All you need is an IP address and one of the excellent brokers/receivers/agents from vendors like Citrix or VMware.
This also means that as an IT Department, I don’t have to provide support for non-standard devices, and critically I don’t have to take legal ownership of the content or applications that have been installed on employee’s own devices.
I have also seen that interest in BYOD and VDI has seen a renewed interest in and a resurgence of terminal services (now called remote desktop services). With the exceptional progress made in this space by Microsoft and Citrix, the scalability & reliability issues and the compromises in terms of functionality are elements that have been well and truly left behind. Terminal Services are similar in many ways to VDI, except organisations can appreciate a much greater density of users on servers, which dramatically lowers the cost of deploying this type of technology.
What I am seeing a lot of, is a hybrid model where within an organisation, laptops, desktops, hosted virtual desktops and remote desktops are all being deployed depending upon specific user’s requirements.
This can be a major IT support nightmare, and it is imperative to deploy tools to ensure that users have reliable and dependable access to their data and critically get a consistent look and feel independent of the device they are logging on to.
In this respect, user acceptance and perception are king.
If the delta between one platform and another is too great, the user will not accept the infrastructure that the IT department has provided them with.
Even worse for the organisation, productivity will go down.
Context awareness is also important – we must consider the Who, What, Where and When.
Who – what is the identity of the user trying to log on? What department do they work for and what groups and organisation units are they a member of?
What – what type of device is the user logging onto? Is it a corporate desktop? A company issue laptop or a device that I know nothing about?
Where – what is the geographic location of the user? What office are the in? What floor are they on? Or even what country are they visiting?
When – what time of day or day of the week is it?
Based upon these criteria, we can automatically ensure that Users are given access to the right applications, data, printers and settings based upon their job roles and entitlements.
The final element is Security.
By securing the user’s level of access to the resources rather than the resources themselves, it means I can standardise my infrastructure.
I can build a universal desktop that any user could log on to and be productive with, because that desktop will be customised for that particular user, logging on from that particular access device, from that particular office at exactly that time of day.
If I don’t do this, I would be back to square one – corporate standard PCs on desktops, heavily customised for each individual user with zero flexibility, a lack of mobility and major impact & downtime when a change is made.
IT these days is all about agility. Users are coming to in to the workplace with far greater skills than IT departments had just a few years ago. With these skills comes expectations, and demands, and unless our IT departments enable users to be agile, flexible and innovative, we are not going to move forwards.
IT as a Service is happening… but we need to keep up with our Users, and where possible stay one step ahead of the game.