Modern workplaces are changing, with more companies discovering that an increasingly flexible approach to corporate life can lead to greater productivity, lower staff turnover and a more enjoyable, all-round workplace experience.
However, the ability to radically alter the traditional ‘desk-phone-and-PC’ set-up is not easily gained, and relies on several important factors, not least of which is an advanced, agile yet stable IT environment.
According to Frank Mulcahy, from IT mobility specialist Experteq, in many cases business process has become moulded over time by technology, rather than the other way around.
“Employees have become limited by the way legacy technology enables them to work instead of having the flexibility to work as, where and how they require to meet productivity levels,” says Mulcahy.
“Also, staff increasingly wish to bring lifestyle technology to work, rather than bringing work technology home. In many ways, work style and lifestyle are becoming intertwined through technology.
“Certainly the modern generation, having grown up with strong consumer views, expects similar prompt service delivery from internal IT services, to those they can get from cloud services suppliers.
“Business needs to adapt where possible to allow flexibility for staff to access work style/lifestyle technology simultaneously. The rewards are many but typically include increased productivity and happier staff.”
A virtual workplace is rapidly becoming the go-to environment of choice for modern, activity-based working. As such, many facilities are moving to thin clients, which are designed to operate in a virtual environment, making them inherently more suitable than the traditional PC when it comes to the provisioning of a modern workplace.
A virtual environment offers more flexibility than a traditional one, since all applications, security and data is stored in the cloud. Rather than each PC having a user’s credentials and programs downloaded to it, and operating as one individual machine in a network with many others, a virtual environment removes the shackles of ‘ownership’ from each device. Once set up by an administrator, a modern virtual workplace can be shared across any numbers of thin clients and end-users.
“Making the decision to create a more modern, flexible working environment generally requires a complete IT makeover, which can be costly and fraught with difficulties.”
With the swipe of a card or the input of a password, any individual can move to any device within the network and almost immediately access their own, personalised desktop – including apps, files and other data.
Further to that, a session can be stopped at one device, then accessed live on another with no break in continuity. Therefore, a worker can move from one screen, get in a taxi, head to another remote office or get on an aeroplane, access the company network via a remote connection and immediately have access to whatever they were working on.
Ward Nash, vice-president for IGEL Technology Australia and New Zealand, says thin clients are designed to be more flexible than a standard PC.
“They are faster to set up, cheaper to buy and run, and they last longer than a PC, but moreover they are easier to manage and allow a company more choices on how they want their staff to operate. They allow people to be more flexible about their choice of working environment,” Nash explains.
Setting up a virtual computing environment relies on having a reliable and well-provisioned data centre or outsourced cloud. Rather than the traditional approach of having dedicated servers perform a specific task within that data centre, a virtual set-up means that data resources are pooled together, so that capacity is measured as a whole rather than many smaller component parts.
That pool of data processing power is then doled out to perform tasks as required. So, instead of a server being devoted to email, another server only responsible for printing, a third one storing customer databases, in a virtual environment that information is spread across all servers in the data centre, sharing the workload evenly across computing resources. This results in a more efficient use of that processing power, and also offers users the flexibility to access their files from virtually anywhere, at any time.
Setting up a virtual, thin client environment is faster and simpler to manage, according to Nash. “Using our particular management solution, an IT administrator can add new devices to the network within a matter of minutes, and have them running with very little effort.”
Nick Vella, IT manager at Hellmann Worldwide Logistics, echoes this statement, saying that the one thing we love is that our thin clients can connect to the network straight out of the box.
“We just discover the new device from the UMS 5 management suite, then the configuration is automatically pushed out to the device. Security restrictions are already in place, and each new device arrives customised to our user interface,” Vella says.
Making the decision to create a more modern, flexible working environment generally requires a complete IT makeover, which can be costly and fraught with difficulties.
“Setting up a virtual, thin client environment is faster and simpler to manage”
Mulcahy outlines the most crucial steps in the decision-making process. “It is critical to understand the work patterns, processes and needs of each employee group,” he says.
“There is minimal advantage in introducing enterprise mobility unless it delivers improved business tools and significantly higher quality service to staff. The right business tools on the right device at all times allow the user to maximise productivity and provide high quality service to their customers.”
There are many new technologies driving the push towards flexible workplaces, many of them derived from the consumer experience, or a mix of consumer experience away from the workplace combined with needs within the evolving corporate environment.
‘Shadow IT’ refers to the applications and processes that employees bring into the corporate world independent of the IT administration – often ignoring workplace policies in the process. It is the expectation that an app that works perfectly well outside the workplace environment will function just as well within it, that is a major driving force towards workplace change.
“Modern services catalogues like the App Store, Google Play etc have changed the practice and expectations of many users, as they now demand the same consumer experience within their workplace as they currently have within lifestyle technology,” says Mulcahy.
“When they want a new service, the concept of search-click-consume is now commonplace for cloud services, but is more challenging to deliver within a business due to legacy process and technology. However, to avoid practices like ‘shadow IT’ becoming the norm, businesses must adapt to address the needs of their staff while continuing to manage the technology services provided to the staff.”
In essence, making the move to a more modern, agile workplace should be a carefully considered process, and one that ensures that the expectation of modern services and applications can be matched by a fluid, seamless access to appropriate hardware – all operating in a high-tech environment that draws on cloud computing, fast WLAN (wireless local area network) and high security at both an end-user and cloud level.
This article appears in the June/July edition of Facility Management. It can also be found at FMMagazine.com.au.