01 Jun 2013

The world of End User Computing is going thru multiple exciting changes at the moment.

The PC is alive and well

For the last couple years, they have started with some press claiming that the PC was dead, 2013 was no exception and yet the PCs are still alive and well. What is changing is that people have more options, ask yourself the following question: Do you still have a PC (laptop or desktop)? Do you also have a smartphone? What about a tablet? Do you often find yourself carrying all 3 (if you answered yes, fear not, you are not alone, I have asked this question often to clients and yes is the most common answer!). Deloitte published an interesting study earlier this year, in it they stated that they believed that over 80% of the internet traffic in 2013 will still come from PCs. They explain this thru what they are calling the convergence to the largest screen. Surfing the web from a smartphone can be quite useful at times, but it is a much better experience sitting at a desk with a real keyboard, a real mouse and a 24″ screen.

The tablet is changing

Blackberry’s CEO, Thorsten Heins, made the statement http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-04-30/blackberry-ceo-questions-future-of-tablets.html a couple months ago that “In five years I don’t think there’ll be a reason to have a tablet anymore”. The press ganged on up on him a little (as they often seem to do against anything that comes from Blackberry) and mostly concluded that his comment were linked to the fact that Blackberry no longer sells a tablet. But if we actually stop and think about it, it actually makes sense. The tablet as a category is changing quickly. What is a tablet? If I have a laptop running Windows 8, with a touch screen, a full keyboard and an Intel i5 CPU, is that a tablet? No? What if I can swivel the keyboard so that I can hold it in one hand and use the touch screen only, is that a tablet? Maybe? What if I can actually detach the keyboard, is it a tablet now? Yes? As you can see the line between notebooks and tablet is blurring, by now most tablets can get a keyboard attached and many notebooks can now have their keyboard removed. It is now mostly a preference of size (7″, 10″, 12″) Operating System (Android, Chrome, iOS, Windows) and battery/power tradeoff (more powerful devices with bigger screen have a smaller battery life at an equivalent weight).

EUC is not all or nothing

In what now seems a long time ago, employees were issued desktops (I skipped over the mainframe terminal years). Work was a place you went to, when you got there your computer was waiting for you, when you left at the end of the day, the computer stayed there. Then the portables came (these were far from laptops, more like a small suitcases) and they opened the door for remote work. Then the laptop came and they got better [fairly] quickly. That started one of the first shift in the way we work. Work was no longer a place we went to, work was something we did. In many companies today, when you start a new job, based on your position profile, you still get issued one of the two: a desktop or a laptop. But that is changing quickly, some organizations have started to issue tablets to their sales force, other are not issuing anything, they make the application and services available and let the employee consume them via a personal device (Bring Your Own Device [BYOD]). There are also the little twists, for example thin clients are more powerful than ever and with many applications requiring only a web browser to be accessed, why deploy a full PC? The one thing that is clear is that organization can no longer get away with a one size fit all approaches, different work requires different tools and desktop and laptops are no longer the only choice.

Still need to do more with less

One thing is constant in many IT departments: the budgets are not going up, yet many departments have been tasked with doing more than they ever have. We talked about employees carrying smartphones and tablets, more often than not, IT is asked to “manage” those devices. So a department that used to manage 200-300 PCs for 200-300 users, now often has to manage 600-900 devices for 200-300 users and typically with only a modest budget increase (if any). Also, the data that used to be safe within the datacenter is now in all those devices and new content is getting created on those all the time. How do you keep the data that is outside safe? How do you bring back the new content into the datacenter for safekeeping and collaboration?

New tools and new approaches are required, the good news: most IT vendors are coming up with new approaches, the bad news: they are all different incompatible and change very fast. A couple of years ago, MDM (Mobile Device Management) was starting to be the rage: enforce policies on all devices, force remote wipe in case of panic attack. In a world where devices are often used for personal and professional use at the same time it brings interesting questions: should the company backup my baby pictures? Is it ok for the company to wipe a complete season of little league videos because a phone got forgotten in a taxi? Is it better to force employee to carry two smartphones rather than sharing the costs? The notion of compartmentization or containerization is now starting to slowly replace MDM. Rather than having the company own the whole phone, the company will only own a slice, a virtual bubble within the phone where it can enforce all the rules it wants and only impact the data it is accountable for. But these are emerging technologies and may come with some growing pains. As of today, I am not aware of a silver bullet to solve this specific problem, but many solutions exist and one of them is probably right for you.

Next steps

For most companies, combining multiple options will yield the best results and keep most employees happy and productive. Regular desktops and workstations will provide the most power for sedentary workers. Laptops will empower mobile workers that need to create content. Tablets will enable workers that mostly consume content or have limited need to create content. Virtual Desktops will allow you to provide flexible workspaces, but still keep them safe in your datacenter. Thin clients will provide the easiest management and cheapest cost of ownership for those who only need to consume published applications (streamed or web) or Virtual Desktops. Combining some of those may often make a lot of sense: tablets for consuming content on the road and a Virtual Desktop accessible from home to do reporting. Lots of decisions to be made, but that’s what keeps things interesting…

I wanted to focus on devices for today, but keep in mind that many new technologies to enable today’s workers are actually device independent (for example the whole concept of any data, any device, anywhere such as proposed by Box, Syncplicity, egnyte or ShareFile, can work on all of them at the same time (my Box data is available on my laptop (Windows 7 Lenovo), my tablet (Apple iPad) and my smartphone (Blackberry Z10)…)