Is it time to jump off the Windows bandwagon?

The growth of user power has forced organisations to re-think IT strategies as employees demand mobility, collaboration and the latest technology

The growth of user power has forced organisations to re-think IT strategies as their employees demand mobility, collaboration and the latest technology. This brings new challenges for organisations facing upgrades of traditional systems and choosing the software and hardware to support their teams in the future.

At the March meeting of Computer Weekly’s CW500 Club, IT leaders gathered to discuss how organisations can tackle these challenges, and whether the next generation of corporate IT will see a shift away from the Windows ecosystem.

Speakers from City & Guilds, Metro Bank and the Government Digital Service (GDS) gave advice, aiming to answer the question – “What next after Windows?”

The move towards service

Ian Turfrey, IT director for education body City & Guilds, said the increasing need for flexibility had led many to consider using service-oriented architecture rather than traditional systems.

“Rather than everything being very monolithic and back-office ERP systems, what we’re now doing is talking about services. What services do we now need to consume?” he said.

Turfrey explained that City & Guilds, which was established 157 years ago, used to run on tightly coupled back-office systems and old-fashioned fixed desktops and telecoms, with SAP systems implemented in the 2000s.

To tackle this and give people what they need, the organisation has moved to a virtual desktop system to allow people to work remotely. Staff hotdesk and have a virtual phone and use presence in a move towards an architecture built on services.

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Services have moved from being on-premise to a hybrid cloud set-up, and are now experiencing a gradual move to cloud services, all of which need to drive value for the business.

“Commoditised IT just needs to work – video conferencing, access to the desktop, sharing of information, collaboration.” said Turfrey.

But when services begin migration to the cloud there can be problems with access, and it’s important to ensure bandwidth and offline working allow users to work how they want, and where they want.

Windows meets the need

“Considering Microsoft is meeting our future needs do we need to change? Quite frankly for our business the answer is no.” Turfrey said.

As long as employee demand for flexibility and mobility is met, there is no reason to move away from the Windows ecosystem as long as it provides what the business needs, he said.

David Nudelman, head of IT service delivery at Metro Bank UK, agrees. But Metro Bank differs from a lot of organisations facing these challenges. The retail bank is only four years old, and does not have a long history of legacy systems that would prove cumbersome in an upgrade.

“I work at a company that has innovation at the core of what we do,” said Nudelman. “We use tablets, we use Windows 8.1 and even though we are a four-year-old bank we no longer have desktops like in the beginning.”

As an advocate for Windows, Nudelman said a system upgrade does not mean a move away from Windows, as developments such as Azure, Cortana and the upcoming Windows 10 focus on solving many of the issues users face.

No legacy means more innovation

“For us the concept of legacy for a four-year-old company is very different, but it’s much easier to innovate when you’re in this position.” he said.

All we talk about is OS on any device and everything is cloud

David Nudelman, Metro Bank (UK)

So although Metro Bank is not locked in to a legacy Windows estate like many organisations are, it still chooses to use the Windows operating system (OS) for a solution providing the flexibility users need.

“All we talk about is OS on any device and everything is cloud. It doesn’t matter which device you are using, everything you need is there,” Nudelman said. “There is this convergence – one OS. It doesn’t matter what the device is.”

In the future, the focus will be on applications, with hardware as a commodity that can be expanded where appropriate. It does not always have to be a choice between Windows or Mac - it depends on applications that will suit users' needs.

“It’s all about the way we publish the applications and how we make them available, for us the biggest challenge is single sign-on.” said Nudelman. “We use Windows for everything, but we don’t want people to sign in over and over again.”

Any change is a challenge

But Andy Beale, director of common technology services for GDS, pointed out many people in the public sector are still concerned about the migration away from Windows XP, let alone what Windows 10 could do for them.

He said the problem at the forefront of most CIOs' minds is application integration, which can be difficult to handle if moving away from a legacy operating system, often leading to great expense. Beale said that any reluctance from users is less about moving away from Windows, and more about moving away from Office.

“If I could re-write the question I would probably make it, ‘Where next after Office?’ because Office has a huge impact on where Windows goes.” he said.

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Change driven by new devices such as smartphones has altered people’s expectations of how they want to use technology. To cope with this shift, Beale outlined three areas where his team has managed the change – implementing BYOD (bring your own device); developing applications for the browser as opposed to the operating system; and decoupling applications from operating systems and devices.

At the forefront of adopting these strategies was the realisation that not everyone in the organisation will need the same solution.

“What user research is all about is observing human behaviour, not just IT people, and how they use things and how they do their jobs – what they might need to do that job better,” he said.

“In the Cabinet Office we have some great user experience outcomes and business outcomes from people who are working differently, because we asked them. This might sound like a small thing, but we asked them - do you want a PC or do you want a Mac? It’s up to you. If you work in the public sector you’ll know that’s quite a big deal.”

Beale explained that by designing around the browser rather than the operating system instantly creates flexibility as it disaggregates away from the desktop. Then decoupling applications gives the IT team more options to decide which applications deliver business value.

This allows business processes to be separated, and a decision can be made surrounding the long-term development of applications that match both those processes and evolving user needs.

“Where next for Windows? We’re asking the users.” Beale concluded.

This was first published in March 2015

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