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Unified workspaces are the convergence of two winding roads. This journey began decades ago, with the introduction of PCs in the enterprise, and, for many years, the way forward seemed clear.
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Work was performed at work locations, using work machines and applications, constituting a person’s “workspace”. Categories of enterprise technology were born and matured. IT teams settled into a known cadence, and, perhaps in some instances, grew complacent.
Then the smartphone arrived, mobility exploded and a new path was discovered. As mobility gained enterprise traction, many new questions surfaced: Are personal devices also work devices? Are these new form factors here to stay? Is work somewhere we go, or is it something we do? Categories of technology that were thought to be entrenched were quickly rendered obsolete. With shocking speed, established suppliers withered and new ones rose to take their place.
Users no longer see mobile as unique – it is simply expected that the present device is the device on which they work.
IT has a responsibility to remove the barriers to mobility by providing applications and data irrespective of form factor and operating system.
In addition, data security measures must incorporate intelligent protection that restricts access to information to only those users, locations, devices and timeframes that adhere to business and IT policy.
Unified workspaces are exactly this: the right applications and information delivered to the right user, on the right devices, at the right time and location. Unified workspaces are not all applications to all devices all the time.
Contextual provisioning forms the backbone of unified workspaces and spans devices, management layers, applications, identity services and back-end systems.
Mapping out the options
For their part, CIOs should strive to understand how unified workspaces expand IT’s original mobility efforts and influence roadmap planning.
The technologies that enable unified workspaces build on many platforms employed in businesses today.
Read more about end user access
Desktop virtualisation, or virtual desktop infrastructure, has come of age, partly thanks to shifts in workplace practices. Employees are increasingly working remotely and need full access to corporate systems.
Options for access to IT have soared since the desktop PC’s heyday, and organisations must conduct a balancing act.
This includes familiar terms such as client management tools, enterprise mobile management tools, identity and access management platforms, application presentation via server-based computing and server-based remote desktops.
The key lies in understanding what is appropriate for each business capability in each scenario. One possibility uses public cloud app hosting, cloud identity, mobile apps and enterprise mobile management tools for a mobile device capability. Yet the path of a back-end server, on-premise identity, web app and a client management tool is equally valid for mapping a similar capability on a different device, such as a corporate laptop.
A single application may even map differently depending on form factor or other contextual attributes. For instance, a productivity suite may use an on-premise identity for corporate devices, yet use a cloud identity for bring-your-own-device options. A web app may be the user interface for unmanaged desktops, whereas a native app is provided for managed endpoints.
IT has flexibility to mould the strategy to fit the organisation’s infrastructure and application landscape. This will be a wide range of technologies at first, but as the landscape changes, the organisation’s map will also change, favouring more consolidated platforms over time.
The role of the aggregator
Workspace aggregators sit on top of endpoint management tools – and, in some cases, absorb them. They unify the presentation, delivery, monitoring, configuration and portability of access to apps and content. Often, they provide a portal-like experience for accessing, installing and launching apps and content.
Strictly speaking, workspace aggregators are not necessary to achieve unified workspaces. Context, personalisation and automation can be unified through consistent configuration across management and application layers. However, many organisations will find an accelerated time to value in the employment of these tools. Gartner anticipates that by 2017, 25% of organisations that need to deliver Windows applications to multiple devices will use a workspace aggregator.
Focus on user requirements
User centricity is a delicate art whose aim is to maximise productivity through the benefits of user choice while balancing risk mitigation requirements. The disciplines of user centricity will lead to the correct identification of the numerous variables in workspaces. The exercises necessary to intimately understand user needs will comprise the majority of these efforts.
Though user centricity places central focus on the user, it does not imply that users will receive everything they want. This may still be a choice between a fixed number of options. User-centric elements should be applied to unified workspace design, with productivity packages that mix and match form factors, ownership models and connectivity options to enable users to choose a package that matches their work style while adhering to an acceptable per-user cost model.
IT teams must ensure an acceptable user experience (UX) for both short-term and long-term approaches. This may result in multiple user interfaces, each respectful of a form factor, for a single application.
Contextual provisioning is the secret ingredient of unified workspaces. As each user is presented with an increasing number of endpoints, it becomes necessary to thoughtfully provide only the applications and data that are appropriate for their current context. Failure to do so increases the risk of user confusion, dissatisfaction, policy circumvention and platform abandonment.
Organisations that have invested heavily in mobility will be able to leverage the groundwork already laid. IT should assemble and prioritise conversions and migrations to build the short-term and long-term roadmap towards unified workspaces. This dual approach ensures user benefits are realised early in the journey, while minimising the risk of stagnation. At the same time, respecting the links between form factors, the user interface and user experience will ensure the IT department avoids wasting valuable time and resources, creating a poor UX that will quickly be abandoned.
Consumer-grade apps and services are not somehow “different” to the user. They are IT’s competition, and to ignore them is to lose to them.
This is an edited excerpt from Gartner’s “Unified workspaces: The convergence of the mobile and end-user computing journey” report. Andrew Garver is a research director at Gartner.