This article is part of our Essential Guide: Essential guide to laptop, desktop PC and mobile device strategy

Businesses need to equip staff with the tools to do the job

Workforces will become frustrated if they do not have the technology they need to deliver what their organisation wants

Workforces will become frustrated if they do not have the technology they need to deliver what their organisation wants.

Companies are still handing out corporate PCs, with some issuing thin clients with a server-hosted virtual desktop – also commonly known as virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) – that includes the same set of tools for everyone.

A business computer, tablet or a smartphone is like a toolbox, and the applications are like the tools, each with a specific purpose.

When executives set goals for their firms and managers, then set goals for employees, they seldom ask their people whether they have the tools they need to do the work – perhaps out of fear of the answer.

Nevertheless, the employee is now on the hook to carry out orders and meet his or her goals without the tools or information needed to do the job.

What to look for when shopping for business tools

There are significant nuances within each product category that may not be obvious until the system is thoroughly tested in the customer environment. For example, VMware’s Horizon View product uses the PCoIP protocol sourced from Teradici, a Canadian partner company, for communication between the server and the endpoint, while Citrix uses its own proprietary HDX protocol.

From a network administration standpoint, HDX is a more manageable protocol because it rides on TCP, whereas PCoIP rides on UDP. As a result, several suppliers offer options for optimising HDX’s performance for a good user experience under a wide range of conditions.

According to analyst Forrester, IT professionals should conduct a pilot programme that includes real-world scenarios within their own organisation to determine which system is best for their unique environment before buying.

Only 15% of North American and European information workers say they are completely satisfied with their IT department’s understanding of what they need to be successful. For the remaining 85%, there is a gap. The larger that gap, the more time staff may spend figuring out how to get the job done anyway.

"Discretionary effort" in psychology is the difference between doing the bare minimum to get by and doing your very best. Withholding the necessary tools or making them difficult to access can lead to employees feeling angry at having to waste time doing grunt work and create a perception that the project is not very important.

In effect, it makes workers less willing to go the extra mile. Consider the case of a big commercial bank where a large team of software engineers in India can only use a locked-down VDI environment to maintain code. They only have the tools that their employer provides, yet they know of other tools that could improve their effectiveness. The artificial constraints of their computing environment limit their options for innovative solutions to problems.

Deliver customer value

Employees in the best position to deliver customer value have fewer options to do so. Vineet Nayar, former CEO of HCL Technologies and author of the book Employees first, customers second: turning conventional management upside down, observes: "The true value is created in the interface between the customer and the employee. Through a combination of engaged employees and accountable management, a company can create extraordinary value for itself, its customers and the individuals involved in both companies."

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For IT professionals, it means technology decisions and policy play a significant role in the ability of employees to deliver value. For example, given the option, car mechanics readily use internet forums and social media to help diagnose problems more quickly, saving customers time and money.

But when employees find themselves improvising ways around obstacles, or when the options outside of what tech management provides are better for their needs, they will take liberties with information because they cannot adequately assess the risks.

One software company suffered a damaging lawsuit because employees were using an unlicensed version of a commercial database software product to demonstrate its software to prospects. Why? Because when they asked the company to provide licences to the field team, the request was declined, yet the software was necessary to effectively demonstrate the company’s own products.

Mobility and BYOD necessitate a bigger box of tools

Thanks to brisk innovation in technology and tools, it is now more achievable than ever to create a workforce computing environment that removes obstacles for employees and fosters creativity and innovation while offering better security and managing risks.

But these technologies can also add complexity, and it is difficult for IT decision-makers to understand the way they work and the implications of the various tools for their organisations.

Some technologies here offer remarkable resources that can extend both the capabilities and the flexibility of employees’ working options. For instance, technologies such as application virtualisation can help solve legacy application compatibility issues and enable companies to deliver them to newer devices and operating environments.

By understanding these aspects, IT professionals can make better decisions, but, more importantly, are likely to find alternatives among some of the newer offerings that are either less costly or a better fit for their organisation’s needs.

But each of these technologies has clear limitations that IT professionals need to understand before they prescribe them to their organisation’s workforce. Although the companies that make these technologies are reputable, they will not advertise their products’ limitations with the same enthusiasm with which they promote their benefits.

For example, a common feature of server-hosted virtual desktop systems is an offline or local mode for employees who travel. But the marketing literature fails to mention that using this feature may result in gigabytes of data travelling between the datacentre and the client PC or Mac. Also, significant data transfer may also happen when the user checks the virtual desktop back in. While the process does work, the time needed for the data transfer may make the system a non-starter.

Each employee is likely to benefit from more than one of these technologies being available to them to improve their effectiveness. Conducting a survey is advisable. Look at the personas within the organisation and make ideal matches for each.

Forrester outlines four workforce personas, which IT professionals can use as a guide to defining the personas for their organisation, but a simple way to think of it is that professionals need productivity apps and practitioners need access to process apps, while others need a combination of both.

This is an extract of the Forrester report: Build Digital Workspace Delivery Systems To Give Employees The Right Tools For Their Job (April, 2014) by David K Johnson.

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