The death of the desktop

The idea that the days of the desktop PC might be numbered is hardly going to come as a surprise to anyone, as I know I am not the first to make the statement.

However, as many still use desktops, it is worth putting the statement into perspective.

For a start, the bells might be sounding, but the demise is a way off yet. Desktops have their uses and the new technology will not eradicate them overnight.

So, if the statement is true, what are the reasons?

–           Improved performance and reducing cost of laptops

–           Increased use of smaller mobile devices, especially by younger generations

–           The cloud making less demand on PC’s

–           Changes in the way people are working

Technology

Laptops are lighter and faster, with more capacity and capability – where previously they did not match desktop capabilities, now they do comfortably. Also, as with much technology, costs have come down which makes them much more competitive. But even laptops are going to be competing aginst the smaller devices.

The super mobility and interactivity of tablets and phones coupled with their compatibility with apps and social media make them easily the most popular devices among the young. For business, cloud technology makes them equally attractive. The world is mobile.

Social behaviour

The workforce is going mobile. No longer tied to the 9-5, we want to be free to better balance our lives: work, family and social.

Flexible work practices have been around for a while, shored up by increasing legislation to protect the workforce. And there has always been a mobile workforce, but now it is easier for them to keep in touch.

Companies have realised that if their building is not fully occupied, they don’t need such a big building. This financial imperative has lead to many organisations experimenting with flexible working to save money.

What ties it all together is the technology. Dropbox, Google chat and docs, Skype, Twitter et al mean we are not tied to a desk or a time to work.

As if to prove the point

Recent projects at a business centre in Bristol illustrate this perfectly. I have installed routers and network systems with remote solutions for two different clients at the centre.

They all have laptops or tablets; work from home as well as the office or on the move and expect to be able to sit down and work anywhere. Unfortunately, this had not been possible because they were connected by Ethernet with static IP address, which they had to change to work at the office and reverse when they got back home.

The centre realised this was a problem and provided wireless routers. Once I had set them up, there was no problem – the devices pick up whatever wireless signal is available.

So is this the end?

When Microsoft spends a lot of time and money to make a dying device more like the devices that are superseding it, you know the writing is on the wall; perhaps to make a PC more like a mobile device is to miss the point. In fact, Windows 8 may have helped the decline as it has lost some familiar features like the Start button and added touch screen technology that makes a PC very expensive.

A few figures: according to International Data Corp, this year ‘first quarter global computer shipments dropped 14% from the previous year’; IDC also state that this represents the fourth consecutive quarter of year on year decline; by contrast, over the last 11 quarters, Apple has sold 121m Ipads*.

*Source: Forbes article 11/4/13; ‘The death of the PC has not been exaggerated’.

However, as I said – no need to panic just yet. Old habits die hard and there are enough around keep them going for a while yet. On top of which, there will be instances where you need servers. Even with cloud, there will be times when a hybrid set-up works best.

No hurry, but when you are next looking to upgrade your PC you might want to think about going mobile.

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The future of work: technology infrastructure

As a response to Barry’s post, I thought I would look at the technology requirements that businesses will need to facilitate these working practices.

The key change for flexible and mobile working is that, at least physically, the office is no longer the centre for work platforms and processes, information and data storage.

All this can now be in the cloud: whether public, private or hybrid, the principal is the same – the information exists on a platform that can be accessed from anywhere.

 

The different types of cloud

Private cloud is designed for a specific business and dedicated to that business. All the software and data is on a server, or set of servers, that can be housed on the premises or remotely in a data centre.

Private cloud advantages are the control of set-up and security and that bespoke applications can be run – not just MS Office or Google Docs. However, it comes without the cost savings offered by public cloud.

Public cloud is that hosted on a network of central servers to which any number of individuals and businesses has access. Google and Microsoft 365 are obvious examples. But also think about software for specific purposes like Dropbox, Mail Chimp, Salesforce, Basecamp, Highrise and, of course, social media.

It is cheap – often free, in fact – but not bespoke, so you will have to mix and match services to meet your business needs and if you use a less common application you will probably not be able to use that application at all.

You save costs on maintenance, you become more agile and flexible, you always have the latest software updates and it is environmentally friendly, as you are sharing larger resources and reducing your own IT carbon footprint.

Hybrid is a mixture of public and private cloud or cloud and traditional office based IT infrastructure.

An example of public-private cloud would be a company set up to use Microsoft Remote Desktop Server and an Application Server in a data centre for their less common applications with MS 365 for their office applications.

Of course, more typically a company would have these RDP and Application servers on site in which case they might prefer an Office-Public Cloud hybrid initially.

If you have just paid out for Microsoft Office and a whole load of software systems in house, you are not going to abandon them just yet to go fully cloud.

Signs are, however, that businesses are increasingly looking to adopt elements of cloud into their future IT strategy. So, a hybrid solution can help the transition from internal, device based systems to cloud.

Which services you adopt will depend on various criteria: size of business, systems required, where you are on your business journey, budget, staff knowledge levels and growth strategy.

 

In the office

From a technology point of view, what is going to change in the office?

Assuming you have an office in the first place, there are no real changes to work, but their may be some training required on new software and systems.

You will need devices to ensure employees can work remotely – whether these are laptops (instead of desktop PC’s), net-books, tablets or mobiles.

Many companies adopt a BYOD (bring your own device) for some of this equipment as employees often have better and more up-to-date devices than the company could afford and because the staff often prefer it.

If you don’t have already, you will also need a sound internet connection – a leased, one-to-one contention provision with fail-safe and fast response time for problems.

Obviously there is a weakness here – if you lose internet access you cannot get to your data. This is why your broadband service needs to be as good as it can be.

Wireless is a must to allow complete flexibility, ensuring connectivity at meetings, hot desks, break-out areas, etc.

 

Security in mobile working

Many worry about the cloud in terms of security. However, data encryption for internet use is very good these days, as long as you use the latest standards. And anyway, if you have an in-house server that allows remote desktop connections or VPN access then you are already exposed to the same risks.

The reputation of providers like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, etc is so valuable to them, that they cannot afford any problems and provide security levels akin to your bank – with encrypted data transfer and audited technologies.

However, it is obviously still good practice to password protect all devices with a long and complex password, i.e. one that includes numbers, letters, capitals – and even extended characters like $ or !. This will help improve your password security (especially for mobile devices). You will also need to ensure sufficient firewalls and VPN’s are in place to protect all access to the net.

 

Telephony

If you are interested in a fully mobile and flexible workforce, then you might want to look at VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephones.

This hosted telephone system allows calls to be made over the internet thus reducing costs, improving security and transmission quality and greatly aiding mobile workers, as calls can be made on the system from anywhere.

You can use a non-geographic number, use wherever you can get a connection, send voice mail by email and benefit from upgrades as and when they happen.

 

Summary

You may need advice or you may have enough knowledge to do this on your own. Indeed, you may already be working in the cloud and the move to completely flexible working is a relatively small shift.

Whatever your situation and needs, it only takes a few technological changes to make your business agile, flexible, more economic and more attractive to potential staff.

 

Further reading:

The mobile working experience, IBM

Secure mobile working, The Register

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What is the future of work?

 A guest post by Barry Harvey of the Colston Office Centre

Some 30 years ago, it was believed that technology would change the way we work: more automation, more part-time jobs, the paperless office, etc.

Of course, these changes are nearly always more evolution than revolution and often don’t turn out quite in the way originally envisaged.

However, a few large companies have pioneered new ways of working and many more appear to be following suit.

 

What has changed?

Social and technological developments have contrived to create a situation where workers both want to change the way they are expected to work and have the tools available to achieve this.

With the family model of only one parent (mainly the father) at work being thrown into disarray by the Second World War, women have increasingly taken their place in the workforce. Our economy has grown with this development to reach a stage where many families could not survive without two salaries.

For some time many parents have put up with this, but younger generations coming into the workforce are rightly saying there has to be a better way. They want to work more around their partner’s and children’s lives and create a balance that is good for them and the family as a whole.

Employment law has also evolved to protect women at work and provide far greater flexibility in relation to childcare. The final missing link was the technology to enable and empower a more mobile, flexible, autonomous workforce.

 

The technology at work

First, came the internet. It took a while to develop, having first been around since the 60’s. Then we had mobiles – although the first mobile phones stretched the term ‘mobile’ to the limit. Networks and electronic engineering developed rapidly, however, and we now have near ubiquitous coverage and pocket sized phones.

Similarly wireless networks and the cloud (again, not new, but newly modified) have given us more choice about where we can work and how we can access our work.

The workforce can now work from home, from cafés, hotels, client premises, trains, planes and automobiles.

 

Is this the end of the office?

Humans are social animals. For the most part, we need physical contact and work better as part of a group. The office is not going to go away, because it is a convenient base for administrative functions, planning and meeting superiors, colleagues, clients, etc.

However, there is no need to be there at set times, in set places, to perform set tasks in set ways.

The technology now enables us to work from smaller interfaces: laptops, net-books, tablets, mobile phones and from many more locations: anywhere there is wireless and/or mobile network.

Now, a typical flexible worker might work for a couple of hours in the morning, before taking the children to school, after which they put in a few more hours before meeting friends for lunch and doing a bit of shopping, Skype with the team, enjoy late afternoon and early evening with the family before checking emails and getting a couple of jobs off their ‘to-do’ list after supper.

They might have meetings in the office once a week or month, chat with colleagues about projects via telephone, video conferencing, Skype, social media, etc and perhaps hot-desk in the office now and then.

 

Benefits to the business

It is not just about saving money. Early pioneers in this practice include BT, Microsoft,Orange, Vodafone and Hewlett Packard.

Their experiences, along with a great deal of supporting research, show that while money is saved on real estate, utilities and infrastructure (this is despite money needing to be spent ensuring staff have training and all the right hardware, software and equipment), there are also increases in staff engagement, morale and productivity.

This has a direct impact on staff attraction, motivation and retention; employing the best staff and lowering the churn rate improves business performance and saves time and money on recruitment. It can also change staff engagement; some employees may be happier to work on a self-employed basis, with contracts based on specific projects or terms.

In turn, these improvements make companies more agile: they can adapt to changes in their environment and client needs; service existing markets over an extended area and move faster into new markets; grow when business demands and contract when it doesn’t; and minimise interruption through improved disaster recovery ability.

For organisations seeking to improve their environmental credentials, there are also benefits in reducing their real estate footprint, utilities bills and staff commuting levels. Fewer cars on the road reduce emissions and fuel requirements as well as reducing congestion.

 

Is this your business?

There is no doubt in my mind that this is the future of work. As a provider of office space, it means I am going to have to ensure I keep abreast of these changes and offer what businesses will, increasingly, need.

However, with a sea change in how people view their working lives and technology as enabler, we are all going to have to look at the best ways to work.

If we are all prepared to measure staff by performance rather than time present and trust people to not abuse the autonomy they are given, then the truly flexible worker can become the norm and we will all benefit.

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