In today’s work world, productivity is measured by outcome rather than time, and performance, not presence, serves as the better gauge of employee value. And while brick and mortar buildings continue to exist to support some in-office activities, a new distributed workforce model has evolved that relies increasingly on mobile and collaboration technologies that link people and ideas to generate results. But what are the mechanics behind this workshift, and what technologies are now transforming the locus of ‘location’ from desk to device?
Shawn Rosemarin, Chief-of-Staff and Field CTO for VMware Canada, sees advance towards true business mobility as an evolution that is showing signs of maturity with mobile technologies that enable easy access to corporate applications. “Fifteen years ago, the ability to access workloads was very different,” he explained, as the concept of remote computing was characterized by ad-hoc or emergency connection to work resources. An executive on vacation, for example, with the right credentials could access enterprise data through a hotel lobby connection, a process that was “painful, slow and basically suboptimal,” or in the case the office was closed due to some physical disruption, employees could get some work done from home. Workers in specific multi-tenant environments – schools, university labs, hospitals, call centres – also utilized first gen mobility to access business applications and data. In the 1990’s a second wave arrived with BlackBerry, which delivered work email securely and reliably to the world first generation of smartphones: “finally it was just as easy to compose and send an email from my device as it was from my office desktop,” Rosemarin noted. With the advent of the iPhone in 2006, however, “expectations fundamentally changed in terms of how we communicate… Consumers demanded access beyond email and with the advent of mobile applications” the opportunity to extend key business functions beyond the walls of the office and into the mobile world finally arrived.
In Rosemarin’s schema, the mobile revolution began with consumer applications – online maps, Facebook or table reservations from a smartphone – which improved personal productivity, but it has taken over a decade for corporations to see benefits beyond email from this mobile productivity boost. Due in large part to the millennials’ single minded preference for the smartphone over other computing form factors, the ubiquity of mobile devices and the advent of telecommuting, tremendous appetite for business mobility has now emerged. But the challenge has been that although motivated businesses may have been willing to deliver mobile convenience to their workers, organizations hit a stumbling block when translating traditional corporate applications to mobile: as Rosemarin observed, “the only option in 2013/2014 was for businesses to take applications that were traditionally written for client/server environments, and rewrite them to be mobile. If you could do this simply, effectively and inexpensively, of course you would do it. But most corporations cannot easily rewrite their core applications. It’s a complete rewrite.”
For VMware, the disjuncture between the personal productivity workers were able to achieve using consumer apps and the inability of the enterprise to reproduce it within the corporate environment presented a new opportunity – ultimately to deliver a “consumer simple” experience across key business applications while maintaining the constructs of “enterprise security”. To better address these requirements, VMware engaged in a series of acquisitions – AirWatch in 2014 for MDM capabilities, CloudVolumes in 2014 for delivering applications on-demand to virtualized environments, and the launch in 2015 of identity management-as-a-service for mobile cloud featuring single sign-on (SSO), based on technology acquired from TriCipher in 2010. In addition to these acquisitions, organic innovation across VMware Horizon remote desktop capabilities have brought this vision to life. According to Rosemarin, “those four key pieces – Horizon, AppVolumes, AirWatch and VMware Identity Manager – gave us a unique opportunity for the first time to actually bring the mobile and the desktop worlds together and to deliver productive applications without any dependence on the device. In essence, to deliver ANY application to ANY device.” To secure the endpoint, in the last six months the company has also tied together mobile management capabilities from AirWatch with the micro-segmentation embedded in its NSX networking platform, allowing enforcement of network access policies and traffic segregation from the device to specific workloads. According to Rosemarin, this extension of micro-segmentation to the device substantially reduces attack vectors of malware/viruses that could do significant harm to the organization.
Launched last month as VMware’s Workspace One, this combined solution was designed to help customers virtualize the user image (Horizon), deliver applications to the device (AppVolumes), centralize identity management, allowing single-sign-on (Identity Manager), and secure the device (via Airwatch and micro-segmentation). The primary goal throughout was to keep the experience “consumer simple” with navigation consistency across applications, and by overlaying enterprise security in a way that is transparent to the end user.
Barriers to broader mobile acceptance back in the early days of remote computing were legion: VDI solutions were expensive, they often required implementation of dedicated hardware, and were complex to manage on the backend. Fast forward to VMware’s vision for modern business mobility, and this complexity has been reduced for the IT department through cloud and other innovations. AirWatch, for example, is available on-premise or as a SaaS deployment where implementation happens in the cloud and the service runs in the cloud without placing any additional burden on IT. Portability and upgrades to Workspace One have been simplified with support for customers who have already packaged applications in XenApp (Citrix VDI) or ThinApp (VMware), and the company has enabled the support of these apps within AppVolumes as part of Workspace One. Rosemarin also pointed to the software overlay of NSX capabilities on top of other endpoint security solutions, and the overlay of vIDM (VMware Identity Management) on top of Active Directory or LDAP, as evidence of investment protection – while it provides a seamless experience, Workspace One requires no rip and replace, but rather augments existing capabilities. Ultimately, he argued, the new platform provides best in class MDM, security, virtual desktop and dynamic infrastructure, combining multiple products into a single solution that has been built to work together – a boon to IT administrators looking for ways to facilitate deployment of multiple products.
By making mobile technology easier to implement, more secure and simpler for the end user, VMware is looking to articulate a new understanding of productivity that addresses both corporate and employee necessities. Businesses that provide workers with the tools and experience they need to be productive where and when that is most helpful, can better support the integration of life and work that has become a pervasive demand. In today’s work world, flexibility is the new ROI, which can offer millennials the quality of life they seek, and the employer, the ability to attract and retain mobile-driven talent.