ComputaCenter : Enabling Users

TWO-SPEED IT MEETS TWO-SPEED LIFE

Most organisations are now coming to terms with the fact that in today’s world, they seem to be in a constant state of change. Computacenter are no different, and definitely not exempt from the changes technology is now having on our business, careers, and personal lives.

For businesses in particular, the impact of this constant technology driven change is resulting in something analysts refer to as two-speed IT,  bimodal IT, or something else, the terms vary depending on which analyst firm you choose to give your business to. In essence, it refers to two distinct IT methodologies existing in the same company. One ‘mode’ focuses on delivering IT services in the way we are all familiar with to continue doing the day-to-day work of ensuring the business technology functions appropriately and securely. The second ‘mode’ rolls out updates, changes, and quickly evolving technologies, leveraging approaches such as DevOps.

I think most people out there have heard the term DevOps and understand the basic principle of fusing the IT development and operations functions together. However the tech industry likes to refer to the shining examples of DevOps using brands that many people will know of, but which don’t really relate well to the type of business any of us work in. For example, the over-quoted companies like Uber, WhatsApp or Netflix. They are all relatively young companies, in fact I’m pretty sure I’ve got socks in my drawer older than the age of these companies combined. 

These organisations grew up in the formative years of DevOps and have likely only ever operated using that approach, but the majority of companies we work with at Computacenter have been around for a significantly longer time, , some even longer than the USA itself. Two-speed IT is very real and very applicable in these businesses who need to run at both speeds of IT to deal with the platforms that have been and will continue to be around for many years to come, as well as the new world agile stuff that leverages approaches like DevOps.

We at Computacenter like to refer to the new stuff as ‘agile IT’, and the way we all know as ‘classic IT’. Not legacy, but classic… it has stood the test of time and proven itself. That’s a key point; two-speed does not mean one is right and the other wrong, or that you need to move away from one to the other. Both gears of two-speed IT deliver IT services to the business, but they both do it in very different ways in order to respond to different needs.

The approaches used are very different, and it’s widely accepted that asking people used to delivering in speed one pre-programmed to working in waterfall projects and to avoid risk at all costs often don’t make ideal candidates to deliver the second gear. This is because speed two is based on the principle of failing fast, and rapid, small cycles of change. This is where new thinking, new skills and new approaches to delivering services provide the outcomes associated with DevOps. So, a business would typically have two separate teams dealing with the two different speeds of IT.

The growing demand for IT to operate in this new agile way (speed two) is of course all driven by the digital phenomenon that impacts our professional and personal worlds, as well as the sheer pace of evolution in the technology market. Software is eating the world after all. Disruption of the tech market as it abstracts value previously found only in hardware and software defined technologies is a key enabler for both speeds of IT today, bringing efficiency into speed one, and underpinning the agility found in speed two. Combine all of this with the growth in smartphone use and the consumerisation of IT, and you get a sense of the pressure to change and find new ways in IT delivery.

I heard a staggering statistic recently; even though it’s only eight years since the iPhone was launched, today about half the adult population owns a smartphone, and by 2020 it’s predicted that 80% will. I had the opportunity to test this theory on a good friend who has spent the past 30 years working in South America to support the native Mayan Indians, when he was home in Edinburgh for a break recently.

“How do the Mayan people see and use technology, and how many of them have a smartphone?” I asked. He paused for a moment before replying; “There is a mobile phone in the village, but there’s no signal anywhere nearby. Two houses have electricity and to be honest, I think they would all like running water, access to basic medical aid, and to make sure their children are fed well enough to be able to stay awake at school first”.

It was a stark reminder for me that it is all too easy to get swept up in to this fast evolving digital life we are all struggling to come to terms with, and forget there’s another speed of life going on where change happens slowly, where people’s needs are less sophisticated and are driven by a completely different set of challenges.

 

DIGITAL HELPING THE BUSINESS WORLD TO THINK BIG

Digital this, digital that, everyone is thinking about it and most people are talking about it. I get digital or anything else for that matter when I can clearly see the benefit …if we think about the innovations that have been successful either in terms of financial return or dropping a large disruptive stone in the status quo pond they have all had the user at heart.

Airbnb for example came from someone struggling to find somewhere affordable to stay with ease; Uber taxis were born out of the painful experience of trying to get a taxi in the US without booking a month in advance and being able to direct the driver step by step; heaven forbid you had a note bigger than a $20!  

If you think about these examples they all started by addressing a need and then implemented a form of simple digital technology to provide an amazing user experience and that then becomes the new standard.

Now we can’t all come up with Airbnb or Uber, but with the technology now at our fingertips, we can use that and a unique way of thinking to help our companies get closer to the ever increasing user expectations. Experience led revolutions are required, even evolutions are good. In the corporate and public sector world technology has dominated, a new operating system or storage array or CRM platform or financial management software…all off the shelf products. Any changes to the technology to actually provide the human with what they really want are met with disdain to anyone who suggests the user should come first. THE USER MUST ALWAYS COME FIRST AND NEVER BE COMPROMISED.

If you listen to what users are saying you should see a clear need. Then go wild. Imagine the most extreme experience ever and come back from there in order to; be able to explain it, do something soon and most importantly excite the users that will be part of your movement and keep them excited on the journey. When you look at technologies, imagine what the most odd user might do with it, how they might exploit the tech to deliver greatness, then make that your target. The final step before you rage about the obviousness of what you want to do and smile patronisingly at everyone who doesn’t immediately get it is to work out the financial case. Even charities have to change to stay alive.

Finally and I hope you are sitting down for the next bit. All good innovation pays back financially. Online banking, mobile hotel booking apps, medicine… I could go on. There is always a bottom line, we need it to be there but in future consider it a quality gate to your crazy ideas, and it will help you to focus on the good ones. So remember, LISTEN, DREAM, CONSTRAIN (within a year), INVOLVE USERS, PAYBACK….oh and have loads of fun. It shouldn’t be hard work.

 

BRITISH GAS

Customer challenge

To help customers monitor and manage their energy usage, British Gas is rolling out smart meters as standard to homes and businesses across Britain by 2020, as part of a Government mandate. A team of 1200 field engineers (known as Smart Energy Experts) are responsible for this task. To work efficiently, these Smart Energy Experts need appropriate IT devices to support them, but the existing tablet estate was aging, and at the limit of its designed capability.

Computacenter solution

British Gas partnered with Computacenter to help upgrade its tablet estate to Dell devices running Windows 8. Computacenter was responsible for sourcing, testing, pre-configuring and asset tagging the devices before delivering them as required to British Gas sites. The project was successfully completed on time to aggressive timescales.

Results

Smart Energy Experts use the new tablets to support every stage of the smart meter installation process. This includes receiving their jobs and updates through the day, workflow through different types of jobs, as well as the commissioning activities for smart gas and electricity meters. Using the new devices has simplified their day-to-day tasks, and improved employee satisfaction, productivity and customer service. This will help British Gas achieve its goal of ensuring the smart meter installation is a seamless experience for its customers.

 

DOING MORE WITH VIDEO CONFERENCING GUEST ARTICLE BY QUOCIRCA

While video conferencing is not a new technology, several factors appear to be driving forward the adoption of video as a communications tool, especially for personal use. Whether Skyping with distant relatives, using video in gameplay or creating recordings to share on YouTube, video has become much more broadly accepted and valued. So, just as in other areas of technology is this consumer appetite for video translating into more widespread business usage? Not really, which begs the question why?

First, any investment in technology must demonstrate clear benefits. With video conferencing there are generally two that are often quoted saving travel costs and environmental benefits. The current economic climate means that the second of these is no longer the burning issue it once was, and the former is more difficult to measure than it seems at first glance. The problem is that while travel costs can be measured, the savings made because video conferencing was used instead are harder to quantify.

This can mean that the business incentive for increasing the use of video could be muted from a narrow financial perspective. However, take a wider look at the value proposition and the position changes.

Among existing users of video conferencing, both frequently quoted benefits are recognised, but only travel cost savings are really thought of as important. What is more interesting are the secondary benefits, which all revolve around more effective and efficient collaborative and individual working. These benefits in particular appear to be magnified as the adoption of video becomes more widespread across an organisation and as frequency of its use increases.

Once the financial imperative is understood, the things that are holding adoption back fall into two categories technology and people.

Many organisations have taken a half-hearted or tentative approach to installing video conferencing systems; they have put them in the boardrooms where only a select few people have access; they buy different, often incompatible, systems when they do broaden deployments to other areas; or they have been slow to roll out video to regular desktop, laptop and mobile devices. Generally, training is after the event rather than getting everyone up to speed and familiar at the time of installation. In many cases there are disconnects between the needs of the business, those in IT running the video conferencing setups and the facilities groups that managed the rooms and the workplace.

From the individual’s perspective, the technology is perceived as hard to use, unreliable and probably not worth trying without a fair amount of hand holding. Many are already uncomfortable being ‘on camera’, something that’s often not helped if the primary use of video conferences is for mass meetings, where the screen enhances a feeling of formality and not even the friendliness of a handshake or shared cup of coffee are on offer.

No wonder the ones who embrace video the most are those most comfortable with the technology and those in senior positions or with the greatest access. Digital natives, the young group most likely to be very comfortable with video are much less likely to be embracing video in the workplace why? It is probably simply because they typically are not in sufficiently senior positions to take advantage. Given the potential productivity benefits, this would seem to be a huge mistake.

Most of the technology challenges surrounding video have a direct impact on the people issues too. Past experiences colour current judgment, and many will have had bad experiences with video conferencing, which knock their confidence.

Despite these negative perceptions, current technology has moved on a great deal. Video and audio quality can be incredibly high, interoperability issues are largely contained, and it can be easy and reliable to set up video calls if the right investment decisions have been taken.

Video can be used on every device from a smartphone to big screens in the boardroom and the formality of call setup in advance should be a thing of the past, making it simpler to encourage more frequent usage and familiarity on all screens. This breadth and increased frequency of use is when the real benefits of productivity and collaboration really kick in, but of course requires funding.

Those with video already will often find a mix of systems, some of which will require upgrading to gain consistency across all their video platforms and almost all will require further investment in software platforms to ensure that even the smallest mobile devices can be added into the video mix.

Consistency, widespread availability and encouragement to use video regularly will have a real impact on adoption and if this is mixed with induction education to build early familiarity and further training on how to feel comfortable, relaxed and proficient on camera, both people and technology challenges will have been adequately addressed.

It might require some investment in a mix of hardware, some upgrades, software and services, but creating a democratic and pervasive communication culture that is comfortable with using video will pay off.

Article originally published on Quocirca

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