James Lockyer is Windows Client Product Manager at Microsoft UK.
The increasing use of personal devices at work is liberating information workers, but it’s a trend that also adds to the burden on those tasked with safeguarding corporate data. With help from Microsoft’s James Lockyer, Paul Curran examines the PC management challenges facing medium-size companies and discovers a solution designed to help them manage the proliferation of consumer technologies in the workplace.
Risks and implications
There’s a revolution taking place in IT - spearheaded by workers who are investing their own resources in consumer technologies to do their job better, according to an eye-opening survey conducted recently by IDC.
The study reveals that tech-savvy workers are now using the same widely available consumer technology and applications - from smartphones and tablet PCs to social networks and instant messaging - to stay informed, connected and productive in both their professional and personal lives. Indeed, it found that 95% of workers polled claim to have used their personal technology for work.
Its findings prove that workers want to use devices and technologies they are comfortable with, but have little understanding of the security risks, management issues, policy and governance implications that arise from mass introduction of consumer devices and applications into the workplace.
More than a passing fad
Nor is the consumerisation of technology a passing fad, according to James Lockyer, Windows Client Product Manager at Microsoft UK.
“Information workers increasingly expect their personal devices to connect to company networks,” he says. “But for every employee using their own technology to access company email or CRM, there’s some poor IT guy behind the scenes struggling both to manage those devices and to protect corporate data.”
It’s a typical story in growth companies that staff feel constrained by an IT department that “always stands in the way of business” with rules and procedures; and yet it is of course also IT who come under fire when data goes missing. Until now, however, Lockyer says there hasn’t really been a comprehensive and affordable PC management tool for businesses with limited IT resources. “There are four problems with (usually hardware-driven) on-premise solutions:
- They can place a severe strain on a medium-size company’s technology resources; the people, the finances and network management
- Many rely on a variety of third-party security solutions, making it even harder to assess the overall health of the PC estate in a meaningful real-time way; or indeed to make changes to one element without affecting the rest of the chain
- This multiple box approach also fails to accept the reality of IT purchasing in most businesses. They work best with a wholly consistent IT estate; which is currently a distant ideal for most companies. Many of our clients are upgrading to Windows 7; but the natural constraints of cashflow mean they are upgrading in a piecemeal fashion. That makes the PC estate even more complex to manage
- Finally, for IT managers, it’s time-consuming to continually switch between tools for PC management and security monitoring.”
Lockyer says what companies really need is a single solution showing status and security information simultaneously; and which can be relied on to work seamlessly in what is, realistically speaking, a fragmented IT landscape.
Visibility and protection
To address these challenges, Microsoft recently introduced Windows Intune, a subscription-based solution that delivers PC management and security features via a standard Internet connection. “Since it’s cloud-based, Intune gives a company immediate visibility into the health of all its managed PCs, and provides remote assistance to employees - all from a single, easy-to-use console.
By simply installing an agent (a tiny piece of software) on each PC, Lockyer says Intune will instantly halve an IT manager’s troubles:
- Being cloud-based, Intune doesn’t require the costly and time-consuming setup and maintenance typically associated with on-premise PC management tools, and it can easily scale to handle changing workloads
- It minimises maintenance time by automatically distributing security and software updates via a central console to all your PCs, wherever they are
- It lets you monitor all your PCs and receive alerts on updates, threats and offline PCs to proactively identify and resolve PC problems before they impact your business. You can even remotely initiate on-demand malware scans, force restarts or malware definition updates to ensure your PCs are well-protected from potential threats
- It provides your staff with remote assistance to resolve PC issues, regardless of where you or they are located
- It tracks hardware and software usage to ensure you’re correctly licensed, always using up-to-date software, and never paying more than you need
- It lets you set security policies and centrally manage update, firewall and protection settings across your entire PC estate - even on machines outside the corporate network
Keeping PCs up-to-date
The scale of the improvement to an IT department can be exceptional, as 19-person manufacturing company, LTH Electronics, discovered when it needed to improve the management and security of its PCs. The firm’s computers were running a number of anti-virus programs and didn’t have the latest Windows software, plus there was no central management system.
Neil Adams, the company’s managing director, says: “People tended to ignore Windows updates.” This left the company’s computers vulnerable to viruses and spyware. It also made updating and managing the licences complicated and expensive. The firm’s five laptops posed additional challenges - how to ensure they were up-to-date even if they weren’t connected to the company network.
Having been recommended Windows Intune by IT partner, Form IT, LTH quickly increased security and its employees are now much more productive, spending less time on IT administration. “We were a bit nervous about going to the cloud at first,” admits Adams. “But it made total sense,” he adds. “Windows Intune works well for third-party IT specialists like ourselves because it gives them a single web-based interface through which to manage client PCs.” (Read the full LTH case study).
Better still, an Intune subscription includes upgrade rights to Windows 7 Enterprise and future version of Windows, according to Lockyer. “This means you can run the latest version of Microsoft’s operating system without ever having to worry about purchasing upgrade licences. This solves the IT fragmentation issue at a stroke – Intune licensing means you can upgrade to Windows 7 across the board; and that means reduced costs: “Standardising your company’s PC configuration in this way reduces the time and effort required to manage devices running different versions of software, thereby making support more cost-effective.”
Leapfrog the competition
For organisations prepared to embrace and exploit the wave of innovation being unleashed by consumer-powered IT, Lockyer believes the leverage is compelling: “This is precisely where Windows Intune really comes into its own; it not only gives medium-size companies greater organisational flexibility and helps them reduce costs, but also brings about a more engaged and productive workforce, capable of overtaking larger competitors.
“Moreover, by using Intune in conjunction with Windows 7, companies can benefit from an attractive combination of lower operational costs, less time dedicated to IT support, plus simplified and more secure IT operations; in short, cost-effective, time-efficient and scalable computing delivered in a way that simply wasn’t possible before.”
His vision is echoed by the IDC study, which suggests that: “By modernising their policies, procedures and IT systems to harness this [consumer-driven] trend, organisations have a rare chance over the next three to five years to leapfrog competitors and overturn existing business models.
“Conversely, those that fail to prepare for and adapt to this consumer-driven movement will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage and will miss out on rare opportunities to avoid costs, increase their organisational productivity and flexibility, and appeal to a new generation of consumers and employees.”
“That’s certainly thought-provoking stuff for those tasked with managing IT services,” concludes Lockyer. “Intune and Windows 7 make security and estate control something which IT managers can now execute easily, meeting the needs of an ever more demanding workforce.”
Get the latest release
The next release of Windows Intune, which includes top feature requests from existing users and beta trialists, will be available from 17 October. With new features that include software distribution and usability enhancements, this latest version will help medium-size businesses deliver an even richer experience to their employees and help them proactively address the PC management and security needs of their business.
‘Disconnect’ over consumer technologies
The recent Unisys-IDC study found that ‘consumerisation of IT’ is well underway, with 95% of respondents claiming they’ve used personal technology for work. However, the report suggests there’s a disconnect between employees and employers over how consumer technologies are used in the workplace. Its findings reveal that:
Employers don't seem to know how many or what consumer technologies are in use in their workplace. Workers report using consumer devices at twice the rate employers reported
Workers are dissatisfied with the level of support IT provides for consumer technologies
Employees think their employers are more permissive of the use of consumer technologies than the employers actually are. 67%, say they can access non-work-related websites, but only 44% of employers say their employees can do so. Meanwhile, 52% of workers say they can store personal data on the company network, but only 37% of employers say this is the case
Although employers want to increase the business use of social networking in the next year, few are integrating those technologies into existing enterprise applications
40% of organisations lack guidelines for the use of social media in the workplace
Even though 95% of employees use self-purchased technologies for work, 70% of employers want to buy standardised technologies for them
Tech savvy workers want to work for tech-savvy employers, but barely one-third of employers recognise this.