Through the Frictionless Devices initiative, Microsoft is minimizing hardware and software interruptions, improving the user’s experience, and increasing intelligence and controls for both users and IT pros. Microsoft Digital is increasing employee productivity by reducing disruptions throughout the lifecycle of a user’s device.

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At Microsoft, more than 140,000 employees are dedicated to the creation and delivery of products and services that foster collaboration, teamwork, and office productivity in an increasingly complex world. You can learn more about our productivity investments inside Microsoft by reading “Reinventing the employee experience at Microsoft.” Despite ongoing improvements in features and functionality, there remain ways in which our products and services can sometimes impede employee creativity, innovation, and productivity. Disruptive software and security updates stand out as some of the most familiar examples of this problem yet points of friction exist throughout the lifecycle of a device. Some examples of this friction include:

  • Choosing and setting up a device can take too long
  • Finding and accessing the right software, tools, and resources involves jumping through too many hoops
  • Updating software, drivers, security tools, and third-party products involves ongoing interruption
  • Declining device dependability and performance over time compromises employee productivity

The Frictionless Devices investment within Microsoft Digital aims to reduce disruption from downtime—unexpected and expected—and to increase intelligence and controls for users and IT pros. The goal is to improve the user’s experience throughout the lifecycle of a device. In consultation with our customers, we’re working with key engineering teams inside Microsoft to accomplish the following:

  • Ensure seamless access to the applications and services each employee needs, regardless of where they reside
  • Ensure that each employee has the right device and an easy setup experience
  • Ensure disruption-free operating system, software, and security updates throughout the life of the device
  • Ensure that each employee can rely on their device for its core functionalities without losing productivity

As shown in Figure 1, this initiative also serves to increase the knowledge and control that users and IT pros have over the management, setup, update, and performance expectations of the devices that deliver all other experiences. This includes personal laptops, tablets, and mobile and other shared devices. As a result, Microsoft employees will find it easier to create, innovate, and produce without their devices getting in the way of their ability to achieve their goals.

An illustration of a circular path. Numbers 1 through 4 appear as labels along the path.

Figure 1. The Frictionless Devices initiative improves the user's experience throughout the lifespan of a device

Enabling frictionless employee productivity

The Microsoft Digital organization has assigned project teams to address friction within each phase of a device lifecycle. The goals: to deliver personalized and intelligence-based user experiences, and to reduce IT costs. The following sections outline team activities and the measurable outcomes toward which they’re working.

Seamless Access

The Seamless Access program is designed to create as frictionless an experience as possible when it comes to low-level engagements with the broader Microsoft infrastructure. Even before an employee selects a device, the Seamless Access team has laid the groundwork by working to eliminate friction in the areas of network, site, and service access; application discovery; remote device management; and more.

To this end, Microsoft Digital has been migrating toward use of the Microsoft Cloud Management Platform (including Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Intune, and Azure Active Directory) to manage all employee devices (including cross-platform). Modern cloud management techniques enable Microsoft employees to use the internet to access Microsoft business resources securely from the cloud using any compliant device.

As part of the overall digital transformation of Microsoft, the Seamless Access team is working with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and the Windows team to build greater, more manageable security measures into the devices themselves. Most Microsoft employees, for example, no longer use passwords to access corporate accounts and services; they use the hardware-enabled facial recognition features of Windows Hello and other biometric tools to authenticate themselves. That helps deliver the high-performance experience that employees want while helping to deliver the security that corporate systems and services require.

Additionally, the Seamless Access team has been working with members of the Right Device and Easy Setup team and the Disruption-free Updates team as well as key groups within the company to streamline employee access to specialized and third-party applications. In the past, Microsoft employees have had to turn to multiple sites and portals to find approved applications to support their efforts—and that took time away from other productive efforts. We’ve been working to centralize access to approved ancillary and third-party applications so that employees can quickly find whatever they need in one location. Those efforts include working with developers to create a search function that makes it easy for employees to find the applications that they seek, even when they might not know the name of the app they will ultimately deploy. Functional terms and synonyms, such as “screen capture app,” would provide a list of tools that have been approved and licensed for employee use.

Right Device and Easy Setup

Microsoft onboards approximately 1,500 new employees each month, and every employee needs to select and set up a device. Furthermore, Microsoft employees typically upgrade their computing devices every three years. Those upgrades are staggered, but that means that 30 percent of our employees are scheduling a hardware refresh and setting up a new device each year. Having a streamlined process for setup, protection, and migration of user data is important in all of these cases.

With the Right Device and Easy Setup experience, we have efforts in place to help each employee choose the right device for their needs, to build on the work undertaken by the Seamless Access team to facilitate access to services, and to take advantage of Microsoft Windows Autopilot to streamline new-device setup.

Microsoft employees can choose from approximately 150 different device configurations at any given time. These range from engineering workstations to desktop or laptop systems, detachable systems, and more. Each form factor may be available with a range of CPU, GPU, memory, and storage options.

To streamline the selection of a new device, we work with employees to understand the experience they want to have with the device—including how and where it will be used, the applications and services they will need to rely on, and more. We draw on historical data to analyze processor and memory utilization, number of applications open simultaneously, and more to understand the employee’s usage patterns. We draw from survey data to help the employee understand how different devices they’re considering might (or might not) help them become more productive going forward. Ultimately, the choice of device is theirs, but we ensure it’s a well-informed choice.

We work closely with internal groups, including the Azure, Autopilot, and Office product groups, to identify areas of friction that need to be addressed during device setup. Autopilot, for example, facilitates device setup by automating many initial setup and application-install tasks so that a user’s device is ready to go once initial setup is complete. Our engagement with the Autopilot group has helped reduce initial device-setup times from more than 60 minutes to less than 15 minutes now. Our goal is to reduce setup time as much as possible. We also work closely with OEMs to address areas of setup-related friction.

Disruption-free Updates

Operating system, application software, and security updates routinely deliver new features, functions, and protections aimed at improving the experience of users and protecting user devices from unscrupulous elements or attacks. Today’s faster development cycles and feedback loops make it easier to push updates to users quickly. As a result, a device may be subject to multiple updates per week, and that can create user dissatisfaction. Users want to know about and take advantage of updates, features, and performance and security enhancements. But they do not want a device to tell them to stop and reboot when they are in the middle of a critical project or during their most productive working hours. Users and IT pros alike want a greater ability to control when and how updates are applied. Minimizing interruption associated with operating system, application software, and security updates—in terms of timing, notification, speed of installation, mandatory restarts/reboots, and more—is the goal of the Disruption-free Updates experience.

Microsoft employees are always the first users of our products—often long before they reach the market. A small subset of employees works with very early builds of products that are planned for future release; increasingly larger employee subsets work with versions that we’re readying for general release but that aren’t quite there. (The rest are on the latest production versions.) Our employees receive and validate operating system, application, and security updates at varying levels and capacities before others outside Microsoft do. Reducing the disruption associated with updates is critical because it enables employees to be productive while supporting these validation efforts. We engage actively with employees—through surveys and other listening channels—to understand where they’re encountering productivity disruptions related to updates.

We’re always working to modernize technologies to improve the enterprise IT pro experience of delivering updates to user devices, thereby enabling those devices to run the latest versions of Microsoft products. This by itself eliminates numerous frictions associated with older installer technologies while providing employees with productivity applications that are more stable and easily managed. Additionally, we’re managing Office update settings to enable different users within the company to have different Office update channels. This helps us validate the latest Office updates using smaller audiences before rolling the updates out to broader audiences.

We’re migrating from Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager to a modern system and device-management solution based on Microsoft Intune called Microsoft Endpoint Manager. We work closely with the Intune and Windows Update for Business groups to gain greater insights into the update-delivery process and the areas where enhancements can reduce friction. This work, for example, has led to the separation of controls for managing feature and quality update restart settings and deadlines, as well as greater user control in scheduling restarts. This minimizes interruptive reboots at inconvenient times. Additionally, we’re working with teams throughout the company to help find ways to reduce, if not eliminate, the need for mandatory application restarts and system reboots. We’re also using Azure AI and machine-learning tools to train the model on historical device and user-experience data during updates to predict and improve the user experience in future updates.

Finally, while the near-term priorities of the Disruption-free Updates experience focus on the products that Microsoft employees use every day, our long-term goal is to also ensure a consistent experience in non-Microsoft and non-Windows environments. It’s also important to us to enable disruption-free updates to employees who use Mac systems and Linux systems, or who rely on applications from any number of third parties.

Dependable Device

The Dependable Device experience focuses on enabling devices to operate at peak performance and stability—and ensuring that employees can experience this dependability with minimal disruption. In a frictionless world, employees would be able to anticipate that their devices will deliver the performance and responsiveness required at any time and place.

Practically speaking, though, achieving that level of dependability requires a deeper understanding of where and why devices fail to deliver that experience. To gain those insights, the Dependable Device team is analyzing device insights captured by tools such as Microsoft User Experience Analytics (UXA). The insights gained from diagnostic information, which comes from managed devices throughout the company, provides insights into device performance, frequency of reboots, application load times, application hangs, network hangs, and more.

Using these rich insights, we then partner with various Microsoft engineering teams to address issues at the product level to ensure we deliver the best experience for our customers as well as our users. As refinements roll out, we continue to monitor diagnostic data. We also follow up with employees about their experiences, using surveys and sentiment analysis on internal conversational channels such as Yammer. By comparing changes in diagnostic data, we can see the effect of enhancements on the employee experience.

We’ve also been working with AI and machine-learning tools to gain insight into friction conditions that may be hidden more deeply in the data we have captured. These tools help us to discover patterns and connections associated with disruptive events that we may not have seen or understood before. And, with that understanding, we formulate plans with the relevant internal or external teams to address the issues.

It’s also worth emphasizing that the Dependable Device experience team has been actively listening to employees to validate that the points of friction we have identified through our analysis are in fact creating an experience of friction for users. We’ve found instances in which the collected data indicates the occurrence of a frictional event or slowdown, but users don’t report experiencing this as a disruptive slowdown. Listening to the experiences of employees helps us determine which events constitute measurable and palpable disruptions. And that enables us to prioritize work on disruptions that matter.

Ultimately, we’re striving to provide employees with devices that deliver a frictionless experience from day one, throughout their lifetime. That will reduce trips to the Helpdesk for service, which will lower internal operating costs and reduce the friction that impedes user productivity. Through partnership with the Microsoft Endpoint engineering team, which is responsible for developing the UXA insight tools, we have helped foster the development of a rich Issue Detection and Remediation tool that can fix many common device issues automatically—ideally before an employee even experiences them.

The experience of a friction-free future

The Productive Enterprise, as envisioned by Microsoft Digital, is a modern workplace in which intelligence, personalization, and interconnectedness enable Microsoft employees to be more productive. Each of the efforts within the Frictionless Devices initiative emphatically supports that vision.

  • Gaining Seamless Access increases productivity by eliminating the barriers that employees too often encounter when trying to interact with Microsoft applications, services, and content. Ultimately, our employees shouldn’t detect a difference between interacting with content and services that reside on their device and those that reside in the cloud.
  • Having the Right Device and Easy Setup returns productive time to employees by expediting device selection and minimizing setup time. Setup times in the future should be in the sub-five-minute range, and our efforts to reduce setup times even further will continue.
  • Delivering Disruption-free Updates effectively moves toward a future in which employees will experience the latest features and capabilities without disruption, regardless of the operating system, applications, services, or products they’re using. When updates can occur without distracting or interrupting an employee, they transparently facilitate greater creativity, innovation, or productivity. The experience aims to provide users and IT pros with greater control over devices and enable access to the latest features and capabilities.
  • Having a Dependable Device increases productivity by decreasing the number of times that an employee may need to go to the Helpdesk to obtain support for a device and the amount of time that the employee needs to spend at the Helpdesk—if they need to go. Future devices will feature hardware and software features that effectively facilitate self-healing for many issues that now require trips to the Helpdesk.

At the same time, there’s no point at which the efforts associated with the Frictionless Devices initiative are expected to cease. New hardware, new software, and new services will expose new areas of friction that Microsoft in general and Microsoft Digital in particular will need to address. We strive to build a future in which employees experience no friction, but we understand that it’s a goal that always remains ahead of us.

Measuring the impact on Microsoft

The Frictionless Devices initiative will have an impact that can be measured in different ways. Our goal is to enable increased creativity, innovation, and productivity, but these outcomes are difficult to measure directly. Frictionless Devices should provide employees with more uninterrupted time to focus on their work. While many other factors can interrupt and distract employees, our efforts have reduced downtime and device-based disruption with the goal of allowing them to be more creative, innovative, and productive.

What we can measure are outcome impacts such as setup times, frequency of reboots, Helpdesk tickets, and the like. Some of these measurable elements—Helpdesk tickets, for example—have costs associated with them, and we expect to see a reduction in internal operating costs related to these initiatives. Other measurable elements we’ll see in the form of employee survey results. We expect that employee satisfaction related to device performance and support will increase. We expect that our efforts will have a positive effect on the employee’s overall experience of Microsoft (and of Microsoft Digital in particular) and it will make Microsoft even more attractive to potential employees because it’ll be seen as a company that focuses on empowering its employees to succeed.

Defining success

The success and long-term impact of the Frictionless Devices initiative will ultimately be reflected in the enthusiasm with which customers embrace our products and services. The efforts we’re undertaking for Microsoft employees will have an impact on all the products we deliver to customers. The more effectively we can refine our products and services to deliver a frictionless experience and to enable greater creativity, innovation, and productivity for our own employees, the more our customers will want to take advantage of our products and services to achieve the same gains for their employees. We can measure near-term success in terms of time saved by eliminating disruptions and interruptions and by dollars saved in terms of Helpdesk tickets and service calls. Long-term success, however, will be measured in the degree to which employees and customers view the hardware, software, and services Microsoft creates as enabling rather than obstructing creativity, innovation, and productivity.

Conclusion

The Frictionless Devices initiative within Microsoft Digital is designed to increase Microsoft employee productivity by reducing intrusion and device disruption throughout the lifecycle of a user’s device. We’re actively moving forward on the following fronts:

  • Ensuring seamless access to the applications and services each employee needs, regardless of where they reside
  • Ensuring that each employee has the right device and an easy setup experience
  • Ensuring disruption-free software and security updates throughout the life of the device
  • Ensuring that each employee can rely on their device for the core functionalities without losing productivity

The work continues, but the Frictionless Devices initiative is already delivering results that are improving the productivity—and the experience—of employees throughout the company.  


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