Behind the keyboard
IT leaders reveal how they are meeting their human workforce challenges with modern technology solutions
The enormous acceleration of digital initiatives, changes in technology priorities, and rapid scrambling to maintain lines of business – all whilst attempting to maintain cyber security standards – has been the common experience of IT teams across the world over the past 18 months. Amongst this technology-focussed setting it’s easy to forget that behind every decision are distinctly human needs, motivations, benefits and downfalls.
Having taken a top-level look at how the enterprise endpoint needs of IT leaders are changing in 2021, we now draw on a series of frank conversations with IT leaders to better understand the reasoning behind their own plans and opinions, as well as the human needs and implications surrounding the endpoint technology changes they are seeing. Experience management has become a vital pillar of the IT team’s remit.
This report brings our headline research findings in this area to life with real world case studies that speak to the everyday impacts of these figures and help IT leaders to understand how their peers’ endpoint hardware platforms will support their organisations’ post-pandemic visions.
Well specified devices and advanced endpoint management have vital roles to play in the success of hybrid working models
The user experience, and understanding workforce needs and expectations, are central to modern device strategies
The influence of IT leaders is expanding to give them a seat at the table for all major digital initiatives but it is vital that they are on top of their day-to-day estate management if they are to flourish in this environment
The future of work will be predominantly hybrid, combining home and office-based work, at the organisations we spoke with
Hybrid meetings will play a key role in successful collaboration as we emerge from the pandemic – with an emphasis on robust meeting room hardware and unified communications software
Mark Hill, CIO at cloud talent solution firm Tenth Revolution Group
Ian McKetty, CIO at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Mark Mamone, Group CIO at fraud and identity specialists GBG Group
Nick Rosser, Head of IT at financial services company Saunderson House
Influence & IT
Conclusion/ Sponsor Info
So far, so great
Extent of cyber resiliency - and Zero Trust
Skills shortages and cyber resilience
Cyber resilience in cloud
Conclusion - A window of opportunity
About the sponsors
Priority #1 – User experience
The sudden shift to remote working at the start of the pandemic necessitated short-term solutions at many organisations, in order to keep employees productive and cashflows going. However, as long-term changes to how we work emerge and businesses plan for the future of work endpoint strategies must change too.
For Mark Hill, CIO at cloud talent solution firm Tenth Revolution Group, this includes how we manage the
devices on which workforces are so reliant.
“The ability to remotely manage and support endpoints is critical in delivering a world-class IT service in the modern work environment. Without these capabilities, IT would be reliant on employees being office-based to resolve incidents and provide overall support.
“End user expectations have naturally changed slightly, since they now require a corporate laptop to enable hybrid working. However, overall expectations remain the same; they continue to demand fast and responsive IT support, functional hardware, and easy to use business applications that enable their day-to-day activities.”
While IT’s influence and relationship with the wider organisation is clearly evolving, there’s still the need to keep the proverbial lights on. When your endpoint estate is spread far and wide you need to be able to service devices as effectively as if they were in the office. Mark Mamone, Group CIO at fraud and identity specialists GBG Group, says remote management capabilities are crucial to his organisation too.
“One of the changes we are making, and we've just rolled this out as a pilot, is remote endpoint building and management. We can remotely dial into devices and take control if we need to – and that came out of the pandemic. After I joined, when everyone was forced to work at home, the first thing we realised was just how dependent we were on people going into offices to receive stock, build machines and then ship them out to people.
“The pandemic has forced us to think differently about that, and that's just nuts. Why would you order a laptop to come into Chester, for someone to build it and then send it out to someone else, who might be in the south of the country, and then they have to go through the onboarding? There's got to be a better way of doing that. So, we can remotely ship, build and manage devices now.”
“The ability to remotely manage and support endpoints is critical in delivering a world-class IT service in the modern work environment.”
- Mark Hill, CIO, Tenth Revolution Group
Mark Mamone explains that a combination of flexible cloud-based tools and capable hardware is key to a good user experience and keeping employees productive.
“We were fortunate in some ways in that we already had a policy of giving people laptops when we could. The exception was when developers wanted super high-end specifications to do machine learning and number crunching that just isn't really feasible in a traditional laptop footprint.
“We've made the move to consuming cloud-based software, partly because of our size, partly because we're interested in the functionality of the software, not how it's hosted. We'd already shifted into Office 365, so that served us pretty well. The only thing we weren't good enough on was choice.
“The motivation behind all of these things is actually the end-user experience. That’s what we value. The Chief People Officer and I, when we want someone to join and receive their equipment, the reaction we want is, ‘Oh wow, I wasn't expecting that!’. Not, ‘Oh, that's a bit of a crap laptop isn't it!’, or, ‘That looks like it's 3 years old’, or, ‘There's a key missing’. So, we placed a high degree of importance on making sure that the whole onboarding experience – a key part of which is the equipment – exceeds their expectations. It doesn't just meet them.”
- Mark Mamone, Group CIO, GBG Group
“We always go a little bit further because what we don't want is for users to be waiting or to be thinking, ‘That's a bit slow’. Their time is precious. The cost of the hardware is arguably insignificant compared to the productivity gains.”
Given this emphasis on the user experience, it’s vital to establish what’s most important to employees when it comes to their endpoint devices. If IT leaders are going to get value for money from their endpoint estate, they need to know what to prioritise. The best approach, says Mark Mamone, is to specify above what you currently need – both to cater to your needs down the line, and because your employees’ time is precious. A few seconds here and there can add up across your devices’ lifespan and hundreds of employees.
“I think it's performance, it's the specification of the machine, it's the operating system. I'll give you some examples. Not everyone is outwardly mobile and moving around, so the battery life is important but it's not imperative. What is important is they get a nice machine, with a touch screen if they want one; that it's lightweight; that the specification of the CPU and the RAM is a notch above what they need.
“So, we favour 16 GB, rather than 8 GB of RAM. We prefer SSDs to HDDs. We favour Intel i7 processors, instead of i5s. We always go a little bit further because what we don't want is for users to be waiting or to be thinking, ‘That's a bit slow’. Their time is precious. The cost of the hardware is arguably insignificant compared to the productivity gains and the engagement that we would get as well. So, we tend to slightly over-specify.”
Extent to which the past 12 months has caused organisations to plan to upgrade their endpoint hardware platforms over the next 3 years
Not at all
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Average score = 6.1
User experience isn’t the only factor at play when it comes to the evolution of endpoint strategies though. Mark Hill places greater importance on establishing business value and operational efficiency – though that’s not to say they’re mutually exclusive. Performance and security remain key.
The endpoint business case
“It’s imperative that we continue to deliver a world-class service to support the overall productivity of our end users from anywhere in the world. However, overall change has not been driven by user expectation, more by the drive to achieve business value and operational efficiency. That said, we’ve had to adapt some elements of change, such as communication and training mediums, to support remote and hybrid working.
“The switch to laptops has been seamless overall. We have removed all PCs from our offices and installed docking stations, and end users have had no issues adapting to the change and remembering their laptops, headsets, and chargers when attending the office.
“Corporate devices need to perform the same, if not better, than end users' personal devices. Without this, end users' perception of all IT services will be poor and they will be reluctant to accept and adapt to change. However, it’s important to provide the right balance of security without impacting the user experience. For example, multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a must, but aligning this with conditional access rules to only allow corporate devices to access your IT services results in not having to prompt end users for MFA each time they log in.”
Influence & IT –
A seat at the table
We’ve heard that user experience sits at the heart of IT decisions but it’s important to take a deeper look at how these decisions are made – the processes and culture behind them.
Collaboration with other teams within the business remains key to success in the digital era. The IT leader’s remit has evolved beyond the traditional estate. Those who weren’t already working across the business before the pandemic, with a hand in all digital initiatives, almost certainly do now. We spoke to Nick Rosser, Head of IT at financial services company Saunderson House, about how his own influence has shifted. He admits to having been helped by his background in sales and operations when communicating across the business.
“I think it's incredibly important quite honestly. I think the initial contextual understanding that I have, although it's a few years since I performed the role directly, means I can talk in the same language as the business.
“When they're discussing investment processes and different client engagement opportunities, I can automatically relate to it. I can go, from a technology perspective, these are the things we could do, the things we could consider, and ultimately act again as that bridge to others within the team.”
- Nick Rosser, Head of IT, Saunderson House
“It's about making sure we have a voice across all areas.”
This ability to feel at ease across different disciplines
has played an important role in Rosser’s success at Saunderson House. He’s an advocate for IT leaders broadening their horizons and sees a general shift amongst CIOs away from being specialists, towards a more generalist mindset – though not without exception.
“From my experience, yes, but I think it depends. Certainly, in my role at Saunderson House, that's very much what I was brought in to do – to help them grow. However, I think it depends on the organisation and what it wants to achieve. If you had a position within an organisation where it needed a leader to focus on the infrastructure, because of a transition to the cloud, let’s say – somebody to really drive and own that area, then it may be appropriate, for a time, for the organisation to have somebody who really focuses on the delivery of that.
“But, generally, I feel that it is now a broader role. That's certainly the approach I've taken. It's about getting people who are really strong managers, arguably leaders in those areas, reporting to somebody who has got that wider skill set to translate the business requirements. That's where a business, from an IT leader perspective, gets its most value.”
When it comes to any technology decision, it’s vital to get the right people around the table early on. It’s a perspective that’s reinforced by Ian McKetty, CIO at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. He oversees the diverse challenge of meeting the technology demands of the organisation’s employees – including a team of scientists – as well millions of visitors each year.
Growing trust in IT
“When I wrote our IT strategic plan back in 2017, we wanted to be a trusted partner of the other directorates and to be brought into discussions very early, so that we were able to support their plans. That way we're integrated, we know what they're doing. There may be synergies they're unaware of that my team can help with.
“November last year was the coming together of all of that, the point of fruition where it all paid off. I didn't need to convince people that it's important to invest. It was enormously pleasing to find that my colleagues around the table were extremely supportive. They knew just how essential it was for the success of their own directorates.”
- Ian McKetty, CIO, Kew Gardens
“For 18 months I couldn't go into a room with other people without someone showing me their laptop, saying, ‘that's broken’ or, ‘I can't do this’.”
“We have the senior team, our IT team, and a science team that are all involved in decisions. We get the right people around the table. In general, for IT kit you don't need to be an expert to make the right decision. For high performance computing (HPC), it’s different because you need to have really specific types of computing power.
“So, we consult. It's important on two fronts. One, to get the best for our money; we're not rich, every penny counts here. And we want the experience of our scientists to be really good. For that to happen they need to take the time to be involved. Getting a specialist like a research scientist away from the microscope and into a meeting room can be very difficult because they want to do their science, they don't want to be choosing stuff from a computer wish list. But, ultimately, to get the outcomes they want, they have to be involved. So, we are consultative where we need to be, and we are decisive when we can be.”
However, getting to this point at Kew Gardens took time. For an IT team to play a role in driving the core business, it first needs to make sure its endpoint estate is rock solid.
“For 18 months I couldn't go into a room with other people without someone showing me their laptop, saying, ‘that's broken’ or, ‘I can't do this’, ‘my printer doesn't work’. And it's very difficult to get past the operational, the mundane, and into the meatier strategic discussions when someone has a computer that they're trying to work with and it doesn't work. You have to get through that stuff, deliver on it, and make it seamless.”
The remote working response
The pandemic put organisations’ claims of digital transformation to the test – forcing them to trust absolutely in cloud-based tools, mobile devices and flexible working cultures. A change that will remain, at least in part, after the pandemic.
Tenth Revolution Group were well-positioned to pivot to remote working, says Mark Hill.
“We’ve adopted a cloud-first principle within our IT strategy for over seven years, and as a result we were in prime position to support remote working. At the start of the pandemic, all end users were working from home, using either a corporate or personal device and able to access all our IT services within 24 hours. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve moved all end users to corporate devices and we no longer support BYOD. We feel this is the most efficient approach and enables a balance between security, device control, and end user experience.
“The cybersecurity landscape changed overnight due to the pandemic. At Tenth Revolution Group, we went from supporting and securing 20 office locations to over 2,000 home working set-ups. Traditional perimeter security has switched from firewall and gateway appliances to endpoint and cloud security services. As a result, IT leaders must ensure their endpoints are secure and implement robust technology and processes to support enterprise-class patch management and identity management solutions.”
Remote working challenges over the last 12 months?
Scored from 1 (not at all) to 10 (greatly)
Mark Mamone maintains that GBG Group were able to quickly transition but some of the more human challenges remote working can foster began to emerge with time.
“If I'm honest, the people dimension has been the most challenging area. We were in a pretty fortunate position, not perfect – we still had to do quite a bit of work on the IT side of things – but people could go and work from home the following day and be productive. All of our systems are cloud, our source code is remotely available, people could develop, there wasn't an issue with that.
“We found it was over time that you started to see some other challenges. You saw meeting fatigue set in. So, stepping outside of the equipment we provide, one of the next logical things we did was to make sure that people had a personal allowance, because it was clear the pandemic was going to go on for longer than we thought. We gave everyone an allowance to buy equipment to improve their home working environment – standing desks, chairs, and so on.”
“The next thing we recognised was the need for guidance to help people understand that, just because they're at home, it doesn't mean they need to be sat at a desk doing meeting after meeting. We provided support to enable people to do an audio meeting and take a walk at the same time. You've got some flexibility and some freedom then. We say work is something you do, not a place you go.
“And time is flexible as well. If you want to choose to get up early and then finish at 3pm, because you want to spend time with our family, then do that. If you want to take a two-hour lunch break because you want to go for a walk at the same time, do that.”
- Mark Mamone, Group CIO, GBG Group
“Work is something you do, not a place you go.”
Many CIOs are planning for a hybrid approach to work going forwards. Ian McKetty is amongst them. However, he too felt the greatest challenges during the pandemic were cultural.
The future is hybrid
“The general rule of thumb we're working to is three days from the office, two from home. When we delivered unified communications, it drove the difficulties away. It just becomes another way to work and to interact.”
“We were ahead of the curve, we weren't caught out by the pandemic. We already had Teams rolled out. The difficulty was on the people side. Kew is a little bit traditional, so there was a slight concern that getting folk to change the way they interact might be a little challenging. But to be absolutely fair to everybody, they made the leap forwards.
“We're now clear that productivity doesn't take a nosedive when staff are out of sight. There are efficiencies from people doing work from home but we won't save money. It's about quality of life for our people.
But what becomes of the office? Mark Mamone says the office will become a more collaborative space, fit for the interactions that are harder to do from home.
“The offices themselves, they become vibrant hubs for collaboration. We're employing help to look at how we might redesign office space so it's more hot-desking, areas for collaboration, and areas for work. It will be thought of less as a place for spending a day working at a desk. You can do that at home.”
“We're now clear that productivity doesn't take a nosedive when staff are out of sight. There are efficiencies from people doing work from home but we won't save money. It's about quality of life.”
In some ways, hybrid working poses more challenges than universal remote working – where you know everyone will be using communications tools in the same way.
Making meetings work
Mark Hill revealed they have launched a return to office project to ensure their meeting rooms have adequate video conferencing equipment to support hybrid meetings. For Nick Rosser, the key lies in unified communications.
“It will never replace face-to-face but I think we need to make sure we have other things available to us over and above basic instant messaging, telephony and the like.”
Ian Mcketty agrees. Kew Gardens is benefiting from a unified communications plan introduced four years ago.
“I planned right from the off, back in 2017, to introduce unified communications because we have so many people travelling around the world the whole time. They're in Africa, they're in the Australian outback. It was always like, “Look, for the next three weeks, you're not going to be able to speak to this scientist.” That didn’t feel right to me because there aren't too many locations on the planet where you can't get a signal for something.
“Unified comms was an opportunity for me to move Kew out of the 80s and into the modern era. It was a problem Kew didn't fully appreciate it had. The pandemic helped me to convince the rest of the exec board that a unified communications solution was completely appropriate because we'd proven we could run most of the organisation remotely.
“We are doing an uplift on all the meeting rooms, so the experience while you're out of the room is as good as it can be and you don't feel you're detached from it. That's down to great audio and the visual side of it is really sharp, no latency, no lag. The presentation features work really well too.”
“Unified comms was an opportunity for me to move Kew well out of the 80s and into the modern era. It was a problem Kew didn't fully appreciate it had.
For Mamone, there's an inherent challenge in teams being split between office and home – a risk that some voices go unheard.
“It's a really good point and not one that's obvious to people. If you're in an office and there's a group of you in a meeting room and there are some participants who are remote, because of their personality or because of the flow of conversation, you have to make a conscious effort to include them.”
The digital acceleration seen in recent months has also raised the profile of IT leaders within their organisations. In many cases, the fast thinking and abilities of CIOs and heads of IT, and the teams that work under them, have kept businesses afloat. What better advocate for giving them a place at the table in all key strategic decisions from now on?
Conclusion – human needs, technology solutions
This report has demonstrated that behind every keyboard is an employee with very human needs and challenges – technology strategies must combine with cultural shifts to tackle them. The myriad ways in which we interface with technology have become the primary mediums of communication and business today. The value of those endpoints can’t be overstated. Nor too can the value of the IT teams that maintain those lines of communication and business. Kew Gardens CIO Ian McKetty sums it up best:
“We have, as an IT team, a much larger part to play in delivering on the primary objective of Kew. We're an essential service, it may sound grand, but ultimately that's the part we play. I'm very proud of that. We're not just a back-room service. We are being called on to help deliver the primary functions of our organisation.”
As challenging as the past 15 months have been to organisations, for many it has also represented progress. Necessity – the mother of invention – has forced many business leaders, particularly those in IT to completely reimagine the shape of their organisation and the way it functions.
This came with serious management challenges, both in terms of people and technology, and we’ve highlighted just how interlinked these considerations are. Endpoint device strategy must place the user experience at its core if it is to effectively respond to the sort of seismic shift we have experienced during the pandemic. It has served to emphasise just how dependent we are on technology for workforce productivity and wellbeing today. This means endpoint performance, security, stability and manageability must all be paid the utmost attention.
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