Write side up - by Freeform Dynamics

September 12, 2018  12:14 PM

When modern meetings don’t work

Bryan Betts Bryan Betts Profile: Bryan Betts
appointments and meetings, Conference Room, Team Collaboration, Virtual meeting

Once upon a time, pretty much every meeting had a minute-taker – someone who kept notes, summarising who said what. These meeting minutes were circulated afterwards for comment and correction, and to confirm actions that people had said they would carry out.

Then teleconferencing happened, and all those meetings became a whole lot less formal. Now, participants are often expected to keep their own notes, but if everyone takes their own, then there’s no shared or agreed version for those who can’t attend. And while there might be an audio recording of what was actually said, trying to extract the key points or ‘matters arising’ from an hour of audio at a later date is a thankless task.

It’s all about time

Indeed, a general point might be “Don’t rely on recordings!” If someone genuinely hasn’t got time to spend an hour online with you, when at least there’s some real-time interaction possible, it’s unlikely they have time to passively listen to an hour’s recording. There’s a good reason why meeting minutes are usually in summary form, not verbatim. Time is money, after all.

Of course, formal face-to-face meetings often still have minutes. However, we all rely so much now on disparate technological aids for collaboration – smartphones, CRM systems, project management apps – that even if we do have a set of meeting minutes, they need further processing to make them useful.

So what can we do? For a start, we need to bring back meeting minutes, even for e-meetings – but they need to be minutes fit for the 21st century. For a start, that means making them searchable, shareable and connected. And yes, it might mean applying AI to generate a précis.

Once you realise the problem, you probably won’t be surprised to read that there’s quite a few applications offering to do much of this for you. Most are all-in-one solutions, though, combining note-taking with their own task tracking and so on. If you’re happy with working in a single vendor ecosystem then that’s fine – hello Microsoft Teams! – but it’s not the way everyone works.

So there’s also an emerging set of software tools that enable meeting notes to be linked into other tools – turning action items into tasks, activities or tickets in whatever best-of-breed CRM, project management or helpdesk app you happen to use. You can do much this through a collaboration platform – Slack has a lot of relevant integrations here, for example, as in different ways does Dropbox Paper – but I’m thinking more of the likes of Hugo’s eponymous team-working app. I recently talked with Hugo’s founders about making e-meetings more effective and less wasteful, and they were vocal on the foundational role here of ‘actionable’ minutes.

Is your meeting software making you behave badly?

Whichever route you take, it’s all symptomatic of a wider effect we’ve been observing in our research. This is that, yes, we shape our tools, but then our tools tend to shape us – or rather, they shape our behaviours. The resulting behaviours may not be obviously toxic, but they are clearly not optimal either.

How do we pull those behaviours back on course? A first step, obviously, is to recognise that there is a problem. Then it’s understanding where it comes from and the influence our e-meeting toolkit has on it. And lastly, it’s hacking that toolkit to help us rediscover those essential yet near-forgotten meeting skills and disciplines.

Read more from Freeform Dynamics’ end-user computing team here.

September 7, 2018  10:22 AM

What can Chromebooks offer the enterprise desktop market?

Richard Edwards Richard Edwards Profile: Richard Edwards
Chromebook, Desktop, Google, Microsoft, PC, Windows

If you’re an IT professional managing a large desktop estate or an end user with a Windows 10 PC, you’ll be aware that Windows is undergoing a tortuous transformation, with only enthusiasts and devotees immune to the pain imparted by a thousand tiny cuts. So, is Microsoft caught between a rock and hard place with no viable alternative PC operating system to offer its customers or is there another path for a company that advocates a growth mindset?

Mutton dressed as lamb

The modern PC, no matter how well it’s packaged, is still a workstation in disguise. It runs a complex operating system designed for a different era; one that many have now forgotten and many more have never experienced. And what’s more, this PC model is rooted and jailbroken.

If I were to characterise Windows 10 today, I might describe it as ‘mutton dressed as lamb’. Now, if you’ve developed a taste for Windows over the years, you’ll adapt to the fresh new look of the OS and be all the better for it. But we should recognise that many new entrants to the workforce are raised on the web and suckled on Android and iOS devices. How are they going to adapt to the world of Windows?

Mobile operating systems have partially filled the modern computing gap, but most people, even young Millennials, still recognise the occasional need for a traditional large screen device with keyboard and mouse support. Android and iOS are scaling-up to address this use case, but as they do so, we’re seeing complexity creep in with every update. This gives me that déjà vu feeling and I fear that history is going to repeat itself unless we consider a different operating system approach.

Unleashing the Chromebook hidden inside your PC

Google recently hammered-home the pain points associated with today’s PCs (and Macs) in an ad that openly mocks today’s incumbent desktop operating systems. The back-to-school market is the focus of the ad, which is already responsive to Chromebooks and Chrome OS, but I’m sure it prompted a few IT pros to consider the question ‘Is there any business value in Chromebooks and this style of operating system for my organisation?’

Before we go any further, it’s important to recognise that some jobs and activities are well matched to the capabilities of a modern Windows PC or Mac. Indeed, some roles are almost defined by the applications that run on these platforms. For these use cases, and there are plenty of them, the traditional desktop or laptop computer offers an excellent fit, but we don’t have to look too hard to find occupations that sit comfortably within the sweet-spot of the modern browser-based computer.

So, if I offered you a magic wand to convert some of your legacy PC/Mac purchases into something more akin to a Chromebook, would you want to give it a wave? Well, you can do just that if you’ve got a USB memory stick and a few minutes to spare. CloudReady is an operating system from Google-invested Neverware. It’s based on Google’s open source Chromium OS and shares the same architecture as Google Chrome OS. Booting from the USB drive, I was able to transform a 2006 Dell Inspiron laptop into a very usable computer and, without touching the factory-installed Windows 10 OS, my Lenovo X1 Carbon enjoyed being a sporty Chromebook for a long weekend.

The browser is the most important program on your PC

No one doubts the convenience of being able to access the web with a device that you can carry around in your pocket, but many roles and activities need a large screen experience, usually supported by a keyboard and mouse, to make best use of enterprise web applications and tools.

Alas, for some employees, using a fully managed corporate PC isn’t always the most rewarding of activities, even when it’s just the web browser being used. And our experience tells us that this only gets worse over time due to changes in stuff that has nothing to do with accessing those web-based apps and resources. Chromebooks, on the other hand, are optimised for efficient use of the web and cloud services.

There’s plenty of choice on the market if you’re looking for a new Chromebook, Chromebox or Chromebase, but if you want to explore the business value of these devices, CloudReady Enterprise Edition is well worth evaluating, especially if you’re looking at large PC refresh program (Windows 7 support will end January 14, 2020) or have specialised needs, such as ruggedized PCs or equipment certified for use in hazardous areas.

Who’s got the mindset to back a browser-based OS?

Official figures for Chromebook shipments are hard to find, but StatCounter has Chrome OS at 0.5% of desktop operating system market share worldwide. This means there’s plenty of opportunity for vendors other than Google to make their mark on the browser-based OS market.

All the tech industry’s Titans have the resources, capability and opportunity to create their own operating system based on the Chromium OS project, and it’s not that hard to imagine the likes of Amazon, VMware, IBM, Huawei, etc. taking the plunge, each underpinning its efforts with cloud offerings and complementary services. And it would be an interesting ‘thought experiment’ for Apple. There’s plenty of untapped business value and market potential in the desktop model, and Google’s already out there trying to grab it from under the noses of Microsoft and Apple, especially in the education sector.

Windows 10 in S mode is the only alternative to Windows 10 that Microsoft has to offer right now, and that’s not enough. Microsoft Office 365 already sits comfortably within the browser environment, especially when using the Microsoft Office Online extension, so what’s it got to lose? If we look at Chrome OS, then swapping out Google Drive in favour of OneDrive would seem to be a trivial task. Linux, the foundation on which Chrome OS is built, is no longer anathema to Microsoft, so no problem there either. And of course, the company already makes Edge for iOS and Android devices. It’s beginning to feel like a no-brainer.

The future of managed desktop services

There are many ways to deliver the modern digital workspace, and Chromebooks present enterprises with yet another option. But Microsoft isn’t going to give the desktop away without a fight, and if the rumours are to be believed, we might even see the company moving into the managed desktop services market. Working with its partners, Microsoft might be onto a winner here if it can offer enterprises the right combination of devices, services and support for legacy Windows applications. Windows 10 and Windows 10 in S mode will be part of the mix for sure, but a complementary, browser-based OS would seem to make a sensible addition to the operating system line-up too. What do you think?

Read more from Freeform Dynamics’ end-user computing team here.

August 24, 2018  2:49 PM

DevOps is wasted unless the business goes Agile too

Bryan Betts Bryan Betts Profile: Bryan Betts
Agile, Business transformation, Change management, DevOps

When analysts and journalists write about Agile and DevOps, the focus is typically on the technology and infrastructure – what it means for software and systems development in an age when the nature of business demands the ability to quickly adapt and change. Often, they also discuss the need for a ‘business champion’ who will promote the project to the operational side of the organisation, and in particular to the board.

What doesn’t get so much coverage, as I was reminded recently while talking with Matt Lovell, who runs Centiq, a consultancy specialising in SAP HANA, is that the business also needs to change. In fact, given that IT is normally there to support or deliver the organisation’s commercial aims, not vice versa, there’s not much point making the IT adaptive and flexible if the business isn’t also adaptive and flexible. That’s especially true for projects intended to create real-time business intelligence or manage supply chains and customer relationships, of course.

Yet when we talk to people who work in the field of Agile and DevOps, they report that it can be hard getting this across to clients. Too often, they assume that implementing DevOps will simply let them carry on as before, but with more regularly updated software. What a waste that would be!

Agile change needs a new business mindset

To make it more challenging, it’s not simply a case of changing the business once then letting the ‘new version’ bed in. DevOps is continual, iterative change, and it requires a serious change of mindset. That kind of real-time shift can be just as profitable and productive for the business and its managers, but they are going to require even more help and support than the DevOps folk, which is where Matt and those like him come in.

It’s one thing to adopt Agile methods for development, he says, but embedding the same Agile mindset into customer relationships is another challenge altogether, as is helping companies “fundamentally change how they think, and how they work with customers and the supply chain. [They need to understand that] if we can deliver iteratively on a platform that’s more real-time, we can have more free and open discussion about the business’s future and capabilities.”

In particular, the new perspectives opened up will almost certainly involve technology, but they won’t necessarily be led or constrained by it.

It would be easy to assume here that the main problem is organisational inertia – the “We do it this way because we’ve always done it this way” attitude – and of course that kind of thinking does still exist. But as Matt points out, any organisation that’s investing in Agile and DevOps clearly has an appetite for change, so there must be more to it than that.

You don’t know what you don’t know

“Business people don’t know what they don’t know,” he says. “The business tends to focus on infrastructure and traditional viewpoints – they assume the old constraints are still there. You need to know that the problem is solvable before you can pay attention to it.”

That requires education, expectation setting, business change management and more. Perhaps it could start with going to the business and saying, “What if we take technology off the critical path, how does that change your thinking?”

Have you engineered successful business change along these lines – or did you try it but fail? Either way, we’d love to read your thoughts and advice below.

August 16, 2018  9:33 AM

Is IBM relevant to today’s mainstream?

Dale Vile Profile: Dale Vile
Development, innovation, research, science

When IT vendors talk about the market, they tend to focus on how they would like the world to be rather than how it actually is. This often means they fail to connect as well as they could with the business mainstream. The assumption is that every organisation wants to exploit leading/bleeding edge technology to become a leader at all costs, and regardless of the risk. Rhetoric like “You are either a digital predator or digital prey”, epitomises this disconnect – it just sounds like sensationalist noise to most normal people.

The reality is that the majority of business leaders think more in terms of holding their own in a competitive market. Sure, they don’t want to fall behind, but they also know that it’s usually much more profitable to be a fast follower than a pioneering leader. And if there was any doubt about this principle, just look at Apple in the consumer electronics space. Against this background, most technology companies would find life a lot easier if they simply acknowledged current reality as the starting point for conversations, including the fact that not everyone immediately commits to the latest ideas and technology options promoted by vendors and analysts.

Shaping the future of industry

One IT vendor that can arguably be forgiven for mixing up the present and future tense, however, is IBM. For better or worse (from a shareholder perspective), it has carved out a role for itself in trying to genuinely shape the future of how technology is used to transform not just individual enterprises, but whole industries, cities and communities. In effect, it is constantly trying to bring the future into the present, albeit typically for a minority of organisations, namely those that are very large, highly-progressive and well-funded. This in turn means a big focus on complex, services-led engagements that exploit emerging technologies in areas such as AI, IoT, Blockchain, and so on – clearly not for everyone, but fine if you are also an organisation that wants to change the world.

IBM is obviously not the only player attempting to work at this level, but one thing that sets it apart from its competition is its investment in genuinely pioneering research and development (R&D). It consistently registers more patents on an annual basis than any other company – and by quite a long way. In 2017, for example, the IBM patent tally was reported to be 9043, while the second and third ranking companies, Samsung and Canon, registered 5837 and 3285 patents respectively.

As an aside, Apple, as the most successful ‘fast follower’ on the planet, was in the eleventh slot with 2229 patents; while it’s clearly an innovator, unlike IBM, my impression is that it focuses less on the ‘R’ in ‘R&D’, and more on the ‘D’.

Now I know that the patent-tally is only one measure, and some would say a dubious one at that given all the abuse that goes on in that area. In IBM’s case, though, I was left in no doubt about its commitment to technology innovation when I recently visited the company’s research labs in Zurich. This is one of 12 facilities employing over 3,000 researchers around the world, and by researchers we mean everyone from Nobel Laureates to specialists working in areas ranging from Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry, through Materials Science, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, to Computational Biology and Behavioural Science.

When you get to see some of the projects these guys are working on first hand, and hear them explain what they do, it’s pretty impressive. They might not know how everything they are doing in areas such as Quantum Computing and Advanced Cryptography will ultimately translate to practical applications, but you can almost feel the future being shaped.

For someone like me who has had concerns about IBM losing its way from a product strategy and go-to-market perspective, all of this is very reassuring. It tells me that despite some of the company’s widely reported execution challenges, under the surface there is still a very solid culture of innovation, with a steady flow of goodness through into its technology portfolio.

Coming back to where I started, however, while IBM really does have a lot to offer the mainstream, including even smaller companies in the midmarket, I fear the ongoing messaging disconnect – which makes so many ‘normal’ companies perceive that IBM is not for them – will continue to prevent that potential being fully realised. I’m a big fan of aspirational thinking and aiming high when setting objectives, but when the line is crossed into the realm of fantasy for a given audience, it really doesn’t work.

July 17, 2018  2:51 PM

A conference room for the future

Bryan Betts Bryan Betts Profile: Bryan Betts
Conference Room, meetings, Training, videoconferencing

In some ways, the recent completion of Plantronics’ $2 billion purchase of Polycom was more surprising for the amount paid than the fact that this is basically an audio headset supplier taking over a conferencing technology veteran. Given the way that videoconferencing has evolved to the cloud, Polycom has been much in need of a realignment, to put it politely!

It’s a symptom of a wider issue in conferencing tech. We’ve all been there: the meeting where the presenter can’t get the screen to work and has to call in tech support. Or the videoconference where the first 10 minutes are taken up with people rebooting their PCs then dialling in anyway, because they can’t get voice-over-IP working properly.

Similar things used to happen in other areas of technology – having to re-send documents because the recipient couldn’t read the original format, say, or being unable to work on a borrowed PC because it didn’t have the right set of apps installed. But that was more than a decade ago, and I’d argue we fixed most of those through a combination of standardisation, a shift to the cloud, and arching over it all, the process that we rather grandly call digital transformation.

Transforming the meeting room

So what will it take to similarly transform the meeting room, and what will the result look like? Fortunately, in some organisations it has already happened, so we have a good idea of the latter – and crucially, it provides us with a very useful analogue or parallel in something that most of us have with us most of the time.

That’s the smartphone. Think about it – today’s smartphone is pocket PC, digital camera, satnav, videophone and more, all rolled into one. And it’s not just used by ‘young millennials and digital natives’. Many others, from all generations, are now quite happy swapping photos or videocalling with distant friends and family, for example.

Like the smartphone, the ‘smartroom’ is multifunctional – it’s a meeting room, a conferencing hub, a stage for presentations, a training room, and a studio for video streaming. It can even just be a quiet place to make and take one-to-one video and audio calls. More importantly, it’s all driven from a single easy-to-use interface, and ideally everything works through the same set of screens and controls.

Videoconferencing has moved to the cloud

This is where some of the older vendors lost ground to the cloud-based upstarts – here I’m thinking not so much of the desktop-focused apps, but the multipurpose likes of BlueJeans, LifeSize, StarLeaf and Zoom. Sure, the established names are trying to catch up – Polycom is in the process of integrating its conferencing gear with Microsoft’s Teams UI, for instance – but it’s not clear to me how far this will take them beyond just videoconferencing.

That’s important, because while collaboration strategies and smartrooms typically start with videoconferencing, they have to go further – considerably further – if you want real value from them.

One way to make the smartroom super-easy to use will be AI-guided and voice-driven smart setup schemes, of course. When we can ask Cortana to create a conference call, Siri to set up for streaming video, or Alexa to activate the presentation stage – and this kind of thing is already in the works – then maybe we really will have the conference room of the future.

July 4, 2018  11:52 AM

Workplace software as an occupational hazard

Richard Edwards Richard Edwards Profile: Richard Edwards
Corporate Applications, Employee engagement, workforce development

The US Department of Labor has updated its Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system. Known as 2018 SOC, government agencies use the system to classify workers and, with a bit of interpretation, you can use it to focus the mind on meeting the specific workplace IT needs of the workforce. This is important, because employees often view workplace software as an occupational hazard.

Because employees are people too

Other countries have SOCs, and there’s even an international SOC, but the US version is the most useful as it’s the most recent and, well, because it’s the US.

The 2018 SOC system contains 867 detailed occupations which can be whittled down to 23 major groups. We’ve gone one step further by grouping occupations as either knowledge-first, service-first or labour-first. These distinctions may be coarse, but they help to get the conversation started.

Every occupation has a different set of duties and responsibilities, and some need specialist skills, education and training. Yet when it comes to business IT, we all use the same general sets of workplace software. How can this be ‘best’ for everyone? Indeed, I would argue that this lack of ‘business fit’ is one of the reasons we’ve seen a slowdown in productivity growth over the last decade.

Workplace software meets ‘Minimum Lovable Product’

I’m not suggesting your business adopts 23 different email apps, nor am I suggesting it needs 98 different interfaces for those line-of-business applications. But what I am advocating is something called ‘minimum lovable product’ (MLP).

MLP springs from the world of the modern start-up, where they celebrate every customer win. And unlike ‘minimum viable product’ (MVP), MLP leaves us in no doubt about what the metric is.

We’ve all had to use ‘less than lovable’ business applications in our time, and I’ll admit that I’ve avoided doing ‘business chores’ because they involve using these clunky systems. But I’ve also witnessed employees stressing-out over the use of corporate IT. Neither behaviour is what we want.

Remove the IT occupational hazards

Despite our love affair with consumer gizmos, most people would describe themselves as ‘technology ambivalent’ when it comes to using business IT systems. A large organisation may have a few Apple/Google/Linux/Microsoft fan-boys/girls on the payroll, but most employees will see IT as a means-to-an-end…of the working day.

So, spare a thought for your employees by recognising the distinctive contributions of their occupations to the organisation. Consider their workplace software requirements a bit more and, dare I say it, even ask their opinion from time-to-time. The accelerating pace of change means we’re all going to need a bit of help sometime soon, so let’s remove the IT occupational hazards now before they get in the way.

June 29, 2018  5:18 PM

Millennial versus Mature – who’s the real IT security risk?

Tony Lock Profile: Tony Lock
Access Passwords, behaviour, Millenials, Passwords, Security, Senior management

Passwords have been the mainstay for securing applications, devices and the data they hold, pretty much ever since IT was invented. It’s an approach that has always had weaknesses though, mostly because few of us can keep long, complex codes safely in our heads. And as a recently published survey by security vendor Centrify illustrates, the problem has not gone away.

The company’s research took an interesting approach. First, it polled senior managers in UK companies for their perceptions of young, ‘millennial’ workers. The findings make interesting reading and throw a strong light on how easy it is for myth to obscure reality.  When asked who they thought was most likely to be responsible for a security breach, the top two answers were “younger employees” and “new starters”, with “disgruntled staff” coming in third. “Senior management”, “management” and “older employees” filled three of the bottom four slots along with “graduates”.

Where’s the danger – young or old?

 The survey then went on to ask both millennial workers and senior managers if they had ever done anything risky on their work systems, such as clicking on suspicious links in an email, sharing passwords, or perhaps most worrying of all, removing company data.

Their answers showed that although the senior staff perceived their younger colleagues as feckless, they themselves were the more dangerous ones: they were around twice as likely as the millennials to have performed something risky!

Regardless of who is to blame, these results show that people are still a weak link in IT security – which for many organisations today means business security. And as regulatory fines for security failings could now result in direct financial penalties that are far more painful than they were in the past, there should be significant pressures and incentives to invest in toughening things up.

A major challenge to improving IT security has always been user resistance.  If IT security is not almost transparent to the user, history and experience shows that some will always seek to by-pass it. Indeed, push-back from senior staff is one of the hardest things to address without undertaking extensive, and continuous, communications. Fortunately, security solutions have evolved rapidly in recent years, especially as machine learning and more extensive monitoring capabilities are being embedded into solutions

To this end there are a few basic steps that should be implemented:

·       make multi-factor authentication a standard for every user
·       apply encryption-at-rest to all sensitive data – indeed, it should probably become the norm for all data, where practical
·       look at implementing IT behavioural anomaly analysis
·       train all staff regularly on why security matters, not just on what to do or not do.

Please do not ignore the last point, as many budget-holders are tempted to do. It is probably the most effective and inexpensive measure you can take.

June 18, 2018  9:00 PM

Enterprise AI: fiction and reality

Bryan Betts Bryan Betts Profile: Bryan Betts
Artificial intelligence, Machine learning, Neural network

If you are starting to suspect that the AI hype is overblown, and that it’s just the latest term that marketing folk love to add to make their product sound more interesting, you are not alone. You’d be wrong though – the AI effect is very real, and is set to make serious waves across many industries.

That’s one of the conclusions of a report I co-authored recently, but it comes with caveats. A big one is to understand that not all AI is equal, and that when the marketeers say ‘AI’ in relation to a serious offering, what they usually mean is ‘deep learning’, which is just part – albeit an important part – of the overall AI picture.

Even with this principle in mind, terminology can still trip you up. Where the practitioners say ‘deep learning’, many researchers prefer ‘deep neural networks’. it’s also important to realise that deep learning (DL) is not ‘intelligence’ as most people understand it. Rather than the clever androids of Humans and other popular science fiction, DL is the super-savant of AI: often able to out-perform a human expert, but only in a narrow domain.

Deep learning is AI at work

Still, what if that narrow domain is the quality control system on your production line, or the chatbot answering standard enquiries on your website? In that case, DL could be just what you’re looking for, both to improve response times and to offload the dull and repetitive stuff from your skilled people.

So while it is true that AI has been over-hyped, and that it was about time for a negative correction, there’s no need to fall into a trough of disillusionment. Approach it realistically, with an understanding that AI is not magic and has its limits, and it could pay off handsomely.

To learn more about Deep Learning, what it can offer and how to plan for implementation, you can download our free report here.

June 18, 2018  11:14 AM

Your PC is rooted and jailbroken: deal with it!

Richard Edwards Richard Edwards Profile: Richard Edwards
Desktop Management, EMM, MDM, Security, vulnerabilities, Windows 10, Windows 8

One of the defining characteristics of the modern digital workplace is a Windows PC on every desk and a smartphone in every pocket. The ability to centrally discover, provision, deploy, update, and troubleshoot these devices is, without doubt, essential.

Discussing this topic at a recent vendor briefing uncovered the thought that the Windows PC is, by its very nature, a rooted/jailbroken device. Thus, in its current form, the PC constitutes a significant potential security risk to those organizations that use them, even with added protections.

The only route to Microsoft-verified Windows security

You’ve probably never considered rooting your Android device or jailbreaking your iPhone, but they’re common enough activities among curious tech enthusiasts. While different in approach, both activities usually result in the user of the device being able to do things that the device maker never intended.

Rooting an Android device gives you access to the entire operating system, while jailbreaking an iOS device enables you to run custom apps rather than just those in the App Store. If you use a Windows computer these capabilities sound unremarkable, right? However, managing these “capabilities” across a large desktop estate requires constant effort and vigilance, even with endpoint protection tools and configuration management solutions.

Mobile device management (MDM) products and enterprise mobility management (EMM) solutions can detect and restrict compromised smartphones and tablets from accessing corporate data and applications, but the Windows computer continues to present additional challenges. There are plenty of tools to help IT departments secure and protect PCs, but they inevitably add some level of cost, complexity and user dissatisfaction. So, what’s to be done?

We can all see that Windows 10 is slowly but surely turning into a modern mobile operating system, but legacy application compatibility issues are likely to prevent total transformation. So, if verified security is what you’re after, and with Windows 7 reaching end-of-life in January 2020, now’s the time to start seriously considering the pros and cons of Windows 10 in S-mode.

Evaluate the pros and cons of ‘S-mode’

S-mode is a locked-down, enhanced security mode of Windows 10. It constrains users to apps from the Microsoft Store, the Microsoft Edge web browser, and Azure Active Directory Domain Services. You can switch to “regular” Windows 10 (free of charge) if you buy a computer supplied with Windows 10 in S-mode and find it too restrictive, but this is currently a one-way street.

Enabling the switch back to Windows 10 is understandable during this introductory phase, but I’d like to see a feature that actively encourages organizations and individuals to explore the world of S-mode and the Microsoft-verified security capabilities it offers. A sensible location for this option would be under the ‘Reset this PC’ settings.

S-mode isn’t going to be compatible with everyone’s IT requirements, but there are many business and user scenarios it could suit. If you’re heading down the Microsoft/Office 365 route, and use Microsoft Office, web applications and virtualised apps, then it’s probably worth looking at what Windows 10 in S-mode has to offer. Be sure to let me know what you think.

June 4, 2018  10:29 AM

Xero highlights the role of the modern software ecosystem

Dale Vile Profile: Dale Vile

I recently caught up with Gary Turner, co-founder and managing of director of Xero. I was interested in meeting him as Xero has a reputation as the company that broke all the rules of small-business accounting. I’m obviously not talking about anything dodgy here – simply that it streamlined financial management and made it a whole lot more user-friendly by rethinking processes for a connected world. As Turner pointed out, it’s about providing seamless connectivity to everyone that matters to you in the context of small business financials. This includes your accountant, your bank, other financial service providers and, not least, solution providers who allow you to enrich or extend your accounting system.

The reason this strikes a chord with a lot of small business owners and managers is because financial accounting has traditionally fallen into category of ‘thankless chore’. Too often it was about scorekeeping, using software with an almost 18th-century feel that ran on an isolated PC in the corner of the office. It involved excessive amounts of paper, transcription, manual reconciliation of numbers from different sources and so on. It was easy to make mistakes, and hard to find and fix them.

And if all this was delegated to a bookkeeper, accounting became just a black box that periodically shot out reports that were never quite what you needed, and were probably too late to act on. Meanwhile, preparing the end-of-year books for your accountant to work on was always a nightmare.

Enabling the ecosystem

When you consider how Xero has helped its clients put most of this behind them, it’s easy to see it as predominantly a technology play – a more modern replacement for those clunky old PC packages. What’s really going on, though, is ecosystem enablement. For example, you can also look at Xero through a financial advisor lens. If you are an accounting firm with a trusted login to all your clients’ finance systems, which is essentially what Xero enables, your relationship with each customer becomes more intimate and continuous.

This has obvious benefits for both parties; you can track trends, anticipate needs, and sell additional services to meet them, increasing your revenue while helping the customer jump on opportunities and risks early. From a complimentary solution provider perspective, a cloud-based ecosystem like Xero’s allows you to tap into a well-defined market, and service it efficiently.

The big takeaway from all this is that when making technology decisions, it’s important to consider the ecosystem you are buying into. I know this is not a new principle – SAP’s attraction back in the 1990s was largely driven by the consulting and skills community that grew up around it, and even today, Microsoft Windows is still important to many businesses because of the ISV and OEM partners that support it. And we obviously can’t forget players like Salesforce.com that has one of the largest and most vibrant cloud-enabled ecosystems on the planet.

The element that is new – and Xero is a good example of this, in the way it has brought financial advisors and banks into the equation – is that ecosystems in today’s connected world are not just about technology partnerships.

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