The mobile, distributed, future of workon May 16, 2024 at 17:12 Computerworld

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“Over recent years, the way employees work has undergone significant change, influenced by the adoption of new mobile technologies and the increase of hybrid working practices,” Adam Holtby, principal analyst with Omdia, said in a recent report that looked at the growing market for Apple device management in the enterprise.

What’s interesting about the report is that it draws new connections between the various elements that make up enterprise tech. It recognizes the need to bring security, device management, cloud services, and digital experience design together to create robust digital workspaces.

They are not different things, but part of one thing.

Joined up thinking for the future of work

That’s smart, because it is inevitable that in many cases workspaces will become decentralized, data-driven, augmented, multi-platform and highly distributed. For best results, these spaces will be focused on digital community as well as productivity, and workspace management will reflect lots of things.

Unsurprisingly, the report cites the biggest Apple-focused integrator, Jamf as the leader for organizations hoping to empower their workforce with Apple technology. I wanted to learn more about the changing workspace, so I spoke with Michael Covington, vice president for product strategy at Jamf.

“It’s not about security or endpoint management,” Covington explained. “It’s about what real life situations you’re trying to enable.”

In his view, enterprises should see workspace management as an enabling solution. “If you can deliver better outcomes to employees, hopefully those outcomes are about productivity, better customer service, improved collaboration,” he said. 

The importance of employee experience

There are challenges. Accepting the new workspace requires cultural change, investment, and research to get things right. Covid also taught many employers that classic hierarchical approaches to change management cannot work without good communication across cadres — and it’s essential that whatever technology is thrown at a problem is actually used by employees, rather than ignored.

“By utilizing digital workspace management platforms, especially ones that are built for modern technology, businesses can effectively address these challenges and support their employees in this new era of work,” Omdia said in its report.

Fundamentally, in the new workspace the employee experience is a digital employee experience (DEX), and it’s super-important. 

Consider this: When your employees can work anywhere, anytime, and from any place, then the DEX that your company delivers to them becomes the most tangible experience they have of working with you. Give them DEX they like, and they’ll achieve more and stick with you; give them solutions they hate, and they achieve less and leave.

The trend toward mobile business has all been good for Apple, of course. Enterprise deployments of its solutions are accelerating worldwide, reflecting employee choice and growing understanding that over the usable life of these devices, businesses can save hundreds of dollars in repair and tech support costs compared to other systems.

When it comes to TCO, Apple leads the industry.

The AI tidal wave is coming, are you ready?

There is risk. To maintain momentum, Apple will need to make good on growing expectations about what it can achieve with generative AI (genAI) at WWDC. Apple is expected to deliver at least some valuable features on the device itself as its primary USP.

Business users also need to navigate this new aspect of accelerating digital transformation. We know it happens already. Microsoft and LinkedIn recently claimed there’s tension between AI adoption and job security. While 75% of workers use AI tools, over half hesitate to admit it, and business leaders are now seeking employees equipped with these skills.

Covington confessed to being both curious and cautious when it comes to genAI. Jamf is already deploying the technology in some areas of its business — particularly to support admins. But he urged a slow and deliberate deployment pace. 

“I think we must be very mindful about these technologies and what they can achieve,” he said. That means working with genAI in carefully chosen areas to help build internal experience and identify potential pitfalls.

“I think these things are amazing technologies, but I think we need to embrace them quickly, but slowly,” he said.

Solving the brain drain

That may be true. But are there enough people with sufficient skill to help every business optimize itself for the new workspace?  After all, many of the hugely transformative digital forces impacting business (from BYOD to remote work to genAI) have happened too swiftly for a large cohort of experienced change management leaders to emerge. That makes for a brain drain in experience.

“I think it’s absolutely fair to say [that],” said Covington, who pointed out that the accelerating consolidation of the different tech elements of successful digital transformation makes the lack of available skills more complex to navigate. 

“Think about, again, not just device management, but application lifecycle management, security, patch management, connectivity, all those things kind of coming together to, I think, be orchestrated in a way that the outcomes are optimized. You need tools that bring these things together in an easier way so that you don’t have to bring a subject matter expert from each of those different kind of domain areas together just to turn the thing on. And then you also need tools that help an individual or a small team cope with the day-to-day management of oversight of a deployment.

“It’s not just about getting things deployed and people enabled as though it’s a one-time thing,” he said. “This is a never-ending thing that we need to focus on.”

That’s the crux of things. As every business becomes a data business and as DEX becomes as significant a consideration as any other element of the enterprise technology stack, business users are turning to Managed Service Providers to help them bolt all the elements into place.

Mobile is still growing

But even then there’s a big blind spot: mobile. When genAI runs on mobile devices, will PCs even matter any more? Can an AI-augmented iPad really replace the computer? We know Apple thinks in a growing number of cases it can.

It’s strange that even since the iPhone and the BYOD boom, and even since the pandemic during which so many businesses came to rely on mobile, when it comes to treating mobile devices as peer players in the business stack some enterprises fail to manage them correctly.

“We are absolutely seeing broad embrace of iPads and Apple mobile technologies across the board,” said Covington. Retail, healthcare, and field services clients are all using the devices. 

“I’ve seen so many amazing use cases for mobile technologies in the field from people that might be contracted to go and repair a certain appliance that they have no expertise in,” he adds. “They’re using that mobile device to not just get schematics, but to actually communicate with people that might have more expertise on the repair that’s needed and that they can actually get in and be very efficient with their time in the field to make repairs.”

Despite this use, lots of businesses haven’t quite connected the dots to recognize that all devices in their fleet need to be properly protected. Some still see Macs and PCs as the primary tools knowledge workers use, and neglect that mobile devices are also now part of the mix. They might understand the need to secure the computers, but not yet see the need to protect the companion devices.

“No one’s put the spotlight on that, but I think the mobile workers, hybrid workers, the frontline workers that use mobile exclusively as their compute device, these are the ones needing the most assistance to achieve better productivity outcomes than they’ve been given in the past,” he said. 

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Apple, Generative AI, iMac, iOS, Remote Work

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