The workspace of the future is exciting – but don’t leave the door unlocked

The digital tsunami and the move to mobile have changed the way we work forever. It is not all that long ago that we accepted our jobs as being part mobile – or at least where you could get a signal – and part tied to a desk. But no more; mobile is the new normal, it is here to stay, and the ‘workplace’ has become something altogether new and different.

At the heart of this workplace transformation has been an ongoing cycle of technological evolution. As networks have become faster and faster and support more apps and more data, the cloud has come into play. Cloud computing is now second nature to most people, and processing data through or storing it in the cloud has grown exponentially.

This faster computing power married to mobility’s always-on-anywhere nature has in turn led to richer content and applications at end-user level, for which end-users want ever smarter mobile devices, hence the astonishing rise in smartphone and tablet proliferation. Then, having faster, smarter mobile devices and ever-faster mobile broadband, end-users consume more and more data and digital content, which in its own turn has the knock-on effect of needing faster networks. This is the mobility and virtualization lifecycle, and its impact on the workplace has been revolutionary.

The point is that the traditional way of working has changed, and with it the workplace itself. And this has been powered not just by technology, but by people themselves. Mobile technology has empowered people to shape their workplaces to their own demands. It is a brave new world all right, and a truly exciting one.

How workers and ways of working are changing

Mobile has changed so much of what we’re used to. The typical ‘office job’ has transformed into something which through mobile empowers the employee and benefits the employer, in the form of greater freedom and increased productivity respectively. The consumerization of IT led us to bring your own device (BYOD) policies, with research showing that 87 per cent of employees have used a personal device in the workplace. Sales of smartphones and tablets now outstrip all PCs put together, including notebooks. 79 per cent of IT decision-makers say virtual desktops are in their current or future plans, while enterprise social networking is also high on agendas. The world of work went and got mobile, and employers have had no choice but to embrace it.

Buildings, ways of working and ICT strategy

The new workplace has become a seamless environment, where personal and professional crossover and interchange. Even workplace buildings themselves have become part of the mix; intelligent building projects are in place now which differ hugely from offices and factories of days gone by. The need for intelligent buildings now informs a company’s ICT strategy, as the new, mobile first way of working requires this new workplace to make it a reality.

When previously kitting out an office building IT departments generally focused on wireless connection models and protocols, wired and wireless access points and so on. There were no interfaces in place for seamless integration of multiple mobile devices, networks and platforms were largely proprietary (and not very interoperable with multiple different devices and protocols) and legacy services were limited. In short, the workplace was a relatively dumb environment.

The shift to new ways of working has created the need for new, intelligent buildings to support progressive companies. New working environments are looking to the Internet of Things as a driver, with its need for embedded systems with local computing. Next generation communications systems like MiFi and Zigbee must be worked into the mix, as must multimodal interactive interfaces like NFC, digital signage and all the various smart devices that now enter the workplace.

Intelligent buildings can also have a positive environmental impact thanks to increased numbers of sensors, monitoring systems and controllability of systems making them greener places to work. All of these elements are now making their way into organisations’ real estate acquisition strategies, making them part of an overall business strategy. Including smart intelligence to the building itself’s design makes for a smarter workplace and happier employees. This means thinking about your ICT strategy can separate digital, Business Intelligence and legacy systems while still looking to generate interaction between unified communications and collaboration (UCC) tools, human resources, security and suppliers.

In short, companies must now think not just from their own perspective but also from what their employees want and expect from a workplace. Take a technology-agnostic approach, and think ahead – use your building systems to deliver open, integrated services to workers – not just to manage your building. That’s the way to moving to the cloud-enabled, flexible and any place, anywhere, anytime method of working.

The security imperative

The new way of working is exciting, progressive and more productive – but it of course remains vital not to ignore the potential security risks. BYOD and smart building initiatives have helped empower workers in unprecedented ways, but they do bring with them traditional worries. Company data now resides on more devices in more places than ever, and IT departments have no choice but to accept this and mitigate it.

Lost or stolen mobile devices naturally remain a key concern for IT professionals, while employees placing data in cloud-based file-hosting apps such as Dropbox is also a potential problem. Traditional security threats like hacking and DoS (denial of service) attacks are still present too of course. So the IT department must manage both the old threats and the new.

They can begin by implementing a mobility policy which lays out the rules and precautionary measures needed to keep sensitive corporate data and systems as safe as possible. Employees bringing own devices into the workplace have to play their part and commit to safeguarding data and not abusing their newfound flexibility. Device management systems married to good quality encryption tools can help guard against data loss via stolen or lost mobile devices, but with both mobility and new, intelligent building systems to manage, companies should think about both hardware and software encryption policies.

The new workplace is a thrilling prospect, taking our now second nature mobility, partnering it to intelligent building environments and using it to help us enjoy greater freedom and flexibility in our jobs than ever. It’s an exciting time – but nonetheless one that requires good planning and the factoring in of expansive security measures at each step on the journey.

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