Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Future of the Office and the Cloud (What is the Cloud?: Part 2)

This follows on from a post I did about 18 months ago called What is the Cloud? and follows on from an excellent discussion I had on the weekend with a good friend of mine who works at VMWare. Back in the “What is the Cloud?” post I described how a computer works and then used this as a model for describing the various modes in which cloud computing is used i.e. IaaS, PaaS and SaaS.

The Debate

The debate had on the weekend was concerning Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). This is the idea that employees want to bring their own technology to work rather than use the company’s. There is no doubt this is an emergent trend and, in the case of mobile phones, I would suggest the battle has ended. In my case, while I often will be issued a corporate mobile phone, I generally forward it to my personal phone and just use this. It is very difficult to enforce against a BYOD trend in the case of phones when it is so easy to forward phone calls.

However, in the case of the work device e.g. PC/laptop, various models are still in play in the workforce.

Workplace Models for Work Devices

In my experience with organisations, I see three models at play:

  • Traditional: Work Device = corporate owned
  • BYOD: Work Device = employee-owned
  • Dumb Terminal: No device (Screen, keyboard and mouse with all application and data provided remotely)

In the case of the first two, certainly at NEC, we operate in a hybrid mode i.e. some people use NEC’s devices and others bring their own.

Forces at Play

People Are Caring Less About Where Their Data Are (Storage Indifference)

For me, I want all my data in the cloud (see Moving To The Cloud Parts 1, 2 and 3). Back in the old days I had to do regular backups (never happened) and if I needed to access information outside of the home, I was hamstrung. While I still maintain you lose control by moving to the cloud, the benefits, for most, outweigh the costs in my opinion.

Organisations are still concerned by going ‘all in’ with the cloud because of security and uptime concerns but I believe these concerns will diminish over time.

The Internet is Getting Faster

In Australia, and other countries, the old copper lines originally installed for phone calls and adopted for data, are being replaced by fibre optic lines. Fibre optic can transmit data at crazy-fast speeds relative to copper line technology with other advantages such as less loss of signal (ideal for Australia given the size of the place).

Companies Want to Secure Their IP

Whatever model is employed in the future, the intellectual property of the organisation must be protected. There is no doubt employees are influencing the direction of IT policy but governance must be maintained.

Companies Want to Reduce IT Support and Maintenance Costs

If there is a model which means companies spend less with negligible disadvantage, this is a model they will adopt. Nothing can resist the forces of economics.

Employees Getting Frustrated With Stuff Not Theirs

Employees want to work with their ‘stuff’. They can fix it quickly without going to IT support and they know where everything is. For power users, their equipment may also be more powerful than what is provided by the organisation so using their technology reduces frustration and potentially increases productivity.

Consideration of the Models in Light of the Forces


Of the five forces, the main forces which impact the traditional model are the last two. Economically, the BYOD and dumb terminal models have the potential to be cheaper from a maintenance perspective. From a user’s perspective, there is a misalignment between the devices delivered by IT and the needs and wants of the user. Often a user’s home device does a better job of meeting their requirements.


The last three forces impact the BYOD model. One of the big worries with BYOD is the security of information held on the user’s device. However, using remote desktop technology (in some ways turning the user’s device into a dumb terminal) can remove these problems. BYOD also reduces support costs as long as a policy of “user device – user problem” can be enforced. Effectively the cost of support is off-loaded from the organisation to the employee. Finally, any frustration of having to use a corporate device are removed in BYOD leading to happier and more productive employees. Forrester studies back up the notion that users are more productive in a BYOD model.

Dumb Terminal

The only real difference, in regards to the forces, from an organisation’s perspective between this model and BYOD is a dumb terminal is not the user’s own device. However, assuming all applications are available for the user and their performance is not hindered I cannot see why this model would not be acceptable to the average user.

The Short Term Winner

Based on the above, I think the short term winner will be BYOD although it will be a slow move. The adoption of ‘security wrapper’ technologies to make CIOs and IT managers more comfortable about third party configured environments coming onto the network will not happen overnight.

While users want the right to use their stuff, I am not convinced they are willing to accept the responsibility of managing their own device. The application of “user device – user problem” policies, without any form of compensation, will be resisted, especially at organisations with employees who must use computers but who are not power users. Being forced to source a machine for work use and pay for support is not something that all employees will delight in.

The force that will drive BYOD is the economic one: the belief by organisations that it will save them money. I am not convinced by the simplistic purchase saving arguments. Depreciation takes care of those. However, if employees are taking care of the maintenance of their device and there is little disadvantage to the organisation in delivering applications to the devices, there should be savings in that area.

Why The Cloud Changes Everything

Let us now project to a future of fibre where the internet is crazy-fast and ubiquitous (at least 10 years away for Australia). Consumers and many organisations are comfortable storing their data and sourcing their applications from the cloud. Perhaps we no longer have the equivalent of our desktop/app page running locally but run it from the cloud as well. Think of a Chromebook, without the problems or a PC running an equivalent of Cloud. Is BYOD still the winner?

In this world, the device is irrelevant. If I am accessing everything from the cloud, including the equivalent of my desktop/app page, as long as I have a device which connects to the internet everything just works.

In this world the Dumb Terminal/No Device model is the winner as it ticks all the boxes and offers little disadvantage to any party.

  • Force 1: Everything is in the cloud so as long as I have a connected device, my world is at my fingertips (or eyes) and it all just works.
  • Force 2: The speed of the internet is such that applications are delivered without issue and because they are running in the cloud local device specifications are irrelevant
  • Force 3: Future cloud security is sufficiently smart that it is no longer feared in the same way encrypted hard drives remove the fear of laptop loss today
  • Force 4: I provide a set of dumb terminals to access the corporate cloud applications and data. Terminals specifications are irrelevant as everything is running from the cloud and maintenance is minimal
  • Force 5: Employees no longer care about using their device because all devices, from a data and application access perspective, are equal in this world.


The cloud is where the information will live, but not yet. Attitudes and technology need to catch up first. While that is happening people will carry their data with them and their own devices. When they go to work they may be asked to use other devices connected to other sources of data and be asked not let the two connect. Given our personal and working lives are mingling through tools like social media this will slowly erode as people get frustrated with the artificial barriers.

As attitudes change and technology removes the excuses, our lives and our actions will be recorded on a server ‘somewhere else’ via the internet. This applies to individuals and organisations. While we will have ‘home devices’, ‘mobile devices’ and ‘work devices’ and the form factors may change to suit the need, their basic function will be identical; to attach to the internet where we do stuff and record stuff. The world will be a giant dumb terminal plugged into a cloud of applications and information. Of course, making predictions ten years hence is the actions of a madman, but I am excited to see where the rollercoaster takes us.

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