Back to the Future…decoded 2015

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roving reporterNow, I’m no roving reporter, just a techie who likes a bit of Blogging, but on this occasion I thought I’d do a bit of roving reporting, with my view on the Microsoft Future decoded event which I had the pleasure of attending at the beginning of November.

So after a few hectic weeks, I thought it was about time I dusted off my notes and gave a couple of thoughts about what Microsoft discussed and what I picked up that maybe of interest to us Enterprise tech folk.

Let’s start with my general view of Microsoft – full disclosure, I’m a fan, I’ve always been a fan of Microsoft technology, cutting my very first technical teeth on Windows 3.0 (well even a little bit of 2.11… but only a little bit) and I think they do lots of things well, there had been a “cool” problem recently for Microsoft, with lots of industry watchers getting very excited by anything Apple, Google, Amazon or any other current flavour of the IT industry month did, while everything Microsoft did was most definitely lacking on the cool front.

However lots of this is changing, under Satya Nadella Microsoft are visibly changing, the focus now is returning Microsoft to their roots as a software company first and foremost. Aiming at delivering great software and services and getting these solutions out to a wide audience, focussing on getting it to them though, because they want it, not because they feel there is no choice.

To Microsoft’s great credit they are delivering, the very impressive Azure and the businesskoolaid behemoth that is Office 365 are dominating forces in the public cloud arena. This alongside the generally positive views of Windows 10 and some great hardware such as Surface has started to have many industry watchers sipping away at the Microsoft Kool-Aid.

Certainly in my day job, we are seeing customers embrace this new Microsoft, one of my colleagues this week was telling me about how a couple of his customers had reported to him about the positive impact of their move to the Microsoft cloud, seeing both productivity improvements as well as a real reduction in running costs.

So that’s the context I approached the event with. From the event itself I was looking at what Microsoft where bringing to the IT party, that would allow us to meet other business challenges that our customers are facing.

If you’ve not attended Future Decoded before, this is a UK event aimed at Microsoft partners, customers and industry professionals from systems architects to developers, and certainly something worth putting in your calendar. This year it was split into two days, business (the day I attended) and developer.

What gems did the business day reveal for us all this year?

The morning session included some interesting insights from a range of business leaders from Richard Reid to Martha Lane Fox, with a healthy dose of Satya Nadella thrown in for good measure.

All of the non Microsoft speakers had something of interest to say, and if there was a theme it was the power of innovation in their day to day jobs, be that from IT at Arsenal, to Virgin Atlantic, Innocent drinks to the Ministry of Defence, they all focussed on how innovation and disruption where the key to moving forward.

What was equally important however was placing innovation in the context of your organisations overall goals and certainly not technology innovation for the sake of it.

One of my favourite statements of the day came from Hywel Sloman, IT director at Arsenal who knew it was critical for him to

Be a business leader first and IT leader second

Alongside innovation was the simplification of IT, (A favourite hobby horse of mine) Mike Stone CIO at the MOD, has spent the first 18 months of his tenure working his way through the mixture of old tech, over running projects and restrictive contracts which are no longer fit for purpose and although his issues where maybe more complex than many of us find because of the nature of his work, those themes of complexity and inflexible IT are something I certainly see in many of the customers I work with.

However, although his current infrastructure was complex, he understood that embracing the cloud and mobility where key to his future strategy. However, all this was in the critical context of security, in fact secure by design, not built and then secured, but securely built.. good tip!

A selection of really informative and diverse business leaders, but regardless of their diverse backgrounds and requirements, their needs where very similar.

  • Innovation
  • Simplicity
  • Security
  • Efficiency
  • Data Control

That wish list sound familiar?

What did Microsoft have to say?

Well if that was the business leaders wish list, what did Microsoft business leader Satya Nadella have to say about how Microsoft where helping IT leaders to meet those challenges.

This is the first time I’ve seen Satya speak and as you’d expect a good presenter, but maybe most impressively, he knew how to do a demo!!!satya-nadella-future-decoded-370x229

What where the key takeaways from Nadella’s session?

One of my favourite phrases from him was the take on mobility, he re-emphasised the Microsoft strategy of cloud first, mobile first, but the slant on what was meant by mobility was interesting.

Nadella said that the view of mobility, was not about devices, but mobility was about the user experience, that a user should be able to move between devices, both those we use today and those that will come in the future and their application experience should be able to go with them.

If you look at the Office experience now across Windows, IOS and Android, you can start to see how that vision is taking shape, with the experience been pretty much the same.

I like that, I like the idea of simplicity in technology and if we can develop our software experience to be the same on whatever device we access our information on, then I think that’s a huge step in the right direction.

As an aside, I spoke with a couple of really interesting guys on the Microsoft mobility team about some of the plans for mobile device management, they covered some really interesting ideas about building the mobile management into the applications and not the devices, that gives freedom of choice to do what you like with the device and pick the device you want, you then bake all the control into that corporate app you want your users to use, if you think back to Mike Stone and secure by design, you can see where that helps.

Mobility of human experience not about devices, computing will be ubiquitous it’s about your experience using it that will matter

Next up on the list of things I couldn’t agree more with, was the assertion that the future for our organisations is about our data and how we use it, it’s a drum I’ve been banging for quite a while and anyone who’s read my Data Fabric info know my views on how we manage and move our data, is key to taking advantage of technology innovation.

However this was also about how we understand what’s in our data, Nadella talked about the interesting work Biobeats are doing around their analytics and machine learning based solutions in healthcare, which was a great example, but to be honest I’m seeing that in all kinds of areas, we all have so much data in our lives, organising and understanding it is absolutely key to how we approach our business and increasingly personal lives in the future.

Nadella also spoke about the importance of not designing silo’s in our technology solutions, again, right on board with that discussion. The ability to integrate our technology stacks is a huge part of that, but also Nadella talked about how Microsoft where developing the ability to collaborate and looking at how we do that regardless of platform and technology choices, that shouldn’t matter, if we need to work together, if we need to access data from all kinds of sources, we have to consider that in our design and enable it.

He then gave a couple of great demo’s showing how Microsoft technology was helping people to understand their data with Power BI and the very interesting Delve (available in Office365) , both of these technologies are interesting tools, because they make data analytics easily available, removing it from the preserve of just those who can afford it. Analytics is a huge part of the value of 365 and Azure, delivering “big data” capability to organisations of all sizes.

Last up was a great presentation on continuum showing how a Lumia 950 could be docked and turned into a usable tablet device with a keyboard, monitor etc. switching seamlessly from its mobile persona to that of a tablet device, again a neat feature and maybe demonstrates Microsoft’s view of it’s phone platform, as something to show the art of the possible, rather than as something that is going to displace Android and IOS as the dominant smartphone platforms.

There was also a couple of really interesting videos shown during the session, I’ve popped the links below as something worth taking a look at.

The afternoon was a selection of break out sessions and the expo area, where I picked up some interesting bits of information, but they can wait for another BLOG.

Future Decoded delivered an interesting day, certainly something that if you’ve not attended, it’s well worth giving a spin, it’s always interesting to see Microsoft’s view of the world and where they are looking to head strategically and always quite nice to hear from technology leaders highlighting the same challenges I hear day to day, so at least we know we are working on the right kind of challenges!

Well that’s your roving reporter at Microsoft Future Decoded, signing off!. Hope you enjoyed the little review – Give the videos a look and maybe check out Future Decoded for yourself next year.

Future Decoded Website

Hololens – Transform your world with holograms

Cities Unlocked – A Microsoft Collaboration with UK Guide Dogs (Brilliant video about technology changing lives)

There was also a really great video on MS futures – but I can’t quite remember which one – so I’ve found a couple that are pretty cool anyway, so here’s some bonus material!!

Productivity Future

Future Vision

The mobile working challenge

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I’ve done some work recently for a couple of relatively small businesses who work in very different sectors but both have very similar problems around managing their mobile workforce.

I won’t go into the specifics of the challenges for them because that’s not that important, but what did strike me was how big a challenge mobile working is for businesses of all sizes and I thought the experiences of a couple of smaller companies where worth sharing, we can all get wowed by the problems of our biggest clients, for example one we work with has over 20,000 ipads in one division – wow we all say, but actually the problem of managing that estate is no different to the mobile challenges that businesses with a handful of devices have, it’s really just scale that’s the issue and for most of us, we work in those much smaller businesses.

why the problem?

It’s a good starting point, why indeed is mobility such a problem? It’s because technology is now so pervasive, lets face it, we are all increasingly demanding of our technology, we want access to information from business email, to holiday snaps and social networks across a myriad of devices at a time that suites us.

But it’s not all consumer fun and Angry Birds, this mobile world is changing the way we do business, we expect access to key and critical data when we are mobile, be it travelling, at a client, or at home, we are all demanding that access on our range of gadgets.

That’s presenting a challenge to businesses and their IT teams, because even if it doesn’t give us competitive edge, you don’t want to be the business that looks like its stuck in the past, not able to interact in the modern world.

what’s the problem?

OK, so why does the need for mobility give us a problem? – Really it’s the challenge it presents to our data, the technology world has much changed, the idea that our data, our intellectual property, the things that define our businesses, sits comfortably cocooned in our lovely secure data centre, only accessed from our secure and controlled desktop machines, is as we’ve discussed, dead, as a business it’s very rare to be able to operate in that way today, we at least want to be able to access our email and our calendars when we are out an about.

And there’s the problem, the minute we place access to our data, or more likely the data itself, on those mobile devices  we’ve introduced a huge problem, how on earth do we control and secure that data both in transit and at rest on our range of gadgets and gizmos, be they corporate devices or owned by the user themselves.

what to do?

So if the above stuff is part of the problem, what on earth do we do about it?

Well the challenge of mobility is a biggy, no doubt;

  • How do we get applications and data to our devices?
  • How do we protect the data once its there?
  • How do we secure the data on the devices?
  • How do we manage our wide range of things?

no data on the device

I suppose the obvious start for many organisations is, don’t let the data sit on those devices at all and just deliver your mobility solution across the wire, with no data ever held in place, from the traditional idea of session based remote desktops, to apps that just front end access to an application, there’s a huge range of ways of providing mobile access to our corporate data.

There are of course challenges with any of these types of technology, making it usable for the users (why VPN technology often fails so miserably) and the obvious challenge of quality of connection, without that, the idea of mobility falls right down.

Because of the challenges of connectivity (come on you’ve all tried to work on the train!) the need to have data in place on our mobile devices is pretty much a requirement for the serious mobile worker and that was certainly the case for the two businesses I’ve been working with.

And that gets to the crux of their challenge,

what do we need to do to ensure our data is protected and secure?

So we presented some advice on some areas they should consider and I thought it maybe useful to share;

protect the data on the device

Obvious I suppose, but what do we mean by protect the data?

In this case it is about ensuring that the data held by the company is the definitive version of the data, to ensure that all had access to data as and when needed and of course that data could be recovered in the event of loss or failure of the device.

The problem was that the current technology in use in these organisations broke one of the great rules of technology, it made it too difficult,

technology really has to be the path of least resistance for the users

in the end users where not making sure that their data was synchronised back to the central systems, because it was just way to difficult, putting that data at risk.

What we needed was a solution that could centralise backup, so when connected to the Internet the data would synchronise automatically without to much user thought.

Of course there are a range of technologies out there for doing this, in this case however we looked at some very impressive stuff from Druva (www.druva.com) ticked the boxes for protecting the data on the devices and the choice to deploy on-premise or from the cloud provided the ideal solution for what we needed.

secure the data on the device

How’s this different from protecting the data? In this case or at least in my mind, protecting data is all about ensuring we have a copy of the data and can access it even if we lose the device, securing it, is about what happens when we lose a device, how do we ensure that our data is not accessed by anyone who shouldn’t be getting to it, remember that data is potentially critical to our business operations, or even provide access into our very systems.

One of the key things you should always be looking at when using mobile devices from laptops to smartphones is encryption, of course encryption is now provided as pretty much standard from Windows 8 on your laptop, through to smartphones and tablets all of the major operating system providers are providing encryption to their devices, some by default, some need turning on but its there and you should be using it.

What was stopping our customers using it then? Complexity was the challenge, so again we looked at how to simplify that, we came across a neat solution from WinMagic (www.winmagic.com) which gave us a neat management overlay for managing the encryption capability of Windows, IOS an Android via the one interface.

Of course encryption is only one tool in the arsenal, but it’s there, it’s free (the management we used is purely optional) and really should be on, but twin this with obvious stuff like password control and remote wipe capabilities to ensure you fully secure those devices from the inevitability of loss.

summary

I appreciate that we’ve only focussed on two key of mobile security here, but that was what the customer examples here demanded, of course the bigger the mobile estate, the bigger the need for increased and more scalable controls, solutions like Airwatch and MobileIron come into play to provide full mobile device management, but in the case of these relatively small customers, using some inbuilt technology with a couple of 3rd party, relatively low cost additions provided a good solid level of security to these customers mobile estates and allowed there mobile workers to operate more effectively while ensuring the business kept control of their data.

If you are looking at mobile device strategy, maybe the four points we mentioned earlier will give you a starting point;

  • How do we get applications and data to our devices?
  • How do we protect the data once its there?
  • How do we secure the data on the devices?
  • How do we manage our wide range of things?

Hope these examples help some of you.