Small to medium businesses today face an arsenal of acronyms and a jumble of jargon when reading about technologies that promise to revolutionise productivity and performance. Yet regardless of how such technologies and associated policies are described, the benefits they offer are real, measurable and can help your organisation deliver the workplace of tomorrow.
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There are two important questions for business leaders to answer when reviewing the technology direction of their organisations:
- Which technologies and policies can deliver the most value to my business?
- What strategies and tactics can I use to minimise the disruption involved in deploying these technologies and policies?
Some of the technologies and policies that businesses can exploit today include bring your own device, cloud computing, big data and data analytics, and activity-based working.
Bring your own device
Under this much-hyped policy, businesses enable workers to access corporate applications and data on personal devices such as tablets and smartphones. However, companies that implement this model must be prepared to support a wide range of devices and operating systems, and accept that enforcing security policies may prove hard work.
Many businesses may be better off creating a list of devices that meet approved standards of security, reliability and performance, and requiring employees who want to access corporate data on personal devices to choose from the list. Others may be most comfortable supplying phones to employees who can then use them for personal purposes. These last two approaches make it easier for IT to monitor and manage their business’s device fleet – and protect valuable customer data.
The cloud’s promise of on-demand, pay-as-you-go access to infrastructure, platforms, applications and other resources is compelling to many organisations. Businesses can use cloud services to accelerate time to market for new applications, reduce project management costs and lower IT personnel costs. These services can also support mobility projects such as making information and services available to field workers and salespeople as they visit customers.
However, businesses should conduct a full evaluation of the costs and risks associated with each cloud model. This includes determining which applications and workloads are suitable to be migrated to the cloud. For example, a financial services business needs to fully understand the implications of storing sensitive customer details in an offshore public cloud. Companies that regularly share large files or have sizeable bandwidth requirements may find the cost of moving to the cloud prohibitive.
To further ease the transition, businesses need to review how cloud services will impact their IT skills mix and establish technology teams that can manage analytics and security across both legacy systems and cloud services.
Big data and data analytics
Mining large volumes of data for information can help businesses identify trends and patterns to inform new products and services. For example, a business may be able to view how long visitors remain on its website and which pages are the most popular. Many big data analytics tools have been designed for large businesses. However, if a business can identify and adopt an effective, low-cost, simple analytics solution, it may be able to complement the intuition and experience of its employees with valuable data-driven insights.
According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, companies should adopt a “business-led approach to big data, with analytics and technology as key enablers”. To smooth the introduction of big data analytics, businesses should evaluate whether a problem can be addressed by big data. They should then design a centralised, data-enabled organisation, create a framework to evaluate big data risks and opportunities, run research and development experiments on big data opportunities and evaluate and improve big data processes. For medium-sized or heavily data-dependent businesses in particular, this approach can help deliver a significant competitive edge.
Activity-based working gives businesses the opportunity to improve productivity, efficiency and performance by using technologies such as wireless area networks, thin client computing and mobile applications to support employees working across a range of different workspaces and collaboration zones.
To ease the process of implementing activity-based working, businesses might also invest in supporting technologies such as follow-me desktops and follow-me printing. These technologies enable team members to access desktops or print from enabled devices nearby rather than visit workstations or printers housed several floors away. In addition, they need to engage their workers early to understand their roles, responsibilities and preferences about work. Some workers may prefer the traditional fixed cubicle and resist a more collaborative environment – the activity-based workspace should be flexible enough to accommodate this.
Small to medium businesses should underpin flexible, mobile and activity-based working initiatives with an information security policy that recognises the increased potential for data loss or leakage through human error. This policy should encompass educating staff on how to secure data, and its importance to the business and its customers.
Businesses that embrace these technologies and implement the appropriate enabling security policies are positioning themselves to embrace the workplace of tomorrow. Using new technologies and processes will help them gain an edge over their competitors and position them as an employer that talented people want to work for.
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