Well-managed flexible working is another step towards smarter and more effective enterprise computing for the Co-Operative Group
Should a CIO really trust consumerisation? After all, there are notable concerns associated to more flexible methods of working, such as security, configuration and support. But there are, of course, also a strong set of reasons for suggesting that sensible technology leaders will start embracing consumerisation sooner rather than later. For these companies, well-managed flexible working is another inevitable step towards smarter and more effective enterprise computing.
“It’s basically the way the market is going,” says Dave Murrell, head of servers, storage and desktop services at the Co-Operative Group. The IT leader is part of an IT department that has as many as 120,000 users to manage. New ways of delivering high quality services to this user base are always of interest and the company’s curiosity with regards to consumerisation began a couple of years ago.
“We’d had, and continue to have, a big push from the human resources guys for flexible working, which obviously has significant business benefits,” says Murrell. And the number of flexible workers employed by the company will increase in the lead up to a new headquarters being completed at the end of 2012.
“When you look at that requirement and the costs involved, there’s a clear business case for saying it doesn’t matter what device our employees use as long as they’ve got connectivity.
We currently have around 4,500 laptop users; that number of mobile workers is only going to increase and the standard legacy offerings won’t always be agile enough for those more flexible users.”
Murrell was able to start a pilot project at the end of 2009 to enable people to use desktop virtualisation for remote working. The company uses a Citrix Access Gateway that gives flexible workers access to the company’s resources. An additional technology boost will come in the form of a desktop virtualisation project that BT Engage IT is currently developing. The new technology will provide hot desking capability at the company’s new headquarters in Manchester.
Desktop virtualisation creates a number of benefits. First, the desktop is hosted on a server and can be run on any device, such as PCs, tablets or smart phones, with a pre-installed receiver application and access to the internet. Second, workers benefit from standardisation; the screens of enabled devices will show a standard Microsoft Windows-based desktop when the receiver is connected to the virtualisation server.
Finally, the Access Gateway provides a secure connection. Workers log on using identification, password and a secure fob that provides a time-sensitive code for the user to enter. To realise such benefits, the right back end preparations are crucial. Running multiple desktops requires several support servers. Each virtual desktop can run from a single image, but that process still requires applications to be installed and configured – and that means knowing and understanding installed applications.
“We had a discovery phase and the duplication of apps was worse than we thought, despite the research,” says Murrell, looking back on lessons learnt since the original desktop virtualisation project in 2009. “There was also the storage question; there is quite a lot of myth surrounding how you divide up apps with regards to what needs to be on a faster disk or cache, and what has to be highly resilient.” Murrell says the company spent a significant amount of time ensuring technology was right at the back end. After three months of testing with 250 people at the end of 2009, the desktop project went live: “The pilot went forward in the first quarter of 2010. We’re a retailer so we’re normally expected to go straight into production.” The end result, however, is that consumerisation is helping to push transformation. Many hundreds of people at the Co-op, including senior managers, now access their applications through desktop PCs, laptop computers, tablet devices and smart phones. Most importantly, the feedback from users has been excellent.
“The project has been rated remarkably highly for customer satisfaction,” says Murrell. “We’ve also met the required financial returns as well. People can work flexibly and they don’t need an assigned desk. Team dynamics have changed for the better. We wouldn’t have been as agile and costs would have vastly increased.”
“The project has been rated remarkably highly for customer satisfaction,” says Murrell.“We’ve also met the required financial returns as well. People can work flexibly and they don’t need an assigned desk. Team dynamics have changed for the better.
We wouldn’t have been as agile and costs would have vastly increased.”