End user computing in the hybrid era: What path is your company on?

As a technology consulting firm, we work with many clients each year. In fact, we assisted over 250 clients in the past 12 months. That’s a lot of people! Whether we’re implementing smart solutions to propel business with Microsoft, NetSuite, or Salesforce, we see organizations who manage their investments wisely ask what does this technology do How will it improve my business? And, what’s it going to cost me?!

One recent area of concern lies in the return-to-work initiatives that companies design, roll out … and then often struggle to balance. While there are social and emotional aspects that drive these decisions, as technologists we’ll focus on end user computing, and let the Society of Human Resource Management handle the rest.

Employees need proper tools to be productive, regardless of where they’re working. According to this article published on HRDrive:

“About 49% of employees say they lose between one and five hours of productivity each week while dealing with IT issues.”

“About 62% of employees cited access to best-in-class technology as a highly motivating factor in their work performance.”

How can you support and motivate your employees with outdated, slow, or error-prone equipment?

After 3 years of users working remotely, hybrid, or even in a ‘we had no choice but to stay on the production floor’ scenario, we see varying combinations of the following trends:

  1. End user laptops and desktops stored at the office have become outdated and are reaching their end of life – leaving an organization to face a substantial capital investment to keep employees inspired and productive.
  2. Contracts for IT security suites and solutions are coming up for renewal – those 3-year contracts organizations signed at the beginning of the pandemic to get a discount supporting remote work are lapsing and often times the price tag to renew is hefty.
  3. The workforce that was hired remotely has been using home PCs or “Bring Your Own” device and businesses did little or nothing to protect and secure corporate data and access to organizational resources.

No situation is right or wrong, it’s just reality. Companies did what they needed to do to ensure that their businesses stayed open and were as productive as possible through some tough times! Today, we know the economy is dragging and that budgets are tight, even for the biggest technology companies like Google who is cutting down on employee laptops, services and staplers for ‘multi-year’ savings. Now it’s time—in fact there has never been a better time—to change the narrative, to give employees what they need to be most valuable, and to maximize your technology budget.

So, the questions remain: what path is your company on, what’s the state of your workstations and devices, and what does this all mean as you plan your next steps on the path of digital transformation?

Let’s explore…

  1. You are planning a full return to the office, or you never left.
  2. You are part of the hybrid movement, where employees work in the office at least 1 day per week.
  3. You’re already remote or you are going full remote and ditching a traditional office altogether.

Gartner forecasts that in the U.S., 51% of knowledge workers will work hybrid and 20% will be fully remote by the end of 2023.

Hybrid work is here to stay, but FMT believes no matter what your path, that organizations put themselves in the strongest position possible by adopting proven cloud technologies and platforms. NetSuite for ERP and financials, Salesforce for CRM and marketing, and Microsoft for collaboration, modern work, infrastructure, and security. And since we’re talking about end user computing and workstations…

Microsoft Windows 365 might be the next step in your journey.

Virtual computers and virtual desktop infrastructure used to be off the beaten path, but Windows 365 has gained a lot of traffic in the past few years as companies try to answer the questions above, and design their hybrid work plans—without sacrificing business requirements and while improving productivity and security.

What is Windows 365?

Windows 365 securely streams your Windows desktop, apps, settings, and content from the Microsoft Cloud to a Cloud PC. Access a personalized Windows 10 or Windows 11 Cloud PC experience from any Windows, iOS, or Android device.

With Windows 365, organizations have more options to build the best computing environment for a particular user or role. This could be a PC with a locally installed OS, a Cloud PC with a cloud-based OS, or a combination of both.

Who is Windows 365 for?

Windows 365 is for organizations of all sizes that need secure and agile hybrid work solutions for elastic workforces, distributed employees, bring your device policies, or specialized workloads with versatile computing and storage capabilities, accessible on any device.

Will my apps work on Windows 365?

Yes. Microsoft is committed to ensuring your apps work on the latest versions and Windows 365 was built with compatibility in mind. Apps that worked on Windows 7, Windows 8.1, Windows 10, and Windows 11 also work on Windows 365.

What devices does Windows 365 work on?

Users can connect to their Cloud PC from any platform that has either the Microsoft Remote Desktop app or an HTML5-capable browser to access the web client.

Read more here: Windows 365 documentation | Microsoft Learn

Let’s focus on that last note, “users can connect to their Cloud PC from any platform.” This means that your existing fleet of older equipment can be given fresh life. Employees who are using their own home equipment can access company resources on a Cloud PC that you control. So, you may be able to ditch expensive 3rd party security products, consolidate on the Microsoft cloud technology stack, not break the bank, and restore health in your technology budget!

And Windows 365 is far less complex than traditional virtual desktop infrastructure solutions. Similar to the way that migrating your email service to Microsoft 365 simplifies IT administration, Windows 365 shifts much of the burden of maintaining workstations on to Microsoft’s plate.

At a high level, a Windows 365 deployment includes the following phases:

  1. Organizations choose their Cloud PC sizes based on CPU, RAM, and disk requirements.
  2. A Cloud PC design is selected from 3 options depending on whether a business wants to use Azure Active Directory, support existing on-premises Active Directory, and/or use existing Azure virtual network connectivity.
  3. Cloud PC policies are built using Azure step-by-step wizards.
  4. Intune management policies are configured and assigned. These can range from simple quality of life settings to full blown device restrictions and application deployment configurations.
  5. Licenses are procured and assigned.
  6. Cloud PCs are automatically provisioned and users connect via Remote Desktop Connection (RDP) or a browser from anywhere.

Windows 365 and Zero Trust go together.

Equally important to the simplicity and productivity of Windows 365, is the built-in security. Since Microsoft shoulders much of the burden of maintaining Cloud PCs, they also provide security alongside. Some of this security is baked in and on by default, while other aspects are available with configuration by organizational IT.

And the whole idea of the Cloud PC is to keep all compute, access, and data in a central location that IT can manage and secure. Users can perform all of their normal PC-related job functions but sensitive data doesn’t come and go between the Cloud PC and the device the end user is connecting from … it all stays in the cloud, protected.

Cloud PCs should follow Zero Trust principles and Windows 365 offers the following:

Re-imagining end user device security using Cloud PCs vastly simplifies the cyber landscape. The devices that users utilize to connect to Cloud PCs no longer store or directly access corporate data and resources, allowing IT to focus on modern management solutions like Intune and Azure to protect sensitive information and critical applications centrally within the cloud environment. Intune, Defender for Cloud, Azure Sentinel, and other first-party Microsoft security products are easy to deploy, provide consolidated cost savings, and tend to be fully integrated out of the box.

For organizations who are just beginning their cloud security journey, a Windows 365 deployment is a perfect time to design, deploy, and enforce multifactor authentication, conditional access, advanced email security, single sign on, endpoint detection and response, and other identity and data protection solutions.

Microsoft enables companies to do more with less.

Windows 365 is a great path for many companies struggling to find the right balance in our hybrid world. Microsoft commissioned Forrester to produce a study, The Total Economic Impact™ Of Windows 365,which highlights how this cost effective path.

While you read that, and I encourage you to do so, don’t be intimidated by the big numbers presented. We’ve seen Windows 365 work in businesses both big and small. As with public cloud infrastructure, a key benefit of Windows 365 is elasticity and it’s ability to support hyper-growth. And if you’re looking for a solution that provides you a little more control and flexibility, Microsoft also offers Azure Virtual Desktop, which provides all the same benefits.

We encourage you to imagine a world where you aren’t forced to continually refresh costly computers every 3-4 years, a modern workplace where employees can start work from their home and pick up right where they left off on a desktop in the office, while enjoying the same secure and productive experience regardless of location. Imagine what a shift to Windows 365 can do for you and your business. Give your employees the power and productivity they need with Windows 365.

Do you find yourself questioning what path you should take now that you have this new information? Do you need a trusted advisor to lead you on your journey of digital transformation? FMT can help you with designing the right return-to-office map for your business … at least from a technology perspective–our HR team does say ‘Hi’ though and understands your pain.

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