How Forrester sees digital workplace evolution

A Q&A with Forrester analyst Andrew Hewitt

In 2007, Forrester predicted the PC market would grow beyond its then-standard, two form factors: laptops and desktops. As we know, the prediction came true. Today, enterprise computing devices have not only grown more diverse and numerous, but IT teams also struggle to keep up.

Taming the complexity while satisfying the needs of employees requires end-user computing (EUC) teams to evolve their strategy to one that focuses on delivering apps and data to employees, regardless of their devices.

To kick the tires on some of the most pressing issues for EUC leaders today, we sat down with Forrester analyst Andrew Hewitt. The data and perspective he shared covered employee experience, robotic process automation, the changing role of EUC admins and more.

What will be the future breakdown between virtualized desktops/apps and physical devices? How should enterprises think about their virtualization strategy going forward (next five to 10 years)?

Andrew: In early 2019, Forrester published “The Future Of Enterprise Computing,” in which we stated 80 percent of all computing tasks will eventually be completed by lighter devices (lighter physically and OS-wise), including smartphones, tablets, thin clients accessing virtual sessions and browser-based computers.

Webinar: Five Trends Shaping The Future Of Enterprise Computing

Twenty percent of computing tasks will still require a heavy device like those with GPUs for graphics and AI. But they’ll typically be reserved for fixed workstations or employees with unique requirements such as engineers.

The shift is happening now, but there’s still a long way to go: 51 percent of U.S. consumers say they still use a desktop computer. And today only 30 percent of employees use fully virtualized desktops to do their work.

Virtualization is one way employees will consume applications. They’ll also use physical smartphones, tablets, laptops and emerging devices like Chromebooks and wearables. EUC leaders should view their virtualization strategy primarily as a means to reducing dependency on physical desktops and increasing their ability to deliver apps and data to any endpoint, whether that’s mobile, virtual, physical, etc.

Ultimately, the shift toward 80/20 computing means IT teams will need an identity-centric approach to employee enablement that focuses on delivering apps and data to employees regardless of the device they use.

How does employee-facing technology drive business results?

Andrew: In our “Why EX? Why Now?” report, we found 30 percent of the factors that contribute to an engaged employee are technology-related factors,such as access to information, tools that help them master their work, and support from the IT department.

Technology is so important to overall employee experience because it’s explicitly linked to what engages employees the most: the ability to make progress each and every day.

While pay, recognition and benefits are all important to employee experience, they’re not as important as productivity. Technology sits right at the heart of enabling daily productivity. I view this as good news for IT organizations because it elevates the importance of technology in business discussions and gives EUC leaders and their teams a platform to better participate in discussions that impact business outcomes.

There’s a healthy discussion about how AI could increase worker productivity through the use of virtual assistance. How else will employees interact with intelligent software?

Andrew: Intelligent software will significantly automate large portions of the computing experience. For example, according to Forrester’s estimates, the robotic process automation (RPA) market will grow to $2.1 billion by 2021. The technology will help employees reduce their daily volume of mundane work by automating high-volume tasks that require minimal decision-making; for example, things like copying and pasting between various systems, booking conference rooms and generating templated sales contracts.

For successful transformation of employee workflows using RPA, Forrester recommends the Rule of 5: Organizations should only apply RPA to tasks that have fewer than five decisions, fewer than five applications accessed, and fewer than 500 clicks total for successful completion. EUC leaders and their teams can use in-depth qualitative interviews with employees to determine which tasks fit this model.

Beyond SaaS and cloud-native applications, what role does cloud play in the evolution of the digital workplace? And how realistic is unified endpoint management (UEM) at this point?

Andrew: Besides the obvious benefits of location and device flexibility, cloud will also act as the primary engine for data analysis in service of productivity. Technologies like image recognition and natural language processing will all rely on cloud-based analysis of large data sets to provide accurate and productive experiences for employees.

While most organizations have not embraced cloud-based UEM, the technology has tremendous potential to free up IT resources. For example, cloud will enable automation of the initial PC provisioning process and lessen the need for traditional, on-site image creation and policy configuration.

So what’s getting in the way? From a technology perspective, unified management of physical devices is feasible, but it’s a significant manual undertaking. For example, consolidation of platforms requires migrations of policies over to a single platform, which can take months, especially if the organization has more than two device management platforms. (Most have at least four.) It’s also a cultural shift; many desktop technicians aren’t familiar with mobile device management APIs and aren’t willing to give up the customizability that Windows group policy objects provide. Forrester recommends starting small with UEM. Simply dropping an agent on a device and testing is a great way to start getting familiar with UEM, without sacrificing the capabilities that traditional client management tools provide.

How will the role of EUC administrators change as workforce experience becomes more important and management of devices and apps grows increasingly automated?

Andrew: The fundamental shift away from day-to-day management of devices will transform EUC admins into productivity analysts. They’ll increasingly rely on the influx of telemetry data to monitor, diagnose and improve end user experience.

Forrester already sees interest in end-user experience monitoring as a way to improve employee technology experience. Today, monitoring focuses on areas such as device health, app performance and network response. In the future, it’ll look at more complex indicators such as task completion and user sentiment. Not only will that change the day-to-day responsibilities of EUC admins, but it’ll also give them a platform to better engage with the business. Consider leveraging end-user experience data to inform overall EX metrics and investments, or using it to help internal and third-party product teams create apps and services that provide better employee experiences.

The conversation continues at “Five Trends Shaping The Future Of Enterprise Computing.”