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Business Continuity Insights

I talked to 100+ customers in 2020. Here’s what I learned about their 2021 EUC plans.

Back in 2019, on my one-year anniversary of joining VMware, I wrote a blog post titled I talked to 160 customers in the past year about their EUC plans. Here’s what I learned. Back then, of course, I was flying around on planes and meeting these customers in person.

Like all of us, I’d assumed that 2020 would be pretty much like 2019 and 2018—that I would spend most of it flying around the world, meeting with customers, learning about their end-user computing plans and sharing VMware’s EUC strategy and vision.

Looking back, that’s actually pretty much what happened, except that it was all done via Zoom rather than in person. I ended up having conversations with folks from over 100 different customers, from all over the world. (I learned that midnight Zooms are fine, as are 5am, but I have to say “no” to the 2-4am slot. That one’s tough.)

2020 Themes

When 2020 opened, the big story was the January 14 end of support for Windows 7. Will we make it off Windows 7 in time, or will we have to pay for Windows 7 Extended Security Updates? When we move to Windows 10, should we manage it with our legacy tools or flip to a modern management framework like VMware Workspace ONE UEM? Should we pull Macs into the same environment, or continue to manage them in separate legacy third-party systems? Seriously, this was my sole focus of January and February 2020.

Like everyone else, once the pandemic became a global focus in March, my focus also pivoted to address the most pressing EUC questions of the moment. Shawn Bass (VMware EUC CTO) and I wrote a post called What to do if you suddenly have to support 80% of users working remotely? Two weeks later, I followed up with, Can BYOD help while working remote? In April, I wrote, What’s best for remote workers: VDI or VPN? Looking back at all three of these articles nine months later, they’re still relevant today.

The evolution of the blog posts we wrote in the first half of 2020 mirrors the end-user computing issues on customers’ minds at the time. No matter where in the world they are, no matter their size and no matter their industry, most customers had the same mental EUC journey, which went something like this:

  1. Get all the users out of the office, ASAP!
  2. Start to clean-up the hastily built remote working plans. Figure out what stays and what goes. Make adjustments as needed.
  3. Recognize that users will be scattered everywhere more-or-less forever, the way offices and travel are used is changed forever and that you’ll also need to address new issues, like remote onboarding and offboarding.

Throughout this process, I noticed several core themes that were similar across the customers I spoke with:

  • Users need to be able to work anywhere
  • Security is getting trickier
  • Flexibility is key
  • IT needs to enable end-user self-service and support
  • IT and HR need to work together
  • Use an “agile” / DevOps / Infrastructure as Code mindset for EUC

Let’s look at each of these with a bit more depth.

Users need to be able to work anywhere

This is so obvious that it’s almost not worth mentioning, but there are a few interesting observations we can make.

First, while some customers feel that the majority of their end users will work in offices again in the future, and others are doubling-down on remote-first, anyone-anywhere models, everyone agrees that regardless of the exact model you choose, and regardless of whether users mostly work in offices or mostly work somewhere else, every company is going to need to support some form of remote/anywhere work.

The specific technology and policy choices vary greatly. Some are ramping up their virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) estates, others are looking at VPNs. (Our own VMware SASE offerings are white hot at the moment.) Some are giving stipends for BYOD devices while others are just replacing corporate desktops with laptop+dock combos. Regardless of the “how”, the “what” is the same everywhere—we need to provide a way for employees to work from outside the office at a moment’s notice.

This can include simple policy changes, too. For example, one customer implemented a policy that required users to take their laptops home every night in case something unexpected happens.

Security is getting trickier

Since the events of 2020 caught everyone by surprise, back in March, everyone only cared about getting users up and running from remote locations ASAP. Unfortunately this meant that security took a back seat. ZDNet wrote in August, Working from home causes surge in security breaches, staff ‘oblivious’ to best practices.

Luckily most people were able to get the security of their end-user computing estates eventually straightened out to help eliminate EUC risks. After a short breather, everyone realized this was another example of the types of preparations that we need to plan for ahead of time, rather than in the middle of the chaos.

As the year progressed, my conversations evolved from VDI, VPNs and remote endpoint management to SASE, Carbon Black, cloud-based modern management, multi-factor authentication, client-device scans and all the other typical EUC security topics that just about everyone knows about but were never made a priority in the past.

Honestly while most people talked about whether EUC in 2020 was “The Year of VDI”, I’m thinking to myself, “Pfft, VDI is easy. The real EUC story of 2020 is ‘The Year of Modern EUC Security.’”

Need to enable end-user self-service and support

Anyone who’s talked a parent through getting on a Zoom call knows that foisting new ways of working on users who are not physically (or mentally) present is a challenge. Especially for companies who allowed for BYOD—which was almost all of us since new corporate laptops were hard to get in quantity for much of the year—we quickly realized that we’d need a user-friendly, quick and simple way to remotely support our users.

We also realized that we need to be able to assist our users regardless of the device type or platform they’re using, especially since so many users just used whatever they happened to have at home.

At VMware, we doubled down on the Workspace ONE Assist feature, allowing our customers to remotely connect, view, control, screen draw, etc. any device—Windows 10, macOS, iOS, or Android—all directly from the Workspace ONE console. This is built on top of the other ways that Workspace ONE users can manage themselves, including using the Workspace ONE Intelligent Hub to find new applications, create Helpdesk tickets, get support from intelligent digital assistants, and even to enroll, remove, or reset their corporate-managed devices.

Flexibility is key

Notice I don’t have a theme here about the cloud. To me, the real story of the cloud is the flexibility it gives. Not just in terms of pricing, but in terms of an operational model. Hypothetical totally made-up example: What if you have a VMware Horizon VDI environment for 1,000 users that you need to increase to 10,000 users in two days?

For some, EUC flexibility will be expressed by going “all in” to the public cloud. For others, it will be doubling-down on on-prem infrastructure (they don’t want to get the “sorry, cloud is full” error again), managed in a fungible way like the public cloud. And for others still, flexibility means a hybrid approach.

Regardless of the path you take, the takeaway everyone’s talking about is you need to have infrastructure flexibility to enable major strategic shifts with the snap of a finger.

IT and HR need to work together

As 2020 dragged on, it slowly dawned on us that this “working from anywhere except our office” posture we hastily adopted was going to be here for longer than we thought. After a few months, employees realized that their life and career plans couldn’t be put on hold indefinitely, and we started to see employees making career choices such as switching companies or where they live. (In fact, my VMware EUC colleagues Jack Madden and Ron Oglesby both joined VMware during the pandemic in 2020.)

Job changes such as these require interaction with HR, and the longer the pandemic continued, the more HR topics were added to the growing list of “things we have to figure out how to do remotely now” list. Since IT managed the umbilical cord of technology that connected the remote workers to the company, HR had to figure out how to deliver their services and user support in this way too.

In many ways, HR had a tougher job than IT. Sure, IT struggled with the initial roll-out and security of the distributed workforce, but at least IT had decades of experience supporting remote users in some way. HR, on the other hand, had to figure out how you deliver organization culture, values, motivation and human support to remote users.

Some of this was straightforward, like making sure that employees know how to access the various HR systems remotely, ensuring digital processes can replace wet ink signatures, and so on. But other topics, like ensuring mental wellbeing, helping isolated users feel connected and maintain productivity and supporting users who need to work full time while also becoming full time teachers and caregivers, were something that we all had to figure out together. In fact, as 2020 evolved, I realized that more of my conversations with customers were about HR topics and that I was speaking with HR folks—rather than IT pros or CIOs—more than I ever had. (Sidebar: Next week’s blog post from me will be, I spoke to 50+ HR professionals in 2020, here’s what I learned about their EUC plans.)

I’ll dive deeper into this next week, but the bottom line is that when it comes to EUC technology for a distributed workforce, HR is as much a part of that conversation and solution as IT.

Use an “agile” / DevOps / Infrastructure as Code mindset for EUC

I’m a huge believer in the power of DevOps or Infrastructure as Code (IaC) as a process of managing IT infrastructure. While these concepts evolved out of the software development world, they are quickly moving into the infrastructure management world (our world!) with tools like ChefPuppetSaltStack (acquired by VMware in September 2020), Terraform, etc.

There is not an exact straight line from agile development to IaC, but the concepts are similar. Rather than lots of planning with a single ultimate end release, instead focus on the many smaller steps and roll them out as you go.

The reason I mention this here is because the concept of agile development was embraced in a big way by IT folks managing EUC environments in 2020. If you think about the way that we operated prior to 2020, a project to “give all of the users the ability to work from anywhere” would have taken at least 18 months, and involved many teams, plans, tests, proofs of concept, deployment rings, etc.

Instead, we did that all in 2 days.

Did we have the perfect solution on day one? Of course not. But maybe 80% of our users were able to get up and running by the first week. At the end of the second week, we had 90% working, the following week was 95%, then 98%, and eventually, after a month or two, taking a step back, we could be proud of what we did.

Sure, there were issues we found along the way. (Security. New apps. New devices.) But we addressed those as they came up, and over a period of weeks and months we got them taken care of too.

By summer, most of the customers I talked to had a pretty good handle on their EUC environments, even though nothing they had done over the prior months was in their 2020 plans at the beginning of the year.

The takeaway from this is that the concept of agile development (make a small change, repeat) proved to be an overwhelming success in our EUC world. This will accelerate the evolution of agile / DevOps / IaC from a datacenter and server infrastructure management process into our world of IT.

Looking ahead to 2021

Even though it’s only January, most people have the feeling that the world will gradually shift their focus away from the pandemic and towards, “okay, now how do we live our lives moving forward?” A version of this also applies to IT. What did we learn? What do we want to codify? What do we want to do to be ready for what we think could happen next?

Many people have said that the pandemic of 2020 accelerated what was already in motion by five-to-ten years. (In EUC, this means things like VDI, SASE, remote collaboration and HR integration.) This is consistent with what I’m hearing from customers. They’re still thinking about digital transformation, working from anywhere, providing a great employee experience, enabling user choice, replacing legacy PCLM tools with modern ones and integrating security from the start.

If there’s any takeaway from 2020 as it relates to EUC, it’s that we’ve proven the concept that an evolved manner and definition of “work” is possible. In 2021, we get to go out and build it!