While Dominic Orr, the president of Aruba Networks, had much of interest to say during his keynote address at Aruba Network’s Atmosphere 2016 conference, it quickly became apparent during a one on one interview that his breadth of knowledge and understanding of the technology industry would make for a fascinating discussion. Making it even more so, was that the primary topic centred on the digital workplace and GenMobile.
The first point clarified by Orr is the role notebooks, tablets and Wi-Fi have played in enabling a truly mobile environment. He explained that when Wi-Fi was first introduced in the workplace it was primarily intended to support notebooks. “Insofar as the notebook was concerned, most people considered its place on the desk, and only occasionally to be taken away to the conference room. In that model it is still a very desk bound environment, not in my opinion a mobile environment. It is a cordless environment, and there is a difference between cordless and mobile,” he elaborated.
This changed though in 2010, with the introduction of the iPad, which Orr noted forced the industry to adopt Wi-Fi, as suddenly, there was nothing to plug in, prompting a shift from seeing wireless as a supplementary connection to a primary one.
The second shift which prompted Wi-Fi becoming more widespread in the enterprise environment was when servers started moving to the cloud. Orr pointed out that, with resources deployed to and accessed via the cloud, there is no way to physically plug into them.
“You have to get access somewhere, and most of the time when it comes to accessing resources in the cloud, people want access to them 24/7, not just nine to five,” he continued. It was this demand for constant availability, 24 hours a day and seven days a week, that pushed mobility forward further. These two developments didn’t stand alone. The third influence came from the trend of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD).
Orr explained that the moment the enterprise started shifting its interface from the Windows like environment on the desktop to other operating systems, including iOS, Android or even Windows Mobile, suddenly users’ preference came into play, with people wanting to choose their own device that meets their needs.
Furthermore, simply supporting one of these devices solely for business use wasn’t enough. Doing so left employees having to carry two of each of their mobile devices, one relegated to work and another for their personal use, which quickly became cumbersome. This spurred on the issue of mobile device management, which aimed to segment one’s device between personal and corporate data. It also added a level of peace of mind to enterprises; should their employee lose their device or have it stolen, a segment of the device which contained work and sensitive data could be remotely wiped while leaving the employee’s personal data, such as contacts, pictures and messages, alone.
However, BYOD, which spurred on the growth of mobility, wasn’t sourced in IT desiring to support it, but rather motivated by a pragmatic and cost effective consideration.
“In the last few years, when companies saw their IT budgets shrinking, there was a realisation from the business that it could actually save millions of dollars by not buying PCs that people don’t use and this saving could instead be redirected into something that is beneficial for the business,” he elaborated.
A polar shift
All this seems to have set the stage for a digital workforce, bringing the idea of working anywhere at anytime, unchained from the desk or a dedicated office, out of the shadows. At the same time it pushed the importance of wireless connectivity to the fore. Adding impetus to this movement was pressure from the top, with CIOs, CEOs and CFOs demanding IT support their latest device.
Also changing is the approach to users themselves. Orr explained that in the traditional IT workflow, the technology users ultimately had was defined by the team responsible for its architecture. Thus, ultimately technology was conceived in a top down approach, with users having little say in the matter.
This dynamic has flipped completely with the emergence of mobile first and the introduction of GenMobile workforce, with IT itself being driven by the end needs of the customer, rather than the capabilities of the developers. The company defined GenMobile as users who were first adopters of new technology, regardless of their age.
Orr believes that this is due in part to the fact that in the 21st century, people have increasingly been exposed to technology, with GenMobile’s introduction to IT coming from the consumer experience, rather than the corporate environment. He asserts that from the interface point of view, one can argue in the last 7 to 8 years, technology is more advanced in a consumer space than often found in an enterprise environment.
“When employees come to work, they don’t want to have to feel like they are downgrading from the intuitive experience they enjoy in their home,” he noted.
The heart of the matter
Perhaps though the most striking aspect of this shift is how it has catalysed the blurring of boundaries between life and work, with Orr explaining that this is really the crux of the digital workplace.
“I believe people are most productive when they are interested in their work and they are given the responsibility to solve problems and they can collaborate, because difficult problems are normally not solved by one individual. Thus, the whole idea of the digital workplace is to empower individuals and make them able to communicate and you let them make decisions faster,” he continued.
Moreover, Orr pointed out that the other fundamental change enabled by the digital workplace is shift the concept from time share to mind share. He elaborated that it used to be in the old workplace employees would clock in and clock out, and after leaving the workplace, would try stop thinking about their work.
With a smile, he noted that just because you are inside an office or cubicle doesn’t mean that you are automatically at your most creative or doing your best thinking, nor does it mean that that work issues suddenly vanish when you step outside your office building. For creative, inspired individuals, this scenario seems absurd. “I don’t think Picasso said: ‘Oh, it is 5.30 now, so time to stop painting’,” he laughed.
Rather, Orr stressed, an employer should believe they get the best out of an employee when they are thinking about the business problem anywhere, anytime and it doesn’t need for them to be sitting at a desk. “In fact, ultimately companies derive a great deal more value by having inspired employees working around the clock in their mind,” he concluded.
Clearly, the vision of work that Orr painted, both during our interview and the course of the event, was a very different one that has tinged by a struggle and slog mentality. His view seemed to include workers who are constantly pushing the boundaries of their own potential and creativity, all enabled by technology.