Dell: Apple needs to open up its secret proprietary garden -

Those famous allies, Intel and Dell, are working on a research project which they both hope will provide them with some more insight about where and how the workplace is evolving. The world has already seen a lot of changes in the last ten years alone, so what's next?

TechEye had a chat with Bryan Jones, executive director of marketing for public and large enterprise at Dell EMEA, and Ian Jones, enterprise sales director at Intel. We're told there is no relation.

Dell and Intel have commissioned a survey of 8,000 workers in independent fields related to IT who will feed back their findings to a panel of experts.  The Dell blog, here, outlines exactly what the report aims to achieve. The report isn't finished yet, but there are seven key points which have got Dintel curious. 

 

Choice and change

At first glance, they're dressed up in corporate speak, but both companies make tacit arguments about how the workplace is changing. First, the two want to figure out how to make crowdsourcing work in business. "Businesses are fascinated with the concept of crowdsourcing," Bryan Jones tells us. "But how do they then take that and apply that to their business? I think it's a perspective of a lot of business, they know what it is and they should be interested, but they're struggling with here it fits in." A Mechanical Turk is not only found on the Kingsland Road.

There are questions about how crowdsourcing fits in with the core of an IT department. "How do you build the right IT infrastructure to take advantage of these colonies of experts, as you bring them in?" Dell's Jones asks. Then there is crowdsourcing as a service. Or more specifically, he says, "how do you break up a concept, or development into  something that you can take advantage of that crowdsourcing capability? You spend a lot of money on your experts, your really smart people who are there for the innovation, but how can you free up their resources and time so they don't have to do the mundane stuff?" And that is what Intel and Dell want to figure out. 

To us, it seems that what Dell is implying is a working world in which, perhaps, it's not neccessary for the executives and the lab workers to file the paperwork and reports that bog down otherwise important research. For example, there is a Finnish company called Microtask which pays multiple people to fill in the smallest details of a form, cross checking the answers and using software to understand the correct response. In the end you have a complete document, in a similar way that Google's captcha project is digitising books while also providing security for websites and services.

Intel and Dell say another concept which has found itself under the looking glass is measuring worker productivity by output rather than hours. Is the nine-to-five job, which the world is so set in its way with, really necessary? "Do you need to go to the office, or can you get it done at the coffee shop, do you have to do it nine to five?" Dell's Jones asks. "How do you evaluate employees on a like for like basis from an HR perspective?" The landscape is changing and we don't need to be set in our ways. The output is what matters, not the timesheet. 

 

Devices in the workplace

TechEye recently talked to Good Technology, which has a new suite of products that IT managers can integrate to look at security on the app level. Any company which holds sensitive information is a potential customer, according to Good. The reason software like this is so crucial is because of the ebb and flow of new devices entering a working environment.

As Intel says, there is a change in adoption. According to Ian Jones: "Increasingly, what we're seeing is the choice of the device is situational - as a professional, I know you've got a laptop, and a smartphone, and a tablet, and you will choose those depending on your circumstance at the time." The same goes for other industries where the choice of devices varies, like in construction where rugged smartphones and tablets can be appropriate. "These devices are becoming more pervasive around the world," Jones says.

And with these pervasive devices comes the prospect of a global network, connected at all times.

Could that ready availability and constant connectivity lead to more work-related stress - and not less of it? It depends how a company plans to look at it.

Bryan Jones agrees there are questions to be asked. "That's part of what we're trying to understand. This whole concept of the adoption of the devices, measuring output, not hours. I think there is a cultural set of challenges with being always on and always connected. You need downtime to recharge your batteries and be at your best. We think there is a balance that has to be struck."

Intel's Ian Jones tows a similar line: "Giving individuals the freedom to choose is a massive benefit for an IT director to bring to a community. If you had to get something finished on the Friday evening, you had to stay late. Now you have the choice to do it in a different way."

But there "are pros and cons," according to Dell. "We're trying to get to how IT helps enable and address the challenges rather than make them worse."

Jones says as the generational change becomes more clear, the latest technology as part of the package is arguably as important as the company car once was 20 years ago. 

"We're spending a lot of time 'on'," said Dell's Bryan Jones. "The shift in responsibility is moving away from the domain of the employer to this shared responsibility of employer and employee. You have to help yourself, and be willing to be involved and accountable for yourself in a way that frankly wasn't there ten years ago."

With the changes in IT, it's clear that there needs to be a worldwide attitude change for companies to keep their head above the water. 

Of course, Dell's Bryan Jones says that, as a company involved in and familiar with the consumerisation of IT, you want to be able to open up and embrace it. "But you can't do it without having some level of control," he says. "Otherwise you have security concerns, accountability concerns, compliance issues." With that, the role of the IT manager needs a re-think, they must face up to how the changing face of technology fits  in and connects to the rest of the organisation. 

That is where the jack-of-all-trades future CIO comes in. CIOs will need to know more, be flexible and highly adaptable. "The CIO of the future is going to be the manager that has the internal stuff, all the way out to other stuff that is exclusively in the cloud and everything in between," Dell's Jones said. While the concepts "may be uncomfortable for today's IT executive to address, you're going to have to, to remain relevant and attract the right worker."   

Jones says that people pick their technology and then find appropriate uses for it, too. Good Technology told us about American soldiers on the battlefields in Iraq where soldiers were using iPhones to navigate and communicate. Jones agrees that when technology can be manipulated and used to an advantage, in certain security-critical situations it's very, very important to have the right infrastructure protection there. 

The soldier using an iPhone is a good example, Jones says: "If you think about the choice of the device, we see that a lot. That burden of making structure secure is something the IT manager is faced with, it has to be security at the app level, and making sure someone using the device is who they say they are." That's a significant change. The control is out of the hands of the employer. 

People are increasingly savvy with their own devices at home, which often offer a level of technology and usability a that blows the office computer out of the water.

TechEye asked about the difficulties in educating end users and the IT managers. As the generational gap shifts, so does the understanding of IT in the workplace. No example is as perfect as the public sector and, specifically, the NHS. The NHS is a huge organisation which also has offices around all of the United Kingdom. 

Although it is frowned upon, workers do bring their own devices to their jobs at the NHS. That's good, and bad, according to Intel. At the very least it suggests a shift in thinking. 

"The NHS is a tough customer that we [Intel] have had experience with," Ian Jones says. "People are starting to bring their own devices in, and using them, and goodness knows if they're secure. On the other hand, there are tablet projects which are secured through a smart card scheme, so they are clearly at a level of progression on both fronts. They are arguably the toughest customer to address because they're regional, trust by trust, but they - both managed and unmanaged - prove the change is happening there, and it's going to happen in other places as well."

Dell says there will be healthcare specific data in the report. What it wants to do is understand, and help other businesses understand - including in sensitive areas like healthcare, insurance, banking and the legal community - exactly how to handle their data. "How much of this can you put in the cloud, or should you put in the cloud," in Bryan Jones' words. "We're trying to get some more insight into this in the next round of research."

 

Locked-in, proprietary systems doomed? Dell thinks so

The future of the workforce will not be with a single vendor. Dell tells us: "They will not be proprietary and they will not be closed architectures. They will have to support multi vendor capabilities."

What, then, about the famously walled-garden that Apple has built around itself? "That should include Apple," according to Dell. "We look at solutions from Apple, HP, IBM, Oracle, and there has been a trend lately for closed architecture. We don't think long term that ever wins the race.

We believe you have to be able to support all of that. What you're essentially betting is that one provider is going to out-innovate the entire industry - the innovation will win out in the end."

"It can't be ONLY Apple, devices, it can't be ONLY Apple applications," Jones says. "The iPhone is being outshipped by Android, especially in emerging economies. And if you're going to deliver in a global sense, we believe long term, open and affordable absolutely delivers."