In part 1 of this two-part blog series, I shared insights from analysts David Johnson and Andrew Hewitt from Forrester Research who joined me in the webinar, “Powering the Future of Work with Digital Workspaces.” Here, we pick up where that conversation left off and share the answers to the following key questions:

  1. How is a digital workspace going to transition the way we work in the future?
  2. What are the components that make up the digital workspace?
  3. How does an IT org get started with the transformation and where should it start?

As mentioned, David and Andrew joined me on a webinar, which is now available on-demand. The webinar will give you even more detail on digital workspaces and the future of work. Below are their responses to my workspace questions. Please feel free to submit your own questions—or answers—in the comments section below.

How is a digital workspace going to transition the way we work in the future?

Digital workspaces will have both short-term (zero to two years) and long-term (five-plus years) effects on the way we work. In both cases, innovations will center on improving the experience for end users and making it easier for them to accomplish business-critical tasks.

In the short term, employees will find self-service access to device enrollment, app catalogs, and training modules to be a standard offering among today’s digital workspace providers. As Office 365 gains traction in the enterprise, employees should expect to move seamlessly between mobile and desktop versions of Office applications and be able to store and share information through file sync and share tools with ease. These tools will be tailored to the individual’s working context and be accessible through one-touch biometric single sign-on. Forrester also expects digital workspace providers to allow employees to use more native tools on their devices and move away from intrusive dual personas that hurt user experience and stall productivity.

In the long term, digital workspaces will evolve in step with advances in cloud platforms and artificial intelligence. We expect to see cloud workspaces tailored for different industries and personas. In the longer term, services like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and IBM Watson could use AI to read and prep your email responses, requiring you to only approve the message before sending it. As digital workspaces grow, it’s not that big a leap to imagine integrations with virtual reality, as well, turning the workspace into a science fiction lookalike, complete with hand-swipeable dashboards, voice-to-text processing and recognition, and automated chat services that utilize big data to provide insights.

What are the components that make up the digital workspace?

Forrester has published a report entitled “Build Digital Workspace Delivery Systems To Give Employees The Right Tools For Their Job”, which categorizes the major technologies that make up the digital workspace. They are:

  • Server-hosted virtual desktops (VDI). A VDI solution virtualizes desktop environments in individual, self-contained instances (VMs) on data center servers, either in your own data center or hosted through a service provider. Each VM shares the resources of the servers and allows multiple users to access full Windows desktops at the same time from any device. VDI is well developed, but it does have some pitfalls, mainly high infrastructure costs, overall complexity, and the need for a strong network connection.
  • Desktop-as-a-service. DaaS is like VDI, except that the instances aren’t stored on your server, but rather in a public cloud. This technology enables pay-as-you-go access to virtual desktop instances with full multitenancy, enhanced security, and simplified management. It’s a great solution for bring your own device (BYOD), where you don’t have a complex, diverse portfolio of apps or you have a constant network connection. Although it is maturing, DaaS won’t give you the patch management, imaging, and configuration management capabilities of your current tool set, so plan on keeping those for now while you experiment with DaaS.
  • Remote desktops or session-hosted desktops. Rather than instances of desktop OSes running individually, as with VDI, remote desktop service sessions run in a single shared server operating system like Windows Server 2016. Look for the solutions that have broad device support, excellent user experience across a range of conditions and uses, and are compatible with your applications and network optimization technologies.
  • Remote PC access. Left the office, but need to accomplish a quick task that requires access to company resources? Look no further than remote PC access tools. These solutions allow you to use a Mac or PC to access your desktop at work. To be effective, they must be robust enough to handle the performance needs of your workers and function well over 4G/LTE networks.
  • Local virtual desktop. This technology stores a containerized instance on local PC hardware. It is particularly useful for supporting contractors because they can get access to the apps and data they need without having to put the PC on the corporate network. This technology also drastically improves manageability and allows administrators to deploy, update, wipe, and restore guest instances on demand. Make sure the technology runs on a well-proven client hypervisor and offers centrally managed security policies to avoid data leakage.
  • Application virtualization and layering. Infrastructure and operations (I&O) pros sometimes use this technology to create a better user experience with VDI use cases. It isolates applications from the underlying operating system and allows admins to stream applications from a centralized location to an isolated environment on the target device, where they execute locally, even while offline. When implementing this technology, it’s important to find vendors that can integrate with your VDI platform and also support your most challenging applications.
  • Mobile workspaces. Mobile workspaces (also sometimes known as application mobilizers) help to create simpler versions of desktop apps on mobile devices. For example, I&O pros could isolate a single function, say expense approval, from your expense application and create a native mobile version of that app with just that specific functionality. It’s a great way to solve a small mobile issue or pain points with employees without resorting to a heavier-weight solution, such as EMM, or building an entire app in-house.
  • Native applications as-a-service. Cloud service providers make this technology possible by hosting applications in the cloud. Initially, the app streams from the cloud to the end user’s device, but once the app starts downloading, the end user can execute the app locally and have full functionality even while offline. Be sure to choose vendors that can meet the performance, audit, and compliance requirements of your apps.
  • Enterprise mobility management. While EMM is not traditionally part of the digital workspace realm, in many ways it will become the foundation of the modern digital workspace since it is used to manage devices, applications, and data. With EMM providers beginning to offer more PC management capabilities, EMMs are becoming the glue that holds digital workspace initiatives together. While they typically don’t have as robust functions for patch management, group policies, or integrations with firewalls and antimalware, Forrester expects vendors to add these capabilities over time.

How does an IT org get started with the transformation and where should it start?

As a first step in the transformation journey, I&O departments should seek to understand the capabilities and drawbacks of all the technologies above. While it’s important to note which technologies correspond to certain use cases and working styles, knowing these technologies in depth can also help you identify areas in your workforce where a lighter-weight, less expensive solution could solve a systemic problem.

Secondly, interview employees or conduct a formal workforce technology assessment to figure out what particular pain points employees are having and whether one or more of the digital workspace technologies could provide a solution. For example, if employees across the organization are complaining that they need to come into the office to approve one expense report, an app mobilizer might work. Pay close attention to the top performers and what they’re missing, because they’re the ones who will bring the most value.

Next, you’ll want to understand the capabilities of your tech management organization. Do you have the skills and staffing to implement VDI, for example? Do you have the budget to implement EMM? Is security a high priority? Are you already hosting many apps in the cloud, making DaaS an attractive option? Make sure to reach out to members of the security, application development, and other teams to align priorities.

Finally, consider partners to help you along your journey. Many firms find it much easier to partner with an experienced integrator rather than develop technologies in-house. This can save you time and money while avoiding silos.

Hear directly from Forrester Research Analysts

Hear from Forrester Analysts David Johnson and Andrew Hewitt in the webinar Powering the Future of Work with Digital Workspaces, now available on-demand. We’ll cover their views on digital workspaces and walk you through Forrester’s research on this topic more in depth.

Watch the webinar on-demand