One of the latest phrases in the world of techie buzz-speak is the “Digital Workspace.” But what, exactly, does it mean? Is it just a desktop? A virtual personal desktop? Must it reside in the Cloud? Does it need to have other features? Is it available for any device?
As a marketer, I think a lot about how we should define technologies so we can characterize who they’re for, what problems they solve, what capabilities they provide, and what opportunities they open up. With respect to workspaces, I focus most of my time on just these questions. In a blog post — Just What is a Workspace? — author Jack Madden asks the general question, but doesn’t quite describe specific properties. I’ve also recently made reference to how desktops and apps are evolving away from the desktop and into workspaces in a blog post: The New Way We’ll Start Our Digital Day.
Before I get into specific characteristics of a “Digital Workspace,” I want to offer analogies about how to think about them… and where the industry might be headed:
Workspace analogy #1 – The evolution of how we watch TV
Initially, we had either broadcast TV, or a simple VCR. This was your “Video Space” – you had control over your own video source and your own video receiver (at the time, a CRT TV). Things evolved to using a DVR (my favorite is TiVo) that provided you with broader control over your “Digital Home Entertainment Space” including connecting with – and even recording – multiple video sources you could then delivery on-demand.
Most recently, the model can best be described by AppleTV, where you use a single, simple video hub that connects you with multiple video sources, aggregates them, manages your identity with them, and provides you with a custom on-demand “video space” delivered onto any video device. This notion of a “video space” is relatively unique to you (not to the device), and even embraces a degree of “context” in that it sometimes anticipates what types of shows you might be interested in viewing next.
Workspace Analogy #2 – How we manage digital data
This may be a little bit of a stretch, but let’s look at the evolving way enterprises have been managing and aggregating data and its sources. The evolution started with local data storage on a local hard drive; this was your simple “data space”, and you had complete control of it. We evolved to network-based storage, and even included a cloud-based storage model, where you still had your own “data space,” but it could live elsewhere on the network, or even in the cloud. It was still yours and wholly dedicated to you.
We’re now at a point where you can subscribe to a personal data hub (Citrix ShareFile is a good example), that creates a “Data Space” all your own. It aggregates both local and cloud-based data sources, and makes them transparently available to any/all network devices you use. But what’s interesting is that it’s also context-aware: Some devices sync data in entirety, and others preferentially (based on security, storage, etc.). And even better, the hub can be “stateful” to you – it can control workflows you create between data sources as well as how you share data (say, a document) between yourself and others. This “data space” is rapidly being adopted to manage the data sprawl from which we’re all suffering.
The final illustration: The evolution of the digital workspace
Finally, let’s look at how the notion of the “Digital Workspace” has evolved, some of which I blogged about earlier. The “workspace” that most of us are familiar with is our desktop. It contains documents, data, email, and basic communications (e.g. email) that we use (note: this model hasn’t significantly changed in roughly 30 years!). However, it’s recently been evolving because of the advent of browser-based apps and cloud-based data sharing. We now find ourselves spending more time using these web apps than using the local apps on our personal device. This is what I call the “disaggregation of the desktop.”
The most recent phase of evolution of the disaggregated workspace is where all aspects of our interaction – even the desktop itself, as well as productivity apps – are all web- and cloud-based, and the need for the desktop itself is superfluous. Instead, we will work within a new kind of “workspace hub.” This hub unifies workspace service, deliver them to us in a contextual manner (e.g. based on the device we’re using, the workflows we’re engaged in, etc.) and secures them all in a consistent manner (e.g. with single-sign-on, and with consistent security regardless of device or connection type).
One of the most important aspects of this new workspace is that it’s now virtual — it’s tied to YOU and not to your device (remember that laptop?). This means wherever you are, whatever device you’re using (even something borrowed), you can be assured of securely accessing all of the resources and data you need…. even “stateful” apps and workflows will be available.
Defining a Digital Workspace
I’ll leave some of the specifics to my next blog. But it’s clear that new form of digital workspace will be a hub, with the following properties:
- Aggregating and on-boarding services (apps, data, etc.) generated from any location or from any provider
- Assembling services into contextual user-centric workspaces, according to policy and workflows that each worker needs
- Securing the entire workspace delivery pipeline, from service generation, to the network, to end-point devices
- Delivering a consistent, contextual, user-centric experience – adapting the app experience to the network conditions and to the device (small screens, keyboards, touchscreen tablets, etc.) regardless of how the original app was developed.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where I’ll dive more deeply into specific properties and functionalities.
In the meantime, please let me know your thoughts!