Feature: Remote working renovation

The ‘silly season’ is a very sensible time for IT departments to ensure they’ve nailed their remote working policies for what will be a very big year of BYO IT and mobile devices, Tim Lohman writes

As if the presence of iPads in every meeting and throughput the workplace wasn’t sign enough, the expected explosion of Android-based tablets in early 2012 means that now is well and truly the time to make sure your remote working policies and security are rock-solid.

With summer — and bushfire season — rapidly approaching, the need to ensure remote working is up to speed has extra importance when making sure business continuity and disaster recovery arrangements are up to scratch.

Here, experts offer their advice for making sure that remote working is no longer a byword for ‘security and networking nightmare’.

One size does not fit all

IBRS analyst, Joe Sweeney, says an important aspect of ensuring a proper remote working strategy is to recognise that there isn’t just one type of remote worker any more. In fact, there are at least three.

Sweeney says the first type, the ‘home worker’ is the traditional type of remote worker — someone literally working from home with the IT department effectively extended corporate applications and data into the home via a secure VPN.

In the past year or two with the falling price of mobile devices and mobile broadband, a second category, the properly ‘remote worker’, has emerged. This worker, Sweeney says, wants to be able to connect over unknown networks — often in different states or even countries — using unknown BYO devices.

“The struggle for IT departments is that they no longer control the network,” Sweeney says. “They can’t secret the corporate assets; the information, the processes through the network. They also lose control of the device itself, so then how do you manage the device? If you can’t manage the device then you can’t manage the security of the device. It completely throws out a lot of the rules around how IT departments have traditionally protected company assets.”

The third type of worker emerging, Sweeney says, is the casual worker — consultants, temps, outsourcers or any similar worker who needs transient access to the network and certain restricted business processes and applications.

“Technically, it’s a similar use case to the remote worker, but the real issues are around identity and providing services for those people, turning them off then providing them for someone else,” he says. “It is much more ad hoc.”

With an understanding of the types of remote workers in mind the next thing IT departments must contemplate is that there is no going back — chiefly because the era of the locked-down desktop is dead. In fact, Sweeney goes so far as to argue that organisations should not even be planning Windows 8 rollouts. Instead they should be focused on planning an application delivery model across any device across any network.

“Your days of siloed communications, siloed desktops, siloed applications have to go,” he says. “These disciplines have to be brought together, and that requires some restructuring among larger organisations.”

Next, Sweeney says, IT leaders must become advocates for new forms of process: Analysing the business, talking with it about what is possible, determining which processes are worth investing in, and most importantly, determining what parts of the business are now commoditised and should be moved out.

“So much of IT is being commoditised,” he says. “Email systems are no longer a competitive advantage. What isn’t commoditised are the specific work processes — this is where you get your competitive advantage.

“It is no longer what you work — the toys, the engineering — it is the processes you develop around them. Because of mobility, mobile workers, and people wanting to do things in the field, processes are changing dramatically.” After that: Change management. Fortunately, Sweeney says, the momentum of BYO IT and the consumerisation of IT often means change management happens by itself.

“I have rarely seen that in IT and business, but it is happening,” he says, “For example, we didn’t have to train people on email — they just took to it like ducks to water. The current generation of unified communications services the majority of deployments the uptake of the new tools has been very rapid.”

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