Another week and another company conference where the underlying goal is clearly to claim a place as the platform of choice on which users can manage their future operations. This one though, Citrix Synergy in Atlanta, took the slightly different position of pitching the platform at the real end users – coal face clerical and office workers – and their needs rather than aiming at a more overtly technical target.
From the Citrix point of view this makes a good deal of sense. Having just celebrated its 30th anniversary, it now has one of the longest track records of providing tools for day-to-day business management. As was clear from the presentation of company CEO, David Henshall, the individual worker is still very much front and centre of the Citrix mindset:
We are approaching the Yottabyte era, and that is more data than anyone can really use, so how to uses it, make sense of it is the major goal. These tech disruptions are now resetting the way work is done, and people are still totally integral to the process.
There is a potential downside to this in as much as this concentration may mean Citrix misses out on the potential for new applications and use cases for VDI technologies, particularly in the areas of high performance, video-rich applications such as design tools and augmented reality, or the use of the technology as a basis of communication and collaboration between a wider set of applications and services.
The other side of that coin, however, is that Citrix is certainly the dominant player in the mainstream of enterprise VDI use – front-line business operations and management – and that sector is certainly not shrinking.
But there is a danger, as Henshall observed, of front line staff becoming increasingly disengaged with their work. He quoted a Gallup poll which suggested that up to 85% of workers were disengaged when they were at work which, he said, demonstrated that businesses are not treating staff as the asset they really are. He went on to speculate that this is occurring because many of them do not have the tools they require to, to not only do their job more effectively, but also use their skills and experience to develop their jobs and deliver more value:
There is a real shortage of talent now, and even the baby boomers are now starting to retire and take their knowledge and experience with them.
Stretching talent with tools
Finding ways round this are now frontline issues for every business, and he pointed to a developing opportunity for Citrix in using VDI tools to help businesses re-engage with workers who, for whatever reason, now find themselves at home but would welcome the opportunity to work from there. This is one way for businesses to re-connect with the tacit knowledge such people have and the value that knowledge can bring to a business.
The situation is also not being helped by the increasing levels of technology in use these days much of which, he suggested, risks making work more complicated, not easier:
It is like modern photocopiers: you are confronted by an array of buttons and functions, and all you want to do is to make a copy of a document. There is a need to bridge the gap between people and technology.
That gap has existed for decades, of course, and nothing has so far got close being successful. Henshall, however, has a growing belief that AI technologies may prove to be the answer. It now forms much of the underpinning to the radical overhaul and upgrade the company has made to it Workspace suite of tools.
Launched last year as a coming together and rebranding of much of its existing products lines, it has not only moved right away from being a collection of point products to an integrated environment covering the three areas of workspaces, networks and analytics. And since its appearance last year, it now incorporates analytics tools and their close associates, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), all under the banner of Intelligent Experience Workspace.
The goal is to build a work platform and then layer tools on top in a way that meets the challenge Henshall identifies as the major problem these days – that four out of five business leaders now believe that early impressions of new technologies sets the core opinion for the majority of their users for the long haul. Henshall said:
One problem is that there are too many apps for enterprise users to work with. Every two minutes staff are interrupted by something and it is reckoned to take up to 20 mins to get back to the point the interruption occurred. We are aiming to give workers back around one-day peer week.
Welcome the personalised unit of work
Much of this time saving, as well as the hope that the tools are easier and more logical in operation, according to Chief Product Officer P J Hough, comes through idea of distilling applications down the level where they come together as personalised units of work for each individual. This ends up creating services such as just-in-time notifications of work that needs to be done, recommendation engines, and the prioritisation of tasks suite to the areas of responsibility of that individual.
Because it is VDI it also means that the individual users can also get client device they want to use, up to and including the BYOD model.
Key to this approach is a set of connectors to some of the leading business applications that the company has developed. The acknowledges that this is by no means a complete set of business tools that users already work with, but is an initial `best guess’ at what the majority will most often use. Other connectors will inevitably follow but the company also plans to introduce a set of tools which will allow users to build their own connectors if needed.
The AI and ML capabilities will be used, in part at least, o create the task prioritisation process. The user interface of Workspace is already a list of tasks that are part of the individual user’s remit, but they tend to be listed in the order they come in. Now the AI and ML will monitor and track the way that individual worker operates, for example if tasks from specific sources or at specific times are handled first they will start to gain higher priority. Eventually, those tasks that are left can even be identified as not relevant.
They also contribute to managing security issues such as who is authenticated to use a particular device, how they use it, and why they are using it – for example, should they be using it at all. All this can be available as a set of policies.
The rules against which such user choices are then set set out what is best for the business and what is best for the collective of security, compliance, governance and best practice.
The company is also introducing Analytics for Performance – which is specifically aimed at analysing individual user performance against criteria such as the application used, and the performance of the network (including the telco-provided element). This is particularly intended for admins looking after applications deployment, and can identify which users/applications are working well, which are not, and what are the weakpoints. This operates equally well for both on-premise applications and those in the cloud.
The company got itself a new partnership with Google, which was therefore on-parade for the keynote. This will go beyond what Citrix already offers customers that already run on Google Cloud. This is planned to bring interoperability with Google’s Cloud Identity, which should allow seamless authentication of G Suite user credentials to access Citrix Workspace. This should provide a more secure and unified end-user experience. It will also add intelligent capabilities into G Suite. This way, employees can be automatically notified of, for example, events from their Google calendars.
The company’s long-standing partnership with Microsoft also on show, particularly as it had just been renewed and upgraded. Part of that upgrade is the introduction of a Citrix Managed Desktop service for Azure. This will help users connect to the closest Azure instance. Citrix HDX has also been optimised to work with Microsoft Teams.
Citrix is obviously much farther down the road than most of its contemporaries in developing out the notion of delivering platforms to users rather than just technology. And this year’s Synergy sees the company making some real strides forward in building a cohesive story. And given the time the company has devoted to building VDI-oriented business operations management tools, its core market seems keen on what they see.
There is just that tickle of a question: will that commitment to a specific marketplace blindside the company if VDI starts to push into new markets where Citrix is not a player, but which my over time form part of a greater Biz/Ops management sector?