London 2012 – What does it mean for IT departments?

This summer’s games will see the capital’s transport infrastructure stretched to its limit. But with thousands choosing to work from home during the games, how will the enterprise’s IT infrastructure hold up? David Rosewell, head of mobile business solutions at Fujitsu, looks at what lessons might be learned.

Anyone who regularly commutes into London for work will, at least once, have by now asked themselves “how am I going to get to work during the games?”

Certainly, if the designated lane signs appearing on roadsides and comprehensive travel planning websites advising commuters to leave two hours early are anything to go by, it’s a safe assumption that going anywhere near Britain’s capital during the summer is going to be far more trouble than its worth.

Those that do make it in to work may be praised for their dedication to business continuity, but having left the house at 5am with a view to hopefully getting home before midnight, they are unlikely to be particularly happy or productive.

The conclusion for many companies will be to allow usually office-based workers to work from home. But truly successful agile working requires everything an employee needs to conduct his or her business – the data they need, the tools they use, the people they interact with – to be available without limitation, and without them feeling disadvantaged. And my conversations with customers looking at Fujitsu’s new Unified Workspace offering have revealed that while the majority have implemented some form of agile working methodology, many aren’t anywhere near ready for the mass home-working that this summer’s events will lead to.

Employees need a personalised point of access to the applications, data and communications tools they need to work flexibly and effectively, anywhere and on any device, via a secure environment. It’s no longer good enough to give your employees a Blackberry and hope they have the word processing and spread sheet tools they need on their home computers. Similarly, the copying of a project folder to a memory stick before leaving the office could easily result in a serious data breach if mislaid; only by implementing technology that enables IT departments to manage, lock down and wipe company data stored on an employee’s work laptop or personal device remotely can this be fully avoided.

However, catering for each individual as a separate entity is only part of the picture; the office itself is a social learning environment, and even if most of the day is spent quietly in front of a computer, the reassurance of being surrounded by peers, able to communicate if needed, should not be overlooked. A large proportion of business is conducted face to face, and from a management perspective it’s far easier to control a workforce that is physically around you rather than on the end of a phone or internet connection.

There are important HR considerations, also; before asking employees to work from home, businesses must consider the financial, logistical and health and safety issues it presents – not to mention trust. Technically, the employee’s environment must be assessed – from the chair they use to work from at home to whether the way they connect to the internet and corporate network is paid out of their own pocket – an ‘always on’ broadband connection is one thing, but some users may connect via 3G on a pay-as-you-go basis. From an even deeper health and safety point of view, the solitude of the lone worker is extremely important; sitting silently in an office full of people is a very different feeling to sitting silently on your own for a week, and employees who have never worked from home before may struggle with this disconnection – leading to a significant drop in productivity.

Ensuring, rather than assuming, that users have the ability to contact each other instantly and in a way that enables collaboration, then, is paramount; a phone call only offers a certain level of interaction. Being able to talk through or work on a presentation collaboratively in the same way two people sitting at one computer might do, or effortlessly initiate a video conference, requires a robust unified communications strategy, built from secure, reliable technology. Ten years ago the idea of delivering this agile infrastructure to a user at home was a pipe dream, even if the technology had been available within the enterprise. Now, though, even the most remotely located users will have high speed broadband and a laptop or tablet – be it their own or the company’s – capable of delivering the same infrastructure they are used to at work into their home.

Similarly, modern unified communications cannot simply stop at VoIP and call forwarding – it must integrate voice, voicemail, video, instant messaging and flexible collaboration tools if its users are expected to work as efficiently away from the office than they do in it.

All of this technology now exists – and with the games only a month away, the implementation of a robust unified communications infrastructure should arguably be absolute priority for CIOs and IT departments. Realistically, however, there will be many companies still relying on the Blackberry-and-Outlook Web Access approach come July; whether these businesses suffer as a result of a disenfranchised workforce that is unable to communicate and access the tools and data required to do its job remains to be seen. Whatever the outcome, tough lessons in what constitutes true business agility and continuity are likely to be learnt from the disruption.

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London 2012 – What does it mean for IT departments?
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