One of the lessons that pandemic has taught us is that most people can be just as, if not more productive when working from home. I truly believe that most organizations are going to come out of this with an approach that is going to result in an increased acceptance of remote workforce culture. I recently came across an interesting article by the Kung Group that surveyed 500 company founders on this topic. The results showed that 70% stated that when their offices reopen, they will continue to allow some, if not all their employees to continue to work remotely.
For better or worse, the days of being required to work out of the corporate offices are gone. This then begs the question – how does an organization provision, image, deploy, and support devices in an environment where walking up to the office tech-bar, or calling a technician for desk-side support may not be an option any longer?
The benefits of working from anywhere can only be realized if your employees are reliably up and running with the correct tools and proper infrastructure. That means a schedule of regular device maintenance such as patching and software updates needs to be maintained for everyone in the organization, regardless of their location. This puts the onus on IT to provide an in-office level of support to a workforce that is no longer all working under the same roof.
A distributed workforce also creates new, and potentially more significant, security challenges. When everyone was working out of the office with corporate-issued devices, security was simpler. But how does an organization keep infrastructure and data secure when people are using work devices on their home networks?
The answer lies in inconsistency, and ultimately, automation.
Consistent, seamless end-user experience
When every device is everywhere, providing a consistent, secure, and updated device is not a simple task. To achieve it, your ability to monitor, react, and deliver has to be excellent and process-driven. There really is no way to deliver that kind of bullet-proof experience without automation… or an army of individuals ready to leap. As most of us don’t have an army at our disposal, tools, and automation are our best bet.
The solution needs to be a collection of technologies set-up to be able to pre-configure, reset, re-purpose, and recover devices, getting them ready for productive use. To date, Microsoft’s Autopilot is the best tool we’ve come across that can truly deliver. It helps that it was designed by Microsoft – who has made it their mission in recent years to achieve the best possible experience they can. Autopilot is a Windows 10 zero-touch deployment program that simplifies the device life-cycle management from initial provisioning through to device retirement. It’s a modern device management approach that enables a higher degree of efficiency, lowered cost, and reduces the need for physical touch. When developing Autopilot, Microsoft focused on end-user experience and it shows.
The beauty of Autopilot lies in its ability to give a staff member that personal-touch experience - without the usual level of human intervention. Imagine shipping a new or replacement device directly to a member of your team without first adding a specific image build or preparing the device. Once the new device is unboxed, signed on to the local Wi-Fi, and logged-in with personal, corporate credentials, software and configuration packages are automatically downloaded without the need for further user intervention. Previously, each device would require any custom imaging to be prepared by IT, and once the device was in the hands of its new owner - the routine of back up, restore and then re-customizing the device would take place. All necessitating significant time from both end-user and IT.
Since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, we’ve been experimenting with how we can deliver the best possible experience for an at-home audience, effectively. Suddenly our customer base has gone from hundreds of individuals in a few offices, to hundreds of individuals in hundreds of homes. We’ve found that by leveraging Autotune, and combining that with the customization capabilities embedded in Microsoft Intune, we are able to deliver a zero-touch deployment service that delivers personalized, ready-to-work devices to each individual in the comfort of their home office – no on-site technical support required. We’ve created a service around it that adds headsets, user guides, and extra goodies, but you can gain many of the same benefits yourself through these tools.
One school board’s experience
In the summer of 2019, the District School Board of Niagara decided every student in the district would receive a brand-new laptop to begin the school year. That meant 3,000 new devices would require individual image requirements and user-specific provisioning – in under 3 months.
Given the tight timeline, it was a perfect scenario to engage a zero-touch deployment model employing both Intune and Autopilot – and Compugen worked with DSBN to leverage both. The project was a success - not only was DSBN able to complete the device roll-out on time, they also lowered their deployment costs of $70-80 / device to under $30 per device.
As the business climate changes, we’ll need to continue to adapt. The good news is that there are tools out there to help. In my mind, there is no question that automation and process form a critical part of our future in IT if we want to continue to provide the level of service our teams have come to expect. If you’re working through how to manage your devices or the services you provide, we’d be happy to offer insight – or answer questions. Reach out and we can chat. Until then – be well and stay safe!