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September 24, 2020
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Apple and the future of work

During the pandemic, we’ve learned that remote work can be productive and that multi-cloud, multi-platform deployments are very likely to form key components of the future enterprise. And we’ve learned that Apple’s products are good for business.

Cloud services for the people

Think about on-premises and off-site service provision: While it’s true that heavily regulated industries will keep key components of their enterprise stack on premises (or at least at highly secure server farms), they will still make use of cloud-based services for some of their implementation.

This trend to “XYZ as a service” is verifiable: IDC claims use of premise-based collaboration systems shrank from 65% to 45% between 2017 and 2020

It makes sense. It is, after all, much easier to provision new kit or new colleagues using remote management tools and Office 365 than it is to send someone from IT to a remote worker’s home, fully masked up and tested to be COVID-free.

Services provision is similar.

These days most businesses rely on services such as Teams, Zoom or Cisco WebEx for at least some of their collaborative needs.

Yes, the complexity is that these services aren’t necessarily available in every nation (a particular problem for multinational firms coalescing around a chosen platform), and that regulations around data protection and local data storage are not harmonized globally (look at Europe, China and Russia for three different approaches).

That’s a problem, but when it comes to resolving such problems, the trend favors services that can be accessed from multiple devices, multiple platforms – sometimes based on services from multiple cloud service providers.

Microsoft the wallflower

Microsoft already knows this; it has informed the company’s strategy since Satya Nadella took over as CEO. He pivoted his firm to focus on service provision and has extended (or is in the process of extending) such provision across multiple platforms.

Why? Because Nadella recognized that the days of Windows monoculture are behind us, and that today’s computer world is multi-platform and powered by the multiple clouds.

(Yes, there’s always been some form of cloud. But there’s a big difference between people chatting on IRC and AI-boosted industrial machinery requesting pre-emptive maintenance support.)

The enterprise environment has changed. In the last few months it has changed dramatically.

Nadella described recent events as generating, “two years’ of digital transformation in two months.”

Here are some stats that help illustrate what’s happening:

  • MIT says nearly half of workers are working from home;
  • Gartner says that by 2024, just 25% of enterprise meetings will take place in person, down from 60% pre-pandemic;
  • IDC predicts 60% of the U.S. workforce will be remote by 2024;
  • And, most importantly, around 60% of employers believe WFH is here to stay, at least some of the time.

What does this mean?

Work is changing. We are remote, teams collaborate digitally, and the centers of business activity have moved out of the office and into the home.

Employees have more agency than before. And while some companies may try to resist the trend, its global significance means they are playing a losing game. The best staff will migrate to the companies that offer them what they want and what they need.

Early on in the pandemic, most enterprises invested in software, tools and equipment to enable employees to work remotely. Existing desk-based telephony services were abandoned in favor of cloud-based alternatives capable of fast provisioning, and millions of not especially comfortable office chairs seem unlikely to be occupied for a while.

Work became collaborative and remote.

We saw more transformation in the way we work in a month than many had seen in years. The trend to digital accelerated, and most companies became remote first, rather than office-first in their approach.

Awareness across most industries grew that the lack of social interaction necessary in lockdown could be mitigated by encouraging employees to use the collaborative tools they use for work in a social way. Awareness also grew of the need to define time in such a way as workers continue to enjoy separation between their domestic and professional lives.

Within all this change, most companies saw that remote working practises delivered results. Employees enjoyed more time with their family and release from the deadly grind of the daily commute and exposure to the careerist politics that exist in every office.

Around 60% of enterprises now plan to maintain support for remote working moving forward, while a Jamf survey says organizations “feel” 30% more successful today than before the shift to remote work.

What next?

We’re moving inevitably toward an office-as-a-service model. Shared workplaces, colocation facilities and cutting edge ‘by the hour’ conferencing, meeting and project management office for rent models will become critical parts of future business.

Employee onboarding remains a challenge, but a combination of physical and digital interaction points will likely form part of the response – frankly, the situation absolutely supports Apple’s vision for Augmented Reality.

We know this is coming.

Princess Leia’s message to Obi Wan Kenobi is no longer a fantasy, just a work in progress – and don’t even get me started on Minority Report.

I’m willing to take a bet some readers may have memories that extend pre-pandemic. If that’s you, then you’ll already be aware that employees want to use the same tech at work as they do at home. They don’t want to live like the Jetsons (or R2D2) at home, only to try to get the best from an old abacus when they are at work.

iPhones, iPads and Macs are no longer maverick devices used by the creative people in design, they are in board rooms, offices, and in the hands of front-end staff.

The iPhone-driven move to BYOD means employee choice has become a human resources issue, and every Fortune 500 firm now uses at least one Apple product. (Frankly, the sooner Apple acquires Sage the better – if it really wants to accelerate this trend into the accounts department.)

So, what do we have?

We have a business environment in which COVID-19 has driven rapid digital transformation; we have entire enterprises now based on remote working; we have a mass movement toward multi-cloud and multi-platform strategies; and businesses everywhere can now better identify some of the problems with this brave new techno-world.

As I write this, Apple is about to announce the first of this year’s fall selection of new products, including Apple Watch and a new iPad Air. You might see little of enterprise value in the first (though watch out for those inevitable corporate employee health insurance plus Watch SE deals), while the second – an improvement on what is already a really excellent piece of kit – means many more enterprise tasks will become achievable on an affordable and yet powerful mobile device.

The new iPad Air seems likely to become an ideal second (or third) device for hundreds of millions of remote workers to get work done. And that’s even before we discuss 5G.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

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