On top of the tools: looking towards a new era in device management

Co-authored by John Kelly, Owner and CEO at Eighty20 Solutions.

As tools of the trade go, our workforce has a pretty heavy reliance on devices. In their typical fairy godmother style, Microsoft have worked their magic on the whole concept of device management for a pandemic workforce as well as the tools that support a fit-for-purpose solution. We take a look at what this means for organisations, from a cost, security and experience perspective.

2020 delivered the ultimate curve ball for every business unit in every organisation around the globe. Arguably, IT and HR were the teams that copped the brunt in the first instance and it’s fair to say they’ve been reeling ever since. And as functions that don’t generate their own income, they’re used to having to deliver more bang for buck than some other customer-facing business units.

While the initial scramble of getting employees technologically and ergonomically fit to work from home might have involved the writing of blank CFO cheques to IT teams, the cost constraints came roaring back in no time. In some instances, they’re even tighter than before, as the savings from workplace technologies become ever more promising and expected. But the more widespread technology use becomes – in every walk of life – there is even greater potential for data to be at risk, particularly with the threat of ransomware and all manner of cyber security breaches.

On the software side of things, we’re no strangers to the cloud as the ideal solution for flexibility, security and cost-savings for a workforce that’s moved to remote-work almost overnight. But as we see the en masse migration of code in the form of data and knowledge, tools and apps from data centres to cloud solution providers, there is still an immense hardware challenge for organisations to manage. Until we can make a direct connection to the cloud from our minds – watch this space sci-fi fans – workers of all stripes need devices to access all these lines of code that allow them to do their part for organisational, and economic, output.

IT organizations that weathered the early stages of the crisis the best were those that had already invested in processes and tools that were location agnostic and had removed the physical handling of devices from the device lifecycle supply chain. Having designed for “edge” cases and assumed that every user is always remote, they were easily able to continue to deliver service to end-users, without the need for either themselves, or those they supported, to be in a corporate location.

Accenture, Device lifecycle management and the modern workplace, 4 December 2020


A smarter answer on cost alone

Since the pandemic, ensuring the devices employees need are both available and compliant has become a very different challenge compared with a time when the vast majority of knowledge workers were office bound on a daily basis. But even before then, device management was generally very costly and cumbersome. Making sure all end users have the latest versions of apps can be tedious, drawn out and demanding for IT teams to roll out. Then the Intune capability from Microsoft comes along and it’s like a dream come true for application management across devices, whether they’re corporate or BYOD.

One of the key components of Microsoft’s Modern Management strategy for provisioning, securing and customising devices or ‘endpoints’, InTune can make child’s play of the lengthy patches and upgrades IT teams would have laboriously delivered using Configuration Manager. The application management features InTune delivers can massively reduce IT spend on timely application upgrades across all devices, whether Apple or PC, iPhone or Android. This realises even greater value for the organisation as employees boost their productivity with access to the very latest in tools and functions available from their software inventory.

91% of companies lowered their device management costs after switching to Intune according to Brad Anderson at Microsoft Ignite, 2020. They also saw an 18% decrease in device management admin time. IT teams can thus work on innovation instead of keeping the lights on.

IT Brief Australia, MDM in 2021, 8 March 2021

Raising the stakes for device compliance

With frontline employees more reliant than ever on mobile devices to enhance both safety and efficiency to meet the demands of a pandemic world, the appeal of the Modern Management strategy extends beyond the needs of the remote and hybrid workforce and their desktops and laptops. When a suite of device management tools and functions can effectively handle a whole gamut of security issues presented by these many types of endpoints in an organisation, we start to see just how valuable this bundle is as part of a robust data and cyber security framework. “This is why we’re seeing Modern Management becoming a must have on the corporate agenda,” says Andre Herbst, Account Director at Eighty20. “Boards are now highly aware of the many risks associated with devices that are not adequately secured. A cost-effective solution they can trust to tick the box for compliance is looking pretty compelling right now.”   

Intune works alongside Azure and Endpoint to offer a compelling package for taking care of device security, as well keeping apps bang up-to-date. For protecting data on a lost or stolen device to ensuring tablets have the right applications and settings to keep data secure when in the right hands, this is a solution that’s got everything covered. Compliance policies for users, device types and applications can be managed centrally and around the clock, giving employees flexibility to use their own device for work purposes without compromising organisational data. Whether that data is held in the cloud or on premises, access to it from any end point can be managed based on either standard organisation-wide policies or policies as applied to particular roles or business units.

Of course, this doesn’t mean organisations can jettison their other security tooling and let Microsoft take care of everything. But for any employer with hundreds of unmanaged devices to round up, register and make secure and compliant, the Azure, Intune, Endpoint combo makes something daunting seem comparatively easy. Getting the C-suite on board with these cyber risk benefits is straightforward with the reassuring proof of security investment from Microsoft. For end users and IT team members, it’s an approach that demands far less of them than all the rigmarole they’ve come to expect when configuring devices to meet both unique user profiles and stringent security requirements.

The modern enterprise has an incredible diversity of endpoints accessing their data. This creates a massive attack surface, and as a result, endpoints can easily become the weakest link in your Zero Trust security strategy. Whether a device is a personally owned BYOD device or a corporate-owned and fully managed device, we want to have visibility into the endpoints accessing our network, and ensure we’re only allowing healthy and compliant devices to access corporate resources. Likewise, we are concerned about the health and trustworthiness of mobile and desktop apps that run on those endpoints.

Microsoft, Zero Trust Deployment Guide for devices, 26 May 2020

The must-have for the workplace of choice

In making the case for taking device management to the next level, cyber security is a pretty convincing argument. When you consider that 81% of executives say COVID-19 forced organisations to bypass cybersecurity processes, it’s easy to see how secure device management could be high on the wish list of CISOs and the boards they report to. But if cyberattacks are up there with COVID as one of the greatest threats to the modern organisation, the Great Resignation we’re seeing in 2021 could be the other. Voices in the business world, from LinkedIn to Gartner have been speaking up about a spike in employee turnover fuelled by the pandemic and adoption of hybrid work. And according to surveys from Microsoft and Adobe, it’s our up and coming Gen Z workforce who are most likely to have one foot out the door with their current employer.

According to our recent study, "Technology and the Evolving World of Work," nearly half (44%) of global respondents feel their company doesn't have the technological resources they need to work effectively. As employees adapt to a blended remote and in-office work experience, businesses must also adjust their IT solutions for employees. Meeting the demands of such a modern workplace requires companies to provide the latest devices, software and services in order to keep employees connected, secure and productive.

Forbes, Gianfranco Lanci, Lenovo Corporate President and COO, 27 October 2020

This highlights the potential of a better device management program to be branded internally on the basis of employee experience. If next gen workers have more choice in the device they use and access to the latest version of tech tools to make working life easier and more engaging, this could help organisations reduce their risk of talent turnover. Add in custom Power Platform enabled applications to digitise paper based and routine tasks and you’re delivering the kind of technology experience employees now expect in a pandemic and cloud-driven world.      

A transition-friendly approach

While this future state for device management presents as highly desirable, there are a lot of organisations still grappling with the challenges of exiting data centres and other legacy infrastructure. To these leaders, getting on board with modern device management might seem like putting the cart before the horse. Plus there are also the challenges of patchy network connectivity to contend with. After all, not all endpoints – in offices, the field or the home – have access to bandwidth that supports seamless, centrally managed Intune compliance and updates.

But the beauty of this solution is that it can work hand-in-hand with the many different scenarios, organisations are dealing with now, as they work on divesting themselves of infrastructure at a manageable pace. It represents a stepping stone solution that can actually prove the cost, experience and security benefits of reducing real estate footprint. It’s also going to support a hybrid workforce and talent across all generations to work efficiently, from onboarding and right through the employment lifecycle.

While Eighty20 pride ourselves on having a detailed understanding of the functional and business benefits of a solution like modern device management, everything we do comes back to the human element. And that’s why we see introduction of any Microsoft solution we provide as a complex change journey where we couple implementation with a detailed understanding of how to improve on user experience throughout. This helps our clients harness the best of technology to achieve the best outcomes for the people who use it, driving success for humans and the organisations they work for.

To start exploring what a refresh of device management could do for your organisation, get in touch.