Artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies are promising to help transform modern workplaces by guiding, organising and automating work to improve staff efficiency and productivity.
But are they delivering? Tech chiefs gathered in Sydney recently to discuss how they are creating better workspaces for their staff and the role that AI technologies are playing now and into the future. The lunch was sponsored by Citrix and Microsoft.
Attendees initially spoke about how they are trying to create a work environment that takes advantage of single log-ins for staff and access to all their Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications from any location.
Microsoft Australia national technology officer, Lee Hickin, says there is no question that when done right, enabling both single log-ins – in conjunction with flexible, contextual multi-factor authentication – can deliver a simple, easy-to-use and secure workplace.
“In addition, when combined with good endpoint security it enables organisations to implement smart working models – such as working from home – that empower their employees,” Hickin says.
“Organisations should consider some of the basic principles around security when designing a single sign-on and “authentication, authorisation and accounting” environment. This is because traditionally, security has been designed from the principle of securing the edges [network], so you need to consider the identity of your users as the primary security perimeter and centralise your identity management.
“Consistency and a single authoritative source of user identity will enable organisations to quick connect single sign-on subsystems to the core identity directory as well as revoke access when bad actors emerge.”
Hickin also recommends the use of modern multi-factor authentication solutions that enable organisations to adjust the level of security applied to access based on contextual factors such as user location, IP address, country, device, state and time. This approach ensures that users are not overly burdened with complex login processes, which reduces the take-up of such approaches.
The last point to consider, he says, is user training, education and enablement. It’s critical for any organisation to ensure users of the single sign-on solution are educated and aware of the solution and how to use it.
“Single sign-on solutions largely depend on either web or API-based referrers that if users are not expecting, can create undue concern or the appearance of being hacked.
“The simple principle of needing to go to an internal URL or location to be corrected redirected to the external service or site needs to be fully understood in terms that make sense to the user,” Hickin says.
Colliers International national director, technology solutions, project manager Kevin Burman, says his organisation has an intranet ‘hub’ page that is presented immediately after a user logs in either locally in the office or remotely via Citrix.
“The hub links to various core applications, most of which are single sign-on and require no further validation. Password resets are automated via a mobile application. Inevitably, there are some applications that still have their own independent user authentication. Examples include our credit card expense management system and timesheet entry system both of which have regulatory constraints that cannot be easily overcome.”
Facilities services organisation, Assetlink, is in a unique situation where it has more than 2500 frontline team members who are generally not technology-savvy and gaining system access is the single most frustrating thing that affects user experience, chief information officer, Hani Arab, says.
“While single sign-on providers are able to solve this, the cost is prohibitive due to the subscription-based cost model. We are currently developing a proof of concept to run an open source identity and access management solution, which I believe will provide single sign-on for all our applications.”
Staff productivity declining
Meanwhile, Citrix director, sales engineering A/NZ, Safi Obeidullah, suggests that while technology continues to advance, productivity is actually stagnant, or in some cases, actually declining.
“One of the reasons we see this is the complexity of corporate IT environments. Employees have too many passwords and different places to go to access their applications and data as well as too many different experiences when working from different locations or devices,” he says.
“The first step organisations should take to reduce complexity is to organise access to all the applications and files into a single unified workspace. This gives employees a simple way to access everything they need to be productive with a single login and a single, consistent experience regardless of the device or location.”
Key challenges in creating a future workplace
Colliers International’s Burman says his organisation manages the design and construction of workplaces for its clients with key drivers tending to be flexibility, collaboration and communication.
“We hear similar complaints from these organisations prior to moving from traditional offices to more agile environments – poor communication, constraints around the number of meeting rooms, inadequate video communication and expensive bandwidth,” he says.
“The budget allocated to technology is trending towards 50 per cent of total costs – that is a substantial change over the last 10 years. The challenge is spending money on the right technologies and integrating it with the corporate refresh cycles.”
Being able to design the employee user experience based on the role is what we are seeking to achieve, Assetlink’s Hani Arab says.
“Knowing the type and scope of roles and delivering access to all functions they require is key.”
Microsoft’s Hickin says in his experience, in almost all cases, changes to workplace environments fail due to three things, which often intersect and impact each other: culture, complexity and confidence.
Often, the excitement around the introduction of new technology and services leads organisations to focus too many on the toolset changing and not enough on the culture change that needs to go along with modernisation, he says.
“Lack of education, lack of empowerment and no engagement with the workforce during the change can create massive challenges to adoption. Modern workplaces enable users to be empowered to work on their own terms in different ways and with different tools but humans are largely creatures of habit and new habits need to be learned.”
Complexity or, more specifically, not fixing the complexity of existing systems before trying to implement new services, is also an issue, he says.
“For example, moving to a Cloud-based productivity platform such as Office 365 without addressing the network security model or existing islands of identity and access control.
“Any good workplace modernisation project should also include a rationalisation of core identity and access control systems as the end solution will have radically changed the operating model for IT services [moving from a ‘protect the edge’ to assumed breach model].
“This typically leads to a scenario where only parts of the business are able to fully modernize, which, in turn, creates new issues of internal conflict.”
Finally, building confidence is more of an issue in the culture and leadership of the organisation, Hickin says.
“Where there is not universal support across the business leaders, this can lead to a lack of confidence from the business in committing to the change and creates an uneven playing field for the rollout.
“In order to successfully modernise a workplace, you need leadership from the very top to be communicating the positive value. Each business unit also needs to be 100 per cent behind the change and building a culture of confidence in leading and owning the change,” he says.
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