In my 25 years of providing IT support to remote workers, I’ve seen industry trends come and go. For example, in the early 1990s (pre-Internet), remote IT support included running second phone lines, installing modems in desktop PCs, and educating users on baud rates and handshaking protocols. Our company hosted a private dial-in bulletin board system for file sharing and we used floppy disks and Zip drives for storage. Today, remote support includes Internet router setup and providing remote file storage in this thing called the Cloud!
But what does the future hold for remote IT support and mobile workers? Here are six workforce and IT trends to consider when planning for the future.
Trend #1: The Move to Mobility
According to Statista.com, annual worldwide PC sales will ride a steady decline from 157 million units in 2010 to a projected 94.6 million units in 2020. Sales of the more mobile tablet, on the other hand, are projected to jump from 19 million units in 2010 to 185 million in 2020. The ultimate mobile workplace device – the smartphone – will leap from 304.7 million units sold in 2010 to 1,710.3 million in 2020. Clearly, the future of IT devices is toward smaller and more mobile devices. But this trend comes with some challenges.
Mobile devices are always connected to the Cloud and come along with all the features and IT support fears that go along with the Cloud. Also, the lightweight user has a small equipment footprint and is not tied to a fixed desk with a fixed PC and a fixed network cable drop. Cubicles and offices are being replaced by smaller touchdown stations. The users’ phone numbers, network connections, and printer connections all travel with them regardless of their location. This adds yet another geographical dimension to IT support. You will hear complaints like, “My apps work when I’m on the 3rd floor but not on the 1st floor.” Or, “I can print when I’m at the main office but not when I work from home.” Or even, “I can only access our time-tracking system when I exit the VPN tunneling software.” Workplace mobility adds great opportunity but requires planning and new IT support approaches.
Trend #2: The Consumerization of IT
The consumerization of IT is a broad trend that impacts all aspects of corporate IT and support. With software tools and apps, consumerization means that corporate tools need to emulate their consumer counterparts. Think smartphone ease-of-use, ease-of-maintenance, and ease-of-upgrading – in addition to maximum functionality – for your company spreadsheets, word processing, and in-house corporate applications. Future corporate applications will need to monitor failures across the system, and analyze and fix them for everyone, even before they become a problem for most users. Employees want and expect the self-healing and self-aware features of consumer apps and systems in their corporate environment. Similarly, proactive support will need to send notifications to corporate users with fixes before errors occur. Virtual assistants and chatbots (computer support programs that hold text or voice conversations with users) are growing rapidly in the consumer world and will, no doubt, become a force in corporate IT support.
Trend #3: BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)
Another growing trend across corporate America is employees accessing corporate data with personal devices. They are comfortable and experienced with their own tablet and smartphone. They have invested money and time in personalizing the tools and apps and learning the features of their devices. These employees want to build on their own devices for work as well. The benefits to your company include both increased productivity and reduced costs. The personal devices are often newer and more advanced than those controlled and deployed by your IT department. However, allowing BYODs introduces challenges in both IT support and data security. Set policies that are beneficial for your employees but that do not make you their personal device fixer. If a user’s Instagram quits working, that’s on his time and his dime.
Trend #4: IT-enabled Self-Service
IT-enabled self-service allows users to access information and perform tasks without a live support person. It is typically faster than queuing up for live support. Your employees are becoming more familiar and more accepting of this form of support through their own consumer experiences. These support programs appear in several forms. Web self-service sites let users query a knowledge base over the Internet. We’re all familiar with interactive voice response systems to perform a task like activating a credit card. Support-specific apps now support tasks (like transferring funds between bank accounts) that required human interface not long ago. Kiosks at airports allow us to check in for our flights without queuing up for an airline representative. And the self-checkout line at the grocery store allows us to scan and swipe – and get in and out of the store quickly. Soon, employees will expect this type of efficient experience with their corporate interactions as well. The IT department will always be behind it, but your self-service apps will become the face of your organization.
Trend #5: Popularity of Purpose-built Apps
Back when computers first took over the business of helping run a business, tasks were written on general purpose software to do many different things. For instance, we would use a spreadsheet program for accounting, of course. But a spreadsheet was also used for inventory, invoicing, and data storage, to name a few.
Today, users are fascinated with apps built for one purpose only, although the purpose might actually be broader than a single task. For example, my company uses Slack for team communications. It ties together instant messaging, file sharing, video support, status board, archiving, and other features that previously required separate programs for each feature. Similarly, for many tasks, the general purpose Internet browser has been replaced by single purpose apps. For example, to move funds between bank accounts, you could open a browser, navigate to your bank’s website, log in, navigate to the Transfer page, fill out the From and To account information, click Submit, and wait for a confirmation page to confirm the transfer. Or, you can open your bank’s purpose-built app on your smartphone, select an account and amount, and drag it to another account. Done. Corporate time-accounting, benefits management, and nearly all other corporate systems will surely move in this direction.
Which leads to the most significant future change in corporate IT support…
Trend #6: User Experience Trumps Technology
Forever, corporate IT support groups have governed, even dictated, the equipment, software, platforms and networks that all employees needed to follow to gain access to the company systems. Rules were set.
- “You must use a PC in a Windows environment.”
- “No Macs allowed.”
- “You may only access the MySQL database server from a Linux device.”
This line of thinking will no longer cut it. The future of corporate computing will be all about the user experience. This approach has long been the secret to consumer programs. It is the experience, not specifically the functionality, that has driven consumers (think VHS over Beta). Your users have come to expect great experiences at home and soon they will insist on it at work too.
As surely as floppy disks have been replaced by Cloud-based storage and Cat-5 cables have been replaced by Wi-Fi, your old-school corporate programs and systems will be replaced by agile apps on lightweight devices. As your users begin to telework more frequently, you need to get out in front of them and replace your current systems and IT support with new apps, devices, and IT support strategies. Do the research and find out what may be possible for your organization. After all, with the opportunities provided by the Cloud, the sky’s the limit.