Explain IT: Season 3, Episode 9 - Ask Us Anything - Part 2

Playing now - Ask Us Anything - Part 2

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In the second part of our ‘Ask Me Anything’ show, host Zac Abbott is once again joined by Softcat’s Chief Technologists, Craig Lodzinski, Adam Harding, Adam Louca and Dean Gardner. In this episode they look at how AI might move forward in the world of work, the most important element of cyber security and settle it once and for all… Windows or Mac?

From L to R: Adam Louca, Dean Gardner, Craig Lodzinski, Adam Harding, Zac Abbott
Host:
Zac Abbott
Zac Abbott Senior Account Manager Softcat
Guests:
Adam Louca
Adam Louca Chief Security Technologist Softcat
Adam Harding
Adam Harding Chief Technologist for End User Computing Softcat
Dean Gardner
Dean Gardner Chief Technologist for Cloud Softcat
Craig Lodzinski
Craig Lodzinski Chief Technologist for Emerging Technologies Softcat
Key takeaways
  • There is a discussion to be had around the increasing use of AI in the workplace. Monitoring productivity and AI-triggered interventions are on the rise, but they need to sit beside human-based decision making and interaction as well, not just rely on the data.
  • Identity and authentication are crucial elements to consider in cyber security. With identity as the key to accessing a lot of applications, managing the identity process is critical.
  • Simplicity in technology is seen as the aspirational goal. But it’s important to remember that simplicity is a spectrum, it’s subjective, and individuals vary greatly in their knowledge and understanding. 
  • There is a global challenge around working together as a community when political, security and intellectual property concerns are hindering the global effort to move forward together. 
  • There has been a quiet, almost unnoticeable movement from technologists prioritising technology and its performance, to thinking about the user and how tech can be developed in the best way for the user’s experience and performance. 
  • What makes users more productive? Simplification and rationalisation are important elements to consider when deciding on technology. Understanding the type of work, the data needed and the firepower required can help.

If we do end up in this cloud world where you have hundreds of apps and each of those apps has 40,50 different permissions roles, that problem’s going to exponentially grow to the point that you're really not going to have any idea who's got access to what and whether that access is appropriate.

 

Zac Abbott: Hello and welcome to Explain IT brought to you by Softcat; the show for IT professionals by IT professionals that aims to simplify the complex and often overcomplicated bits of Enterprise IT without compromising on the detail. Welcome back to part two of our Ask us anything. I'm your host Zac Abbott and over the next 30ish minutes we’ll be continuing to answer the questions that you the listeners have submitted to us. Joining me once again on this episode is Craig Lodzinski, Softcat’s chief technologist for data and emerging tech, Adam Harding, Softcat’s chief technologist for end user computing, Adam Louca, Softcat’s chief technologist for cyber security and Dean Gardner, Softcat’s chief technologist for Cloud technology. Without further ado let's jump back into the questions. So Lodz, question for you, what is the future of AI in the world of work, is it really a positive thing?

Craig Lodzinski: We've talked a lot about intent and how organisations use technology and AI is a very contentious one. I think overall, and this doesn't just apply to AI, this applies to pretty much all technologies including things like monitoring, including the way that organisations structure their use of technology, locking down laptops, all aspects, it's about trust, and it's about ethics and I think we need to take a much more ethically rigorous standpoint. We need to understand humans as individuals and the interaction between software, hardware and human is still largely dictated by very rough areas and in AI you can get a lot of false signals because it's not designed to be holistic. In most AI and machine learning programs you talk about things like degrees of certainty and a lot of the perception of AI is it’s binary, it’s yes or no whereas actually it's based on a spectrum and these decisions and when we look at things like AI-based productivity monitoring, saying “this worker has…” if we look at a fulfilment centre for a large online shopping organisation, say “oh this worker hasn't picked as many items this week, therefore they’re in the bottom quartile and those of the people we're going to let go automatically and their jobs are dictated by an AI” that is taking an individual down to their most basic productivity characteristics. That's not a very nice or ethical thing to be doing. Conversely you can use those same technology, those same signals to understand, ok well what is the reason behind that, do we need to fine tune our process because this employee’s having to walk further to pick those items than another person, is this employee potentially injured or ill or struggling at home? What can we do to help them to get through this and have that duty of care to the employee as an employer and that's probably going to be tricky in a lot of low-paid roles because, given the huge global recession we’re entering, given the amount of job losses we've seen, labour supply is going to increase dramatically and that's going to create a pool where employers that want to be hostile to their employees probably can be, particularly in countries that don't have great social security measures, that don't have great social welfare programmes to protect those that are out of work. So there is a lot of risk in using these things, we look at AI-based video interviewing techniques, there's implicit biases built in a lot of AI machine learning technologies because of datasets, because of the people that are working on them, because we don’t have a huge amount of diversity in STEM and IT, that can manifest itself back out. On the other side, looking at the bright side of things, you can have AI triggered interventions to say, “Hey, you've been sat in the front of this machine for 16 hours now, you need to take a break, this is not good for you. You’ve taken too long on this task, you’re probably not doing a great bit of work right now, we're locking you out for 20-minutes, go and do something, take a break, here’s some resources from our HR team to help you relax, to help you destress,” to understand earlier, ok what are the correlations and how can we trigger earlier to understand if an employee is feeling unwell, to understand, ok well based on fever screening technologies that lot of organisations have been looking at recently, and elevated skin temperature isn't a perfect measure, it's not a diagnostic tool, it's a warning, but if you can use these tools to better understand when people are coming into the office with the common cold and say, “Hey, go home, don't infect the rest of these people,” that's a benefit to the entire community in those offices and in those spaces and I think it's really uncertain where the future of AI and machine learning facial recognition, monitoring software is going in the workplace and I think in all of this, and it's something that we imbue really strongly into the modern data architecture principle we have at Softcat, it's about empowering insight and empowering human based decision-making. We’re not trying to get rid of employees, we’re not trying to to get an extra pound of flesh out of individuals and historically, machinery, whether that's physical machinery or software or technology, hasn't actually improved workers’ lives all that much. It's health and safety legislation that stopped people from dying in industrial accidents, not better machines. The guards weren’t put on machines because of the benevolence of factory owners, they were put there by active law and by mass actions from trade unions and I think as the collective consciousness, we become more aware of the impact of technology, organisations hopefully are becoming more ethical and we’re demanding higher standards of ethics and responsible use of technology, we can build a future using these emerging technologies where we do focus on creating the greatest benefit for the individual and for the collective rather than just extracting that pound of flesh. How that will work out is on everybody, it relies upon all of us to be aware, to be educated to have that critical thinking that Louca spoke about Earlier to have this capacity to understand the technology and really consider the implications on people's lives at every step of the process.

Adam Harding: I think Lodz is absolutely right that it is all of our responsibility to try and protect each other because we're all, whether you’re the leaders of an organisation or whether you're the workers or whether you're a patient or whether you're a student, we're all going to be affected by the continuing use of AI and it certainly has the potential to have a positive effect. The reality is that legislation cannot keep up with how fast technology is being developed and that is my worry and part of the question, is it really positive? To a point. It comes to the intent again.

Adam Louca: Isn't it kind of crazy or amazing to think that, I guess, as a technology podcast and as technologists and people who work in this sphere, how few of our questions now relate to technology? How much of what we spend our time doing isn't about whether or not server 2016 is better than 2008 or whether AMD’s better than Intel, actually so much of that has become abstracted to the point where the job of the technologist is much broader, it's much more about how we interact with technology and how it impacts our daily lives because fundamentally it's so core to what we do. I just think it's so interesting to see if you look back even five or six years, you talk about technology podcasts, these aren’t the questions we would be asking ourselves, whether or not technology is going to be evil and AI’s going to take over the world or whether we're building inclusive work environments and actually that's, as technologists, we’re typically people who love solving problems and I think it's quite interesting to watch that problem space shift from ‘what's the best database technology to use’ towards using those same techniques to go ‘how can I help make work environments that are more inclusive for people who are different?’.

Zac Abbott: Off the back of everything you guys I said it's time for the most well placed question in the script. Settle this once and for all, Mac or Windows? To Lodz. 

Craig Lodzinski: As per usual, I have opinions. This is a divide that has emerged in my household as well because my wife has moved to Mac from being a Windows shop, so this is something I feel quite acutely. It depends. The right platform, the right tool is the one that's right for you to do the job. Apple’s philosophy, they build very expensive, very pretty, sometimes exquisitely engineered and sometimes they put a crappy keyboard in and deny it's a problem, devices that work as part of an ecosystem that have a walled garden, a lock around them, that ensures that they have complete control over both hardware and operating system and having that vertical integration offers some real benefits. There's... this is a real TED Talk style tangent, but if you go and look at a pair of jeans and you look at the zipper on them, they’ll probably say YKK. And they’re the world's biggest zipper manufacturer, they make all their own machinery as well as the zips, they source their own brass and that enables a quality chain that has made them the dominant factor. That integration from Apple does create very seamless integration, it allows them to add features that instead of airpods, work differently connected to an iPhone than they would connected to my Android device and you have extra features built into that. Personally, philosophically, I prefer the Microsoft approach, I prefer the Windows approach, they are an operating system that is layered over the top of the hardware and this creates a more open environment. It does create problems and the Windows developers will tell you about how they have to introduce a lot of workarounds into the operating system to make third party applications work to support legacy, they have not taken the same approach that Apple have for example with Catalina and said, ‘ok, no 32-bit apps whatsoever, we’re just killing them off, you’ve had your notice,’ and it means that I can go and buy this beautiful laptop from a third party manufacturer, I can buy hardware from Dell, I can buy hardware from HP, according to my needs and know that I will have a similar user experience, a similar environment and that I can install, within reason, pretty much anything that I want on it as Windows is the defacto standard. Under such, and as Dell and Microsoft have made huge pushes into open source to embrace the community and, from a philosophical perspective, I really much prefer that approach, I think computing is something that should be open, it should be a community-driven effort, it should not be locked down. Some of the things that Apple are doing around the app store, around extracting money and wanting their cut of the cash from companies like airbnb is pretty controversial and it’s a function of the way they have created their ecosystem which undeniably has its benefits, but personally I am a bit of an open source advocate, I like the open approach, I like choice in everything that I do with technology and the Windows platform offers that choice to me, so that for me is where I sit, but I know we have an even split on the call in device use as well as, perhaps, philosophies and I’m sure my colleagues have got some interesting opinions as well.

Dean Gardner: Yeah the only thing I’d say it's a consumer-driven world and ultimately that's what drives most decisions in most homes and Apple have grown because they make it easy to buy a device, plug it in, and if you're in an Apple world in your home life they all seamlessly, to a point, connect in, but you’re locked in. But it's ease of use. And I think, going back to Lodz/s point, it just depends how much flexibility you want with what you want to do with that device and the OS associated, but ultimately, businesses are getting to a point where, we’re seeing this ont he end user side, you’re opening it up to more options and more choice when it comes to the applications you know, the SaaS world is growing dramatically, it’s how you then bring those  into a controlled secure estate and Apple take care of most of that but at the same time they control all of it and I think sometimes that's ease of use and it's great for home, it's great for people who just want to turn stuff on, but in the working environment I think there’s a natural split on how you’d manage that moving forward. I just think it's choice and it's consumer-driven. The Apple brand is not getting smaller, there’s a reason for that. 

Adam Harding: We talk a lot, and I don't actually think we've mentioned it on this podcast which is miraculous, we talk a lot about simplification and rationalisation is the order of the day and I was talking to some people about this the other day and they said to me, just talk about phones right? “We’ve chosen to go down 100% iPhones, iPhones for everybody,” I said, “ok, why have you done that?” they said, “oh because simplicity, we want to make it simple,” and I just posed the question to them, “who are you trying to make it simple for?” and they said, “well us to run it,” and I said, “how many people are running this estate?” and they said, “3 people,” I said, “that's great,” I said, “how many employees have you got?” and they said, “ooh we've got about 10,000 people,” I said, “so probably 30, 40% of those 10,000 people, so 3 or 4000 people, are Android users, aren't they?” and they said, “you know, finger in the air, but probably, yeah that makes sense”. I said, “so for the benefit of making it simple for three people, you've made it more complex for 4000 people, potentially,” and that's something that I think, as an IT community, we throw these words around quite a lot and you forget that to multiply simplicity by three or 4000 times is more effective and will make your company more productive because people will be quicker to be productive by putting a simplicity at the user level rather than just looking at it from a single stakeholder point of view of the crew that’s feeding and watering it. So I think that actually, I completely agree, and it is on the fence, it should be choice, but the choice isn't simply to be nice and be hippy and be forward-thinking, the choice is really to help you focus, nail down on that, how do I keep my employees productive? And if you’re at a point where the applications and the data and the working style and all that type of stuff works then by all means, offer that choice. I think that Apple often get knocked back for being very expensive, the reality is, you can make the numbers work, the residual value of those devices is much higher than Windows devices, and you can make the numbers work. There is a fear about complexity of integration - you can absolutely integrate it, I mean, we haven't seen that will literally help you integrate it with your existing set of tools and yeah, we may add one or two little connectors here are there to hook your Mac estate using maybe Jamf connect into your Microsoft estate so you can use things like conditional access, but it's all very doable. And then there's the support piece. We can train you, we can enable you, you can out-task that like many people do for lots of other things, so it's all very doable. So I think when we throw around words like choice, it's not just do I have a silver machine or do I have a black machine? It’s about is that choice going to make our users more productive because we’re making it more simple for the masses? And I think that really stands out. What I would say is when you look at your personas you really have to understand them first. There’s the workstyle persona - where are they going to work, when, how, is it shift pattern, is it kiosk, is it one-to-one? All that type of stuff, where are you based, where does the support need to be based? Then the next element of a persona that we look at is the functional side, the apps and data that you need to be able to drive. There are differences between the apps, simple things, productivity apps, Excel, I know, as a Mac user, that I cannot use power query on Excel, which is a big problem to me, so if you have people and you understand the applications that they need to use and the way they need to use them that just don't fit the bill, it's absolutely fine in that situation to discount any technology that doesn't support it. And then there's the technical persona element - how much firepower you need. Some people need absolute monsters to drive the development work they're doing.

Zac Abbott: Ok, let’s move on from that slightly. A question for you Louca, what is the most important part of an organisation's IT estate to keep protected from hackers?

Adam Louca: Is all of it an acceptable answer?

Zac Abbott: I guess maybe you could only secure one part.

Adam Louca: Unfortunately it probably doesn't work so much like that. But if I had to… if there's one part that is probably most critical it's what provides the identity and authentication throughout the systems. So whether that's on premise active directory, Azure active directory, because so much ties back to your identity, whether that's the applications you can access, whether that the access you have when you actually authenticated, so can I sign off expenses or am I.. can I just submit expenses, can I make Swift money transfers to the Cayman Islands? Actually that identity and authentication piece is the most critical and when we see cyberattacks that are highly impactful within organisations they typically occur once the threat actor has obtained high level access to active directory, whether that's domain administrator credentials or something similar. So keeping your identity in a good state, and that's not just about having a good password policy, I think, we’ve started off very much there. It used to be ‘change your passwords, have a complex password,’ but then it was MFA, and all those things are really important, but actually it's creating a mature approach to identity which is understanding that identity is much more than just authentication, it's about knowing who should have access to the right applications, it's about automating and managing that process as people's profile and persona changes through your organisation and fundamentally removing that access once the person leaves. It’s that whole lifecycle of identity, that is becoming really key. I'm sure people will have heard the noise and buzz in the industry about zero-trust and it's coming again back to the forefront with a new market segment called SASE, so secure accent, where we deliver security as a fabric via cloud services to our users no matter where they are, so on premise or remote or accessing cloud applications and the reason it becomes super important is when you realise that everything now hangs off identity, everything is tracking back to identity. Can you log on to the Wi-Fi? It's now not just a pre-shared key, it’s your identity, can you plug into the network? It's your identity, can you get on the VPN? It’s your identity, can you access this cloud app? It's your identity. And as we add more complexity and we add more roles, I think we're going to start to come a bit unstuck. And I think a lot of organisations are sleepwalking into this identity problem because everyone's going, ‘oh don't worry I've hooked it into AD, or I’ve hooked it into Azure AD maybe. And what they've not realised is that yeah, they have, good job that's the first step, centralisation of identity, but unless you're going to start building that management of how do you manage that identity process moving forward? If we do end up in this cloud world where you have hundreds of apps and each of those apps has 40, 50 different permissions roles that problem’s going to exponentially grow to the point that all of a sudden you're really not going to have any idea who's got access to what and whether that access is appropriate. So it is really key for organisations to take identity really seriously.

Zac Abbott: Lodz, another one for you. Can you explain why Huawei has such a shaky relationship with the government when other Chinese tech firms like Lenovo operate freely in the UK?

Craig Lodzinski: At the outset, full disclosure, I'm currently sat in front of a Huawei P20 mobile phone and Huawei matebook x laptop, so that may give you some insight. I really like their hardware, I think it's exceptional quality and some of the best that I have used. There's a couple of factors, I think, in play. Firstly when we look specifically at, if we take for example, Huawei vs Lenovo, a lot of the controversy has come around their involvement in telco networks and globally Huawei are the leader in telco infrastructure and then the other players now are the likes of Nokia, Ericsson, Sienna, Cisco, Samsung and ZTE. And so you have two Chinese firms, ZTE were the subject of US sanctions, Huawei have been treated much more aggressively, Huawei are much more popular as a telco provider in the western world and increasingly, governments have started to realised, far too late in my opinion, that telecoms infrastructure is part of critical national infrastructure and as a result they are now wanting to retrench from allowing what they perceive as potentially hostile nations from being involved in their telco infrastructure. Huawei, like all Chinese companies, have a very close relationship with the government, with Communist Party of China, because of the laws that are in place around there and there are concerns that China undoubtedly is one of the largest cyber actors in the world, alongside the United States, Israel, United Kingdom and other large governments that have a significant cyber warfare, cyber intelligence presence. There has not been any publicly available documentation that suggests that Huawei and Chinese owned and operated firms are a security risk. We have to take it, to a certain extent, as read that there is a security threat, there is evidence from the security services, which is a bit shaky given that a lot of this intel is coming out of the USA. There is a vested interest from the United States government in terms of protectionism, in terms of protecting its own companies, in terms of protecting its image of, the sort of image that 45 wants to portray out the world, in putting in very harsh restrictive sanctums on Huawei. In the UK, the UK is caught between a rock and a hard place in terms of wanting to get a deal from the United States moving forward, in terms of trade and Chinese sanctions are being used as a trade weapon. I personally think that Huawei being the outward facing brand of Chinese technology, you know, they are selling a lot of mobile phones globally, they are selling a lot of laptops, they have worked very hard to westernise their approach to make them more acceptable and friendly and seen and perceived in the right way in big markets including the United States and Europe and they also have an end-to-end ecosystem, they started producing their own chips, using ARM designs, I’m certain they are going to be using RISC-V, and other open source technologies if the route to ARM chips is taken away from them. So I would say with a bit of scepticism, there is definitely a political aspect, I think some of the concerns are based out of political motivations, out of synophobia and out of the potential benefits to US-based companies, for example, were Huawei extracted from the telecoms network? If there is a legitimate threat to national security which, if these devices can be compromised, if there is a defined security risk by placing Huawei infrastructure either in the RAN networks or in telco core, then absolutely that would explain the increased sanctions vs the likes of Lenovo who do not have a mobile telecoms infrastructure play. But I think it's very hard to understand, particularly in that sector, where national security, government interaction plays much more of a critical factor than anywhere else in the IT landscape, what the actual threat is from Huawei and whether these sanctions are just vs the perception and the political motivation.

Adam Louca: I fundamentally agree with all the points Lodz has made. I think the challenge comes is that it's impossible to determine the future and therefore you’re reliant on modelling, you’re reliant on threat modelling to essentially go through ‘what if’ scenarios to work out what are the likely outcomes, what are the likely mechanisms that could be used to impact critical infrastructure of that size and scale? And the challenge is that there isn't a particularly easy answer. It's not like only working with organisations in the UK mitigates any or all of those risks because they are based in the UK, there’s absolutely nothing to stop a foreign nation or getting people hired by organisations. We look at some of the largest military leaks that have ever happened have been performed by people who are citizens of their own countries. Or who were employees of those organisations, so it's not like you can wave a magic wand and make these problems go away. I think the optic that you sometimes have to think about is that from a political perspective, if you wound forward time and people to go ahead with Huawei technology and something was to happen, it's the optic in which those decisions will be viewed under to say, ‘well actually more should have been done,’ and I think that ‘hindsight is 20/20’ piece is what will keep people awake at night. So I think that organisations are erring on the side of risk aversion, they are erring on the side to be cautious, so actually when decisions are potentially are looked back on, they can turn around and say, “well see we did think about it,” vs I think if previously there wasn't, it wasn't clear that that thought process was taking place transparently.

Dean Gardner: I just want to say that you've got the conspiracy theorists out there that wildfires exists in the modern world due to various reasons and fear is driving a lot of the agenda and obviously business is as well, and I think those things combined are quite dangerous. State-sponsored hacking has been happening, it’s not a new thing, it will continue, it will grow, and they're all doing it, and I mean, the world's doing and I just think there’s, as a challenge I guess, globally at the moment where nationalism is taking precedent and globalisation of working together as a community, a global community, seems to be regressing little bit for various reasons and I just think that is the challenge ultimately. Who knows what the right answer is. It's all of those things for me combined just create a toxic global culture and unfortunately you've got people with potential agendas, business with agendas driving some of that. So for me there’s no answer, so you're not going to answer it on here and I concur with everything that everybody’s said, but I just think that there's this pandemic that's going on in the world and we're still having these kind of conversations. I find it personally, I struggle and if you will, people are using even that fear to drive the agenda and I don't personally understand it.

Zac Abbott: Adam Harding will end-user technology in large organisations ever be simple?

Adam Harding: Well simple is a bit of a spectrum. What's simple for me is pretty complex for my mother. And I think that's the reality is that it's not necessarily that there is one knowledge that is ultimately simple for you to use, there's not one device that's perfect, there's not one application that's perfect. Some people are very comfortable with g-suite, some people are very comfortable with Office 365, some people are very comfortable with Apple, others are very comfortable with Windows or Chromebooks and that kind of thing flows all the way through. So as a general direction of travel I would encourage organisations to think about where does the simplicity need to land? So I mentioned in a previous question that a lot of IT organisations get overly focused on making things simple for them to manage rather than simple for the users to use and I think that is something that will probably change but not particularly quickly as we’re kind of coming into a time where cost management is going to be absolutely top of the tree really and stability is going to be top of the tree, but in further out, years in the future I would hope that balance would be redressed. I think the other area where I'm seeing simplicity coming to the end user workspace really is more of a focus on helping... getting away from simply surfacing applications or files in increasingly sophisticated ways - through your phone, on your watch, to your fridge, whatever, so that you then still have to dive in 3-panels deep to find the thing that you wanted before you can get on with it, and more towards surfacing the work. I'm a great example of this with our CRM system. I have no idea how to use it to find out the information I need before a meeting about a customer. What we've previously done with them and all that type of stuff, so in situations like that what we’re seeing is people starting to lean on Microsoft powerapps, leaning on things like iOS and Android applications to create a bit of a skin that will allow me to pull information from multiple different sources into a view that I understand, that the company can control and that's simple and easy for me to access, essentially modernising those old applications that most of us can't get rid of because they're so ingrained in everything else we do. So I think that there will be a lot of the citizen developer type of activity that will be used to try and help you get access to democratise more data, because more is being produced from everywhere all the time, and to really simplify the access to the bit of information and maybe even the knowledge-base behind that on how to read that information and interpret it, I think that type of thing will drive forwards. When it comes to the fundamentals, so connectivity, devices, does my application start, do I have the right privileges? Then that's really about, again, we’ve touched on it quite a few times here, making sure you have the correct management tools and monitoring tools to be preemptive. I think what a lot of organisations are still in the period of is being on their heels and they have to wait till somebody complains till they notice there is a problem. Whereas we’re going to start seeing people increasingly chase down the great organisations that are very much on their toes and that can be preemptive and that have full visibility of how a trace flows from me picking up a device and logging in, through to me interacting with an application, through to that data being pulled and presented so that… the banks are very simple example of this. If they know because that their cash machines on average break at the 10000th hour they will change them at 9999 to get ahead of it and I think it's that type of thing. And that's a great use of modelling and AI and machine learning to try and give people those insights they just might not spot themselves. 

Dean Gardner: I mean the only thing I would say is it comes down to what the business does, what it's providing its end user and its customer, what applications allow them to do those jobs, the devices that allow them to do those jobs, bringing all that together actually is more, I think, simplistic today than it's ever been, but there's more choice. It's trying to manage the operational aspect of it by giving, ultimately more access to more devices, but really pinpointing and this is where I think the simplistic area needs to come in, what is the application that allows that group of people to do the job? What are the profiles within an organisation within a particular industry that you need to be focusing on? And then gluing that together, operating it effectively, securing it. I think those things today are much easier than they were 10, 15 years ago. But it does come with the fact there's a lot of choice and then it comes back to something Louca mentioned earlier, it's how you manage that identity, how you operate that, how you give access, how you give that flexibility to the user and I think that we are getting to a world where it is becoming, from an end-user perspective, more simplistic. And it will become more so, but there's going to be a lot more applications to use and access and it's controlling that sprawl I think that's going to be the challenge.

Adam Louca: It's almost like the experience is now totally personal and because it's personal that means it's infinitely more difficult to manage because it's much more difficult to put people in boxes and wrap something around the edge of them because by their nature they’re going to have similarities, but they're fundamentally going to be slightly different and that's what consumerism gave us, it gave us the opportunity to be the masters of our own destiny when it came to technology and you could take a credit card and buy whatever service you wanted. And I think as that's come into the workplace that's created friction and that's created a requirement for people to manage things in a more individualistic way. But that means the tools and processes we have to use have to evolve with that because if you want to give that true consumer environment while retaining control, while retaining a level of standardisation, you have to marry those two competing forces to allow you to have the flexibility and the visibility to understand what's going on so that you can make the right change to the environment so that you're just half a step ahead of everyone at all times. It's that Futurama adage that says if you do it right, they won't even know you've done anything at all. And that's the point we've got to get to is we have to be just ahead of our users so that they don't ever hit the barrier because it's when they hit the barrier is when they hit frustration, is when they hit loss of productivity, it's when what they have doesn't work. That should really be the goal. 

Craig Lodzinski: Simplicity is subjective. What is a simple approach for the individual may not be for somebody else, or for the organisation. Simple for me is having full admin rights on my company device. Now I know why we can't allow that, why that's not a policy that we should have in place and by default that shouldn't happen. And I'm happy to work within those constraints, but being able to install whatever I want unsupervised as a technologist would make my life easier, would make things more simple, but is a bad thing for the organisation, is a bad thing for the collective. And I think that trade-off between what is simple, what is effective, what is useful is something that's really difficult to make and something that IT teams are consistently having to make more of a considered decision around, in terms of, to Mr Harding’s point earlier around the iPhone, standardising on one brand of device for 3 administrators is the most simple way to do it and you can argue that iOS is almost undoubtedly the most simple mobile operating system for everyone. But actually for that wider userbase, the most simple answer is choice, because it's something that they are familiar with and technology has become fairly simple and I don't think we're going to get any great increase in simplicity without losing functionality, but obscuring some of the needless functions, if you look at all the things that a copy of Microsoft Excel can do vs what things that actual individual users use, that personalisation, that customisation that can be driven by AI, by machine learning being able to surface things in a way that feels more human. The adage I always think of is how your brain adapts things to make them easier, so if you throw a baseball to someone, the way they perceive that is differently than if you give them a bat and tell them to hit it. Their brain actually makes the ball seem a little bit larger so it makes it easier to hit that target, because the connection between what your eyes see and what your brain tells you you see is a complete lie. The way we work with technology in terms of making those targets that you have to hit more simple and fading out the background, reducing the noise, and we see that with things like Focus assist that have been brought into Windows that says, “ok I can see that you're recording an award-winning, excellent podcast, we're going to mute your notifications in the background because that's a full screen app and we can see you're passing audio and video.” Those are the things that are starting to come forward and making our interactions with technology more simple on an individualised basis and I think that increased personalisation, individualisation, treating employees as individuals, as humans and understanding their relationship with technology, their individual skills and customising and adapting to that is where we make things more simple. 

Adam Harding: The organisations that I deal with that are great, rather than just good at this stuff just have a couple of common themes really. One, they are obsessively focused on understanding their personas. Our IT teams have proof that they can do absolutely phenomenal feats in very short amounts of time, they've mobilised organisations that were pretty much wedded to their desks for however long they have been in existence, we can be a bit braver about this stuff, they can certainly take on the complexity of understanding the 6, 7, 8, 9 different personas that make up their organisation. Of those personas, the foundation piece, the foundation elements will be very similar, it only starts to differentiate as you start to get towards the top end of how they want to use their applications and which data they should access. It is all very doable and in reality, the technology is pretty much there today to achieve this. But you’ve just got to be brave and bold enough to do it. One of the other things I would say is when we're talking about this employee choice or freedom, let's call it freedom because then that brings in the different working styles you may have, the devices you may have, the applications you might need, that type of stuff. We're not talking about absolute chaos here, we're not talking about... you don't have to have freedom with a capital F, you can just give it enough, I think the role of the IT as an enabler for everything else is to understand what freedoms give value to the company and which ones don't and focus on the ones that give value to the company. So avoid absolute chaos and I think if you get that right then that simplicity at the user layer and simplicity at the customer layer as well can absolutely be achieved, but it is progress. Our perception of simplicity has changed all the time. I haven't touched a light switch in my house for a little while because ‘she who shall not be named’ turns them all on and off for me. I didn't know that... that wasn't even an option not that long ago and it's not something that I would have considered was something that made my life more simple back then, but the world keeps moving on and all the signs are there. When we talk about crystal balls it's important just to remember that old school message about consumerism is your signpost, those are your North Stars. Pretty much everything we use now that's a bit trick - video calling, having Enterprise file share and sync, people using chat rather than necessarily email, people having chatbots internally to help them get access to knowledge base, Softcat have it for our... to help the masses understand Microsoft licensing, all that type of stuff. That’s what existed outside of the organisation for a long time you can see it coming. So you don’t need to be scared. These are well trodden paths, were not asking you to be at the bleeding edge and pioneer something that does not exist. Your consumer experience is simple and you can emulate the elements of that, that actually bring you value. And by that I simply mean that bring more money in, that reduce cost and reduce the risks of your business stopping or getting breached or getting sued for falling foul of regional legislation, it can all be done. I think sometimes where a lot of organisations struggle is doing the maths. They can't see how those marginal gains, a little bit across everything, when you. Those things need to be better understood, and I think if people genuinely.. if the IT team genuinely understand the business processes, they would quite quickly be able to pick a few little bits here and there that would make a massive difference to the users’ lives and would simplify. They’d remove repetition, they'd remove wait times before you can move on to the next thing, they'd remove duplication that is absolutely everywhere in every organisation I look at and you could do all of that whilst reducing risk, increasing the accuracy of what's happening, reducing the error rates. So while we’re on the top of the mountain a little bit with IT teams being the heroes of what they've achieved during the pandemic, I think they should take that inertia  on, be brave, be bold and make the biggest difference they can.

Zac Abbott: Well that's a wrap on this season of Explain IT, we hope you enjoyed the topics we’ve covered and the discussions we’ve had. If anything is this show or previous shows has piqued your interest, do get in contact with us, [email protected]. Don't’ forget to click subscribe so that you can stay up-to-date with future episodes and seasons. I've been your house Zac Abbott, thank you very much for listening to Explain IT from Softcat.