When the coronavirus pandemic hit, IT teams sprinted to enable remote working. Many adapted legacy systems. Some ended up with an unplanned mixed bag of technologies, which didn’t give home workers the fulfilling, productive experience they were used to in the workplace.
Now, with as many as 85 percent of employees seeking to continue hybrid working and half of employers not planning to bring staff back to the workplace full time, IT strategy is entering a new phase. Organizations are looking to achieve better UX and CX in a new-normal world and, ultimately, to grow profitability. So, what’s the best way to build a business case for the remote working long haul?
Exercising closer financial scrutiny
The pandemic’s shakeout means financial approval for any IT investment might be tougher than before - especially if you’re pitching to a C-suite still reeling from balance sheet challenges. That raises the stakes for the careful choice of a sustainable solution that improves workforce mobility and productivity without increasing cost and complexity.
Organizations are increasingly basing their remote working solutions around virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). Trumping options like virtual private networks, VDI is easy to scale, while upfront CapEx costs are largely replaced by OpEx.
However, VDI adoption for some has not been without its hitches. In the rush to transition to remote working, some businesses hurriedly deployed off-the-shelf solutions, only to discover long-term issues. In the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry, and other sectors with power users working with graphics-heavy applications, organizations soon found these platforms simply couldn’t cope with the demands of CAD applications or huge BIM files.
The result has been a poor and hindered user experience - teams have struggled to collaborate effectively from diverse locations and employees have become chained to their office IT set up. One size certainly doesn’t fit all. It’s now crucial for IT teams to select a scalable solution that will prove effective for all users in order to unlock return on investment.
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Choosing the right technology
As with most technologies, VDI has come a long way in recent years. Network, compute, and storage technologies are much more reliable and higher performing. Thin provisioning has reduced wasted storage by allocating space only as needed, while linked clones enable virtual machines (VMs) to share disks via virtual storage area networks. Summed up, such improvements better utilize existing resources and significantly cut costs.
Perhaps most telling is that VDI in the right hands can be engineered for the most demanding of settings like super users working with big data or graphics-heavy applications. And, crucially, these purpose-built VDI solutions give users tools and experiences identical to or better than they enjoy in the workplace.
To overcome purse-string-tightening cynicism at board level and user reluctance arising from bad former experiences, look for a supplier with a successful track record in your industry sector, one who fully understands virtualization in the cloud and how specialist applications and network services behave together. Their experience will be invaluable in making sure you unlock the full potential of the technology.
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Selecting the right deployment model
Deployment models should be tailored to individual business needs, where IT teams can choose which workloads to deploy in the cloud and which to retain on-premise - for example, where compliance with regulations or data sovereignty conditions is required. To optimize ROI, look for providers who can provide a VDI platform that can be consumed in the cloud, on-premise, or using a hybrid model in a single seamless solution.
A fundamental decision is who manages what: traditional VDI managed in-house, or Desktop-as-a-Service supported by a VDI specialist? The latter can dramatically improve the business case with savings on data center space, infrastructure, upgrades, licensing and headcount, discussed in further detail below.
Most organizations are wise to these pitfalls. They realize a better approach for overcoming approval hurdles and getting the best results from VDI investment is to build support based on a specialist provider’s ability to unlock much greater value for around the same outlay.
Building a value-driven business case
Beware of service providers offering VDI solutions designed solely with money saving in mind. While businesses can achieve some cost savings, before and after IT infrastructure costs can remain flat or even rise slightly. So, while it’s right to conduct a cost comparison, a business case based purely on financial savings ignores a host of wider benefits.
When evaluating options, be sure not to compare apples with oranges. In moving from traditional on-premise VDI managed in-house to Desktop-as-a-Service delivered by an MSP, start by calculating the total cost of ownership (TCO), usually over a five-year period. In-house expenses should include elements like hardware refreshes for existing PCs, virtualization software and additional GPU, together with costs associated with system administrator salaries, power, rack space, out-of-hours staffing, training costs and IT overtime (for software patching, for instance).
Of course, not all external VDI providers offer the same value for money, either. When comparing services of different MSPs, scrutinize their technical credentials and be confident in their abilities to both deploy the right solution and also provide ongoing management, optimization and technical support. Be sure to check your businesses will benefit from access to the latest technologies and how often these will be updated by the provider over the course of your contractual term.
Another way to reduce TCO further is to ask the provider for scalable pricing models.
Many providers recognize the need to differentiate between VDI profiles for ordinary and power users for more cost-effective consumption. However, some specialist providers have taken this flexibility to another level, offering scalable VDI pricing models. Unlike normal VDI approaches based on fixed hardware or cloud solutions, clients pay per user, per month, per profile by purchasing credits that IT teams can stipulate and reallocate any way they like. This model provides VDI burst capability and instant scalability as and when required – a cost-effective solution for fast-changing business needs.
Finally, in most business cases, end-user productivity savings over the five years are often overlooked. The value brought by deploying the right VDI solution, enabling project teams to work productively and collaborate effectively from anywhere, should not be underestimated. For example, designers and engineers in different time zones can work together on complex 3-D building models, delivering critical projects faster at less risk and cost. Or, in healthcare settings, MRI scans can be shared by radiologists and by specialists in other departments – on devices anywhere – improving clinical decision-making and expediting treatments. Technological gains like enhanced data security, built-in disaster recovery, faster IT provisioning for new projects or team members, speed of access, improved version control and time saved eliminating rework and duplicated effort, can also be factored in.
By taking a holistic approach to unlocking VDI investment, the result will be a business case demonstrating an attractive ROI. Calculated on a compelling and transparent basis, that makes it easier for finance and IT directors to make the right business decision.
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Keith Ali, MD, Creative ITC