IT has a tall order these days. Not only is it responsible for ensuring day-to-day operations, it’s also responsible for keeping data secure and ensuring that workers have the software they need to be productive. Because of this enormous responsibility, it’s no wonder IT tends to be skeptical when the latest software hits the market. That skepticism stems from knowing that IT’s going to be on the receiving end of the workload that comes with a major change, such as implementing a very new and very different operating system like Windows 8. Add fear, hype, and negative spin from tech pundits, analysts, and other experts to the mix and it’s no surprise that many technology decision makers are taking a cautious position when it comes to Windows 8.
But taking the cautious route isn’t necessarily in the best interest of the business, especially if it’s overly cautious and hinders progress. If your organization is evaluating or anticipating a move to Windows 8, the best course of action is to objectively assess how it can benefit your business and outline a plan from there. With a plan in place, you can make the transition—or transformation, in the case of Windows 8—a good move and a positive experience for all involved.
What’s New in Windows 8
A Big, Bold Redesign
With Windows 8, Microsoft makes its official debut on the post-PC stage. The most obvious change from previous versions is the touch-friendly, tiled user interface, previously referred to as “Metro” and now called “Modern.” The Start screen has no actual start button; it’s just a customizable collection of tiles that link to apps and programs. The function of the Start screen is the same as the Start button in previous versions of Windows (i.e., to organize and launch applications), but the addition of Live Tiles enhances functionality and productivity by displaying information without having to launch applications.
Most of the system tools (e.g., search, settings) are located on the Charms bar, which is accessed by swiping from the right edge of the touchscreen toward the center or by moving the mouse to one of the right corners of the screen. Swiping from the left edge or moving the mouse to the top left edge of the screen brings up the App Switcher, which enables users to change between apps and the desktop, which is similar to the Windows 7 user interface.
New Enterprise Security Features
The second most significant change is Windows 8’s improved security, particularly for applications. After all, the biggest menace to enterprise security today comes from the web.
One of the most notable security improvements is AppContainer, a new process-isolation mechanism in Internet Explorer 10 that ensures that an app doesn’t have access to capabilities it hasn’t declared in advance and been given permissions to access by the user. This feature includes more detailed security permissions and blocks write and read access to most of the system.
Other security improvements include:
Picture password: For this feature, the user draws a pattern on an image he or she provides. The password consists of three gestures (lines, points, and circles) and is similar to Android’s lock pattern screen.
SmartScreen filter: This feature, which was previously available only in Internet Explorer, uses a rating system based on what other users have downloaded to detect and block malware, and it runs regardless of which browser is used. This tool also filters files downloaded across a network.
Antivirus loads first: No matter which antivirus program you use, in Windows 8 it will be the first application to load.
Secure boot: All Windows 8 PCs use UEFI instead of BIOS for secure booting. UEFI, which stands for Unified Extensible Firmware Interface, will only allow software
with valid security certificates to run. This is the first line of defense against malware. It could also enable IT to remotely repair and restore machines experiencing boot issues.
Other important security enhancements include a built-in antivirus that takes up fewer system resources; Windows to Go, which adds a layer of security and convenience to the BYOD environment by enabling IT to provide users with a USB device that contains their entire computer environment (e.g., OS, apps, data, settings); BitLocker, which helps the system work more efficiently by encrypting only the space that’s being used on the hard drive; AppLocker, which allows IT to create security policies to allow or prohibit both desktop and Modern apps from being run on a Windows 8 computer; and the Windows App Store, which—in theory—adds an extra layer of security by requiring all apps to be certified and validated by Microsoft before being made available in the Windows Store.
Deep Cloud Integration
The third big change in Windows 8 is the deep integration of Microsoft’s cloud service, SkyDrive. SkyDrive can be used for basic online storage, it’s accessible from anywhere, and it enables folder synching and backing up settings across machines.
Together, these improvements signal Microsoft’s attempt to accommodate two dominant workplace trends: consumerization and the cloud. It’s a new world of work, in which the professional and personal lives of employees overlap in new and different ways—and one in which technology can be either an enabler or an obstacle.
By unifying the workplace and mobile computing environments, Windows 8 enables workers to use smaller, lighter devices (such as the Samsung Slate or the Microsoft Surface Pro) as full desktop replacements, a capability not available on other tablets and one that has the potential to drastically change how people work.
On the flip side, some critics maintain that Windows 8 may cause unnecessary disruption in the workplace. They cite the learning curve and company-wide hardware refreshes as two examples. While it’s true that the new interface may prove to be challenging for some, considering the ubiquity of tablets and smartphones in the workplace, it may not be all that disruptive. Besides, users always have the option to use the traditional “classic” desktop interface instead of the Windows 8 interface.
A Key Challenge for Enterprise IT: Supporting Consumerization and BYOD
Today’s workers use multiple devices, and they want to be able to access the same information from every device they use. IT, on the other hand, needs to be able to manage all of those devices and keep company data secure. Windows 8 has many consumerization- and BYOD-oriented features.
For users, Windows 8 delivers a common interface across a range of devices and gives users the ability to access data on any of those devices. It also offers greater choice. Much like iOS and Android, Microsoft’s new OS includes consumeroriented features, but it also offers tried-and-true Microsoft business apps like Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and OneNote.
Windows 8, like Apple’s recent Lion and Mountain Lion operating systems, includes elements that are obviously designed for use on small mobile devices. Windows 8 goes further by adopting a base interface that can be consistent across multiple devices of differing sizes.
Regarding IT’s needs, Windows 8 has improved remote device management, with the ability to integrate into existing software management solutions; this allows companies to continue using their existing tool sets for managing Windows PCs. Also, security policies now offer greater control over a larger number of device features, enabling enterprises to tailor device security to their own standards.
Preparing for and Alleviating End-User Challenges
The changes Windows 8 brings to the traditional Windows operating environment are significant enough to guarantee questions from end users. The first and most obvious stumbling block will be the Modern interface; IT should be ready to answer numerous “Where did X go?” queries. Adjusting to working in Office on a touchscreen device may also prove challenging for some end users. Here are examples of the types of questions IT can expect:
- How can I customize the Start screen and Tiles?
- How do I bring up the Charms bar and what does it include?
- How do I shut down Windows 8? Are there other faster ways to shut down?
- How do I use the Desktop application to access the classic Windows desktop?
- Where can I find the settings that control whether apps can access my location or personal data?
- How do I work with Microsoft Office applications on a Windows 8 touchscreen device?
- How can I save my files in a location where I can access them from any of my devices?
A service desk prepared to answer these and related questions will be an important resource for the organization and its users.
Windows 8: Good for IT, Good for the Service Desk?
What’s your company’s plan? Wait and see, or embrace the new OS as an early adopter? You may not have an answer just yet, but you should be thinking about it. The key question is, how can you respond to increasing employee demand for device choice, and for the ability to more seamlessly manage personal and professional activities, without sacrificing control over the workplace computing environment?
Up until now, IT’s response has mostly been a balancing act. Companies that allow a hodgepodge of iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows devices and operating systems often do so at the expense of security, control, and support costs. Conversely, organizations that prohibit all but a few company-approved devices for the sake of security and management risk stifling productivity and quashing employee morale.
With Windows 8, Microsoft presents a new option, one that could prove attractive to employees and IT organizations alike: use (almost) any device you want, as long as it’s running Windows 8. Security and central management are covered. As for increased costs, there are increased costs with virtually any new technology trend, including BYOD. Think of it as the price of innovation. Once users have migrated to Windows 8 and are up to speed, those costs should go down.
Windows 8 is an opportunity for IT and the service desk to be integral to employee enablement, today and in the future. Don’t let it pass you by.
Make Windows 8 a Win for IT and for the Enterprise
In the very near future, Windows 8 will likely play a major role in the computing and mobility strategies of many enterprises. There’s a real opportunity here for IT organizations to be at the forefront of this next wave of technology change. The more proactive IT can be in effectively managing the consideration and rollout of Windows 8 within the enterprise, the more value the company will realize from this new technology.
Here is a list of things to keep in mind as you develop your Windows 8 plan:
- Establish IT in a Strategic Leadership Role: Consumerization and BYOD have put IT in “react mode,” leaving IT to adapt to users’ behavior rather than influence their choices. Turn this around with a proactive, customer-focused mindset and send a clear signal that you have anticipated business-user requirements and are ready to provide the solutions they need.
- Put the Business User’s Needs Front and Center: Rather than speculate about what users need and how they will react to the new system, form a pilot group of mobile and desktop workers to gather input firsthand. This will enable you to gauge their needs and responses as well as anticipate challenges that might surface in a larger corporate rollout.
- Establish Priority and Align Key Resources: Define and position your Windows 8 effort as a major initiative for the company. Engage and involve the highest levels of IT leadership as well as key executive sponsors from other areas of the business (for input and support), and recruit a cross-functional task team to help inform and drive the initiative.
- Communicate the Initiative and Make a Splash!: Generate excitement and buy-in for the initiative with a high-visibility internal communications campaign that highlights the new capabilities of Windows 8 and underscores how IT is working to provide users with advanced solutions for their needs. Consider holding on-site or online Windows 8 “showcase” sessions so employees can see the new devices and interface firsthand.
- Develop a Comprehensive, End-to-End Plan: Keep to a broad view of the initiative, not just individual pieces as parts. Build your plan to cover the initiative from the input and testing phases at the front end through to ensuring user proficiency and satisfaction on the back end. The success of a Windows 8 deployment hinges not only on the hardware and technical aspects but also on IT’s ability to anticipate and address user challenges.
- Budget for the Big Picture: Once you’ve outlined your plan, develop a budget that includes everything from hardware costs and communications-related activities to training, tools, and support. With a well-rationalized plan, informed by a cross-functional task team and pilot program, management will be more likely to approve the incremental budget increases that will allow you to execute a successful deployment.
- Maintain an Open Feedback Loop with Users: As users progress through the learning curve and become more familiar with Windows 8, they will continue to discover new functionalities and new ways of working. The same user-centric approach to ongoing support and education can help organizations realize the maximum value from their investment in Windows 8. Be sure to continue soliciting feedback from the first groups of users, as this will help you continuously refine your deployment actions.
Joe Puckett is the director of recruiting and training at PC Helps, and he’s the one to ask if you ever have a software question. A fifteen-year PC Helps veteran, Joe creates the company’s internal and client-facing corporate training courses. He is instrumental in making sure PC Helps’ certified productivity consultants are thoroughly trained and able to provide top-notch support on more than 160 software applications. Recently, Joe has been researching and testing Windows 8 as part of his ongoing efforts to build new training modules for consultants and clients.