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Anywhere Operations infrastructure enables decentralized IT

The pandemic forced companies into an abrupt hybrid workforce model. Anywhere Operations helps IT organizations support their workers, users and infrastructure -- wherever it is.

Anywhere Operations is a form of IT management that extends the business far beyond the confines of a physical office to meet employees, users and devices where they are. Due to the worldwide social distancing measures in place over the past two years, those users and employees could be located nearly anywhere -- and organizations can't wait to reach them.

In other words, Anywhere Operations is an IT-oriented way to describe a hybrid workforce model, which must support staff and users equally, whether they are local or remote. Another way to describe Anywhere Operations is via the decentralized IT model, which emphasizes moving infrastructure closer to data sources and disperses decision-making power away from a centralized, top-down approach.

But Anywhere Operations isn't just about a workforce and userbase that have been scattered to the wind; it also addresses a shift in customer dynamics and makeup -- for example, edge devices can be categorized as users in some situations, not just the humans who manage them. It's also about maintaining distributed IT infrastructure, which exists in the cloud and on premises -- and both must be available anywhere, anytime.

Don't make it hard for me to give you money.
Tony HarveySenior director analyst, Gartner

Users aren't static

An organization's users could be across the country -- or the globe -- or they could be in a local physical location. But the problem with this user distribution is that they often switch between these locations, and they need the same levels of access to their work from any physical device. The organization's Anywhere Operations infrastructure must support not only both formats, but the ability to transition between them without chaos.

At Gartner's IT Infrastructure, Operations & Cloud Strategies Conference in early December, analyst Tony Harvey pointed out that successful businesses are those that make themselves easy to work with. "Don't make it hard for me to give you money," he quipped.

Employees don't want a cage

In this context, cage just means an inflexible working arrangement, whether that's a permanent in-office requirement, or device or access restrictions. Especially with the pandemic conditions enduring into the indefinite future, employees don't want to be restricted to a physical office, but many want the hybrid option to go in sometimes. This demand for flexibility poses challenges to the business that must support them and their mobility without compromising the optimal experience for any modality, especially for colocated meetings and work collaboration.

In Harvey's session, he presented Gartner's classification of modern work arrangements in togetherness and apartness -- not versus. In short:

  • Working together, together refers to the congregation of employees in a physical space, particularly in terms of collaboration and group meetings.
  • Working alone, together also refers to staff congregated in a physical space, but more specifically to independent work done at desks.
  • Working together, apart refers to the pandemic-forced practice of virtual meetings and workspaces, such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
  • Working alone, apart refers to employees working remotely, such as in a home office, without other co-workers present.
Screenshot of Tony Harvey presenting at the Gartner IT Infrastructure, Operations & Cloud Strategies Conference
Tony Harvey, senior director analyst, presenting 'Infrastructure for Anywhere Operations' at Gartner IT Infrastructure, Operations & Cloud Strategies Conference, Dec. 6, 2021

Going into 2022, most employees in most industries are still working remotely, with some making periodic trips into the office -- but many workers are beginning to take more frequent trips into their traditional office spaces. Hybrid meetings are a particular sticking point in a decentralized IT organization with local and remote team members; how easily remote workers can participate in a meeting with local colleagues, for example, is a necessary issue to address.

Important tools in a decentralized IT organization fueled by Anywhere Operations are those that address collaboration, access and security. The overall employee experience is also a vital element of IT management in a decentralized IT organization -- something Gartner called DEX, or digital employee experience management.

DEX management encompasses the processes and tools employees use to work, with equal emphasis on their devices' performance stats and how they feel about those tools. Gartner called staff dissatisfaction with tools, device performance and application access "digital friction," which IT leadership can address with the following four actions:

  • Enact a concerted effort to analyze experience;
  • remediate issues as they arise -- ideally, before that issue creates immense frustration;
  • identify opportunities for automation; and
  • communicate proactively to ensure issues don't arise in the future.

Balance infrastructure with security

Another key challenge to managing an Anywhere Operations organizational model is ensuring the right infrastructure is in place to support it. And that infrastructure must feel supported equally across modalities to the staff who use it.

The equipment that staff use to access their work tasks has changed dramatically over the last several years, and a variety of options have cropped up for this precise reason. IT professionals require equal access to their work from anywhere, so this requirement usually means cloud platforms and applications. Organizations seeking an Anywhere Operations-directed methodology have an array of options to support this workplace diversity, including bring your own device (BYOD) policies, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and desktop as a service (DaaS) providers.

BYOD policies are complex in the best circumstances, because personal devices are inherently less secure than devices provided and managed by employers. Not only do companies have no control over the applications or security policies on these devices, but they also have the challenge of ensuring sensitive data doesn't move anywhere it shouldn't.

VDI and DaaS are differentiated only by who owns the infrastructure. With VDI, the organization has total ownership over the infrastructure and desktops it uses, which makes it popular for organizations with strict security requirements. DaaS, on the other hand, is virtual infrastructure owned and maintained by a cloud provider. Both options provide workers with remote access to a cloud-hosted version of their desktop, complete with requisite applications, access levels and data. An IT organization's security and compliance policies should inform the choice between these two options, alongside issues like cost of use and operation.

With these virtual infrastructure setups, employees can create, transmit, process and store data without ever touching a company-owned device. This means an organization's data could exist anywhere -- and in several places at once -- and requires that IT organizations consider their security measures carefully. Lean into options such as zero trust to assess user profiles and the device's threat detection and service identity. Minimize access to necessary systems and data, and establish protocols and filters, such as prevention of data extraction or even controls over who is allowed to print what types of documents, if any. Role-based access controls are also a valuable addition to an IT ecosystem's security posture.

Anywhere Operations and decentralized IT organizations require distributed infrastructure positioned closer to the data sources that feed into it. However, those organizations must also place a high emphasis on security measures and access, as well as invest in automation.

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