ICT Principles 4 of 8: Any Device

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May 25, 2012 by Jim Morton

This is the fourth of eight blog posts which will describe our general principles for ICT; these are the major ideas that underpin our formal strategy documents and will influence our decision making in the coming years. For a list of all of the principles see this previous post.

“Any user device: We will provide our services to any appropriate and suitably secured device, whether or not it is owned and managed by WCC.”

(Quick note for completists – this principle was also addressed a previous rambling blog post here: Left To Your Own Devices: https://abigbang.wordpress.com/2011/10/04/left-to-your-own-devices/)

WHAT IS IT?

This is probably our most straightforward principle. We want both our staff and our customers to be able to access our electronic services using any device they like, preferably the most convenient and useful for them.

There, that is all there is to it. No dodgy metaphors or diagrams.

We will achieve this through an approach to our services and applications which concentrates on widely accepted standards and the flexibility offered by utility computing. Not through dealing with devices on a case by case basis.

WHY DO WE WANT TO DO THIS?

As with many of our principles and strategic aims this will provide a benefit to users as well as making life easier behind the scenes.

On the user side there are a whole load of very good reasons why we need to work towards supporting any device:

1. The main computing device is now a phone
Five years ago, if you wanted to browse the internet to use the services that WCC offered over the web than you would have been using a desktop or laptop computer. The only people using phones to access services on the web were either insufferably rich and smug types who had an early iphone, or deluded masochists convinced that WAP browsing was something worthwhile (I believe WAP was actually an abbreviation of Wrong And Painful).

These days if you threw half a brick out of a window into a crowded street, the call to the ambulance is highly likely to be made with a phone that will also have recorded the whole incident and posted the footage to youtube ready for your prosecution. So two things to realise here: firstly everyone fully expects to be able to access services on their phone – and secondly, never throw bricks out of windows.

2. … or a TV
In a move infuriating to technical types, web based services and the browsers that they come delivered in are starting to look lot less like technical, ICT-inflected interfaces and much more like something that your parents will happily use without phoning you up every two minutes in a blind panic. Good examples of this are games consoles and network enabled TV’s that are offering cuddly, easily navigated services like the BBC iPlayer and Netflix. This is how people like to use web based services and the continued convergence of the TV and computer is something that we will see really take off in the next year or so. Next up: the widespread adoption of internet enabled fridges.

3. Better delivery of services
As the capabilities of devices expand and evolve new ways of delivering services will become apparent, or perhaps even entirely new services will emerge. We want to be in a position where we can take advantage of such developments without long lead-times or massive re-engineering. From a more practical point of view certain devices may be more suited to particular job roles, especially where staff need to be on the move and don’t want to be lugging around a piece of kit that doubles as some sort of weight training programme. Financially it is already apparent that tablet devices are going to prove cheaper to purchase and run than ‘traditional’ devices, so the possibility of cost savings also exists – which is rather handy if you work in an industry sector like local government where money is now so tight that a clear business case has to be signed off in order to use the stapler.

4. Shiny thing make it all better
People really do like to use the latest gadgets and kit – in some cases this will lead to more flexible and efficient working. Mostly it just makes people feel a bit happier. I heard a presentation a few years back that seriously drew a connection between staff retention figures in high tech companies and the ability of their staff to use their own flash mac laptops rather than boring beige PC boxes. I didn’t give this much credence at the time but have come to realise that even such a seemingly marginal measure can definitely improve the user experience and therefore lead to other benefits.

[NOTE: The fact that I am writing this on my Macbook Pro rather than my work HP Atrocity could be a factor in this realisation. Possibly.]

This is an idea that is taking hold fast, there are already lots of scaremongering articles out and about featuring the clumsy looking abbreviation BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and speculating on exactly what this means for the hardware supply channel.

From an ICT point of view, the principle of Any Device will also help resolve some problems as well as forcing us to adopt better practice, here are a few examples:

1. Developing for standards, not devices
As mentioned above, we will achieve wide support for devices by working towards flexible approaches and widely accepted standards – rather than targeting technical solutions towards particular platforms. The discipline of working this way will also contribute to a load of our other strategic aims and intended benefits such as an improved applications architecture, easing flexible working and collaboration with partners as well as bringing about lasting world peace.

2. Removing physical dependencies
Along with our Applications Strategy and forthcoming Infrastructure & Connectivity Strategy, our work on devices is heavily concerned with abstracting services away from the device or hardware that is used to run them.

Where hardware and applications are heavily entangled or specifically designed for each other the implications are that support issues, upgrades/improvements and eventual obsolescence in one area has a profound effect on the other.

For example the version of word installed on your Pc (or Mac) will not be supported after a certain amount of time, or may not contain new features that have since come onto the market which you would really like to have a crack at. You want to get the new version, but it doesn’t work on the version of windows that you have, you need to upgrade that too. In checking out how to upgrade windows, you come to realise that your current PC is not physically capable of running the new version of windows. The upshot is that if you want to have a go at those cool new clip art themes, you are going to have to buy a new computer. Now if you were using Google apps or MS Office 365 – you can take advantage of new versions and features without any physical dependency issues getting in the way.

Of course working this way cannot completely protect us from obsolescence – eventually network speed, form factors and interface innovation will drive you to buying a new device. You may think that your shiny new iphone 4s is the bees knees with its retina screen and Siri (the personal assistant which is not actually able to assist you with anything other than dialling the wrong person on your phone) – but in no time at all you’ll be using it as a particularly expensive drinks coaster. In 1981 Clive Sinclair reportedly boasted that the uber powerful ZX81 computer was capable of running a nuclear power station – part of a marketing push that painted the machine as some kind of mix between deep thought and the monolith from 2001.
ImageWithin a couple of years this was the main use for the ZX81:

Image
3. Reducing management and administration effort and costs
As you can probably imagine if we are able to minimise the interaction that we as an organisation have with individual user devices then we can make massive savings in terms of the time and effort that we put into procuring, configuring, securing, updating and securing all of the devices that we manage. Couple to that the additional time and effort involved we spend testing, installing, updating and patching software applications and you can understand why embracing a model where we support any device that supports a well accepted set of standards and then target our applications and services at those standards is quite so appealing

Follow up how this principle has already been more formally defined and adopted through the creation and adoption of our User Device Strategy, which you can have a read of right here: https://sites.google.com/a/warwickshire.gov.uk/ictstrategy/home/devices-strategy

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