The new digital infrastructure that tech analysts are so excited about is certainly disruptive. Everything from the virtualisation of the data centre to file sync-and-share services to hybrid cloud integration (HCI) are shaking up the enterprise.The enterprise was once a tightly controlled environment surrounded by a firewall and was relatively easily managed via the provisioning of identities and passwords, but it is undergoing a fundamental rethink. A couple of years ago, my own world changed when I was flooded with enquiries about file sync and share vendors like Dropbox and Box.I am going to make a public confession: I never really understood what people thought was sexy and exciting about a remote document folder, and I still don't. In fact had there not been more behind this phenomenon than first met the eye, I would likely have gnawed a leg off out of sheer boredom – either that or heaven forbid I could have begun to think that storage technology was somehow cool.
What saved me from such fates was the dawning realisation that file sync-and-share services are a symptom rather than a cause, as indeed is much of what is currently coming out of Silicon Valley. The cause is the emerging digital infrastructure and the outcome, in my world at least, will be the Social Enterprise.As far as I'm concerned, businesses will soon need to make the transformation into the Social Enterprise, but getting there is going to be a hard and frankly brutal path to follow, with many falling by the wayside in the process.By Social Enterprise I don't mean switching on an activity stream on somebody's desktop, giving them Facebook without the fun or providing workers with like buttons and gold stars after they have opened 50 documents. People who propose such things need to be slapped.By Social Enterprise, I mean the sweet spot between social computing – where we have infinite touch points, dissolving and increasingly irrelevant boundaries, decentralised and at best loose controls, all in an unregulated state where the activity is the outcome. Essentially, the outcome is a flattening of the corporate structure.
Of course this will necessarily contrast with the perennial enterprise concerns of being commercially driven and viable, centrally or at least closely controlling and measuring activities, integrating people processes and technology, and all this in a regulated environment.The Social Enterprise is made possible by the new technology that is increasingly making up most businesses' digital infrastructure.The challenge of HCI (Hybrid Cloud Integration), and how an emerging Integration Platform as a Service (IPaaS) market might affect enterprise IT strategy and architectures; and The shift from a focus on knowledge workers to real world workers who make and do things in the real world. Though firms like IBM and Oracle have very detailed and compelling visions of what the future Social Enterprise looks like and what it will do, the fact is that none of us know for sure.
All we know is that the global IT infrastructure has undergone a huge upheaval, and that the complex but cosy world of the enterprise is being impacted, change appears to be coming whether we want it or not.The answer to my driver's question: What's the next big thing in technology? is You are. In the future I will have the ability to know more about you than I ever wanted to know. I will also have the ability to interact with you in more ways than you thought possible, to see events and trends developing at an earlier and earlier point until my predictions become unnervingly accurate.The future is already technically possible and enabled, but the time it will take all of us to unravel both our existing technical baggage along with our perceptions and personal baggage will be what defines the outcome. Along the way we might also consider what is really important to an enterprise (rather than a technologist) and figure out what is not.Just because we can operate in an everything-everywhere environment doesn't mean we have to do this. We should try to define how a Social Enterprise should look now, otherwise it is likely to define us. A small faction of IT bravehearts in the Scottish government are dabbling with Windows 8 – yes, you read that correctly – to see if Microsoft's much-maligned OS is suitable for a wider roll out.In a pilot scheme, the devolved administration is handing out 100 units comprised of Samsung Series 7, Dell Latitude 10 and Samsung ATIV tablets running on the latest, little-loved OS from Redmond.
The testbed tabs will be managed using Microsoft System Centre 2012 Configuration Manager. If the pilot is successful, Windows 8 will be rolled out to the Scottish government's internal IT division, which supports 10,000 users.Details of prices and the total number of machines to be deployed, if successful, were not supplied.Andy McClintock, the Scottish government's chief tech officer, said that if the Windows 8 pilot works out it will “reduce the laptop and desktop estate by a corresponding amount over time.”He emphasised that the exercise is nothing more than exploratory at this stage, with “cost and deployment contained.”The pilot is being implemented by solutions provider Trustmarque, a Microsoft enterprise partner that a year ago sold an Enterprise Agreement to the Scottish NHS after a four-year hiatus.Windows 8 is a year old this month with Windows 8.1 just around the corner. The first iteration of the OS was mauled for promoting the touch-interface at the expense of the traditional desktop. Microsoft has reversed direction somewhat with Windows 8.1, and will allow users to boot to the classic desktop – complete with the Start button, which was deleted in Windows 8 after an 18-year reign at the heart of Windows.
Regardless, Microsoft has been trying to convince people Windows 8 is ready for business, At launch last year, the company named BT and the Italian Post Office as enterprise users.The reality is many large businesses, if they are doing anything, are only just moving to Windows 7 having jumped from Windows XP either buying Windows 7 licenses or using downgrade rights in their Windows licenses. Looking more like minimalist toast rack then a tidy tech tray for tablets, phones and PMPs, this charger deals with desktop clutter by housing five devices in a neat rack. While there’s not an awful lot to say about it, as the picture speaks those 1000 words here, it’s worth noting that each of its five charging ports can output up to 2.1A at 5V. This means that even older power-hungry devices such as the original Samsung Galaxy Tab can get juiced up here.Griffin lists a range of compatible devices which appears to be there to calm the not-so-tech-savvy, as there’s no doubt it'll work with most things. Certainly, our tests with some unlisted phones – Nokia Lumia 820 and BlackBerry Z10 – worked fine.
The same goes for the Acer Iconia and Kobo Arc and Aura HD tablets tried. The only real moan here is it’s not so much a case of BYOD but BYOC – bring your own cable. At £75, you’d have thought Griffin could have bunged some of its unsold 30-pin iOS leads and the odd micro USB cable in there just to get things started.So there I was wondering why I had developed a slightly stiff ankle on my perch at Vulture Central. Not especially draughty here and we’re not forced to hop on one leg – it’s voluntary. Yet by a process of elimination, I worked out it was my seating position: legs stretched out with feet crossed – the lower foot propping up the one on top. This seemed a likely cause. The trouble was it had become a habit, that was really hard to break.Enter the Kensington SoleMate Plus. It’s just a £50 footrest – less than 30 quid if you shop around online – and it helped break that bad habit. No doubt there are more enduring metal alternatives out there for a price, but this plastic affair with adjustable height and tilt does the job. It’s weighty, robust and stays in position. There’s also a foot-controlled lock in the base that allows you to adjust the tilt without having to scrabble around on the floor.
Curiously, the instructions have a colour-coded, hand-sized chart that’s used to determine the correct height of the SoleMate. This sounds good in theory, but if you’ve a desk that has a frame construction with protrusions, you might find yourself bashing your knees if it's raised too far. Admittedly, this isn’t exactly high tech, but as an office enhancement, a foot rest does make a significant difference, day in, day out.As any Skype user knows, you don’t need a lot of tech to get a video chat going – just about anything mobile has a facecam and most monitors have one on-board too, these days. It’s fine for one-to-one, but try to fit in more folk and you’re either jockeying for position or sat so far back you might as well not bother with video anyway.For just the occasional video chat – who needs a telepresence suite when there are significantly cheaper options. Logitech’s BCC950 ConferenceCam is a quirky-looking video-conferencing device that features a remote control that operates pan and tilt movements of the camera and zoom too. The remote can tweak volume levels as well as answer, mute or end calls – functions that call also be managed from the base of the unit, where the speakerphone tech resides.
Talking of tech, the on-board H.264 codec avoids taxing the host computer CPU when processing the video, so it can work with just about any old piece of kit – from XP to OS X 10.6. The 1080p camera features Carl Zeiss optics and a 9-point autofocus system, so even if the boss tries to work the visuals like Orson Welles, everyone should stay in focus. As far as the camera quality goes, as always, a lot depends on how well lit the room is. Bright backlighting from windows is going to be a challenge, but you can always zoom in to avoid silhouettes, narrowing that 78˚ field of view.The 9-inch extender helps to deliver an eye-level chat experience but doesn’t have to be configured, as the camera can sit in the base and still benefit from the 180˚ pan and 55˚ tilt positioning. Sonically, Logitech claim it’s good for up to 8ft away, although acoustics – room resonances and background noise – will have a bearing here.Still, the BCC950 ConferenceCam has noise cancelling trickery built-in and sounded pretty good overall and there's a headphone socket too, if needed. USB video class (UVC) compliant it works with just about any self-respecting video conferencing system. Just be sure to install the Skype plug-in or you won't see the image change with the zoom functions.
Luidia’s eBeam range of products is something that has to be seen to fully appreciate. It’s not horrendously complicated, but it does operate in more than one way. First off, it provides the means to capture the pen strokes of whiteboard and flip chart scrawl which can then be reviewed from a computer and repurposed. A special colour-coded holder for standard whiteboard felt tip pens communicate the positioning of the coloured pens while a detector on the side of the whiteboard monitors the movements. There's even a companion eraser, so you can wipe away whiteboard mistakes.A similar set-up takes place when it is all hooked up to a projector, so you can actually write on the projection, but this time not with felt pen but from an interactive stylus that generates lines from within the application in whatever colours you choose. Yes, you can bring up a palette of colours and change mid-stream. With this arrangement remote viewers can see the presentation too and contribute from their own computers. The stylus will even perform as mouse, clicking and dragging content around.