Optimizing end-user workspace with blue-sky thinking
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Optimizing end-user workspace with blue-sky thinking

Clare Simmons – October 2013
The UK’s National Air Traffic Control Services is reflecting changing user behavior with the delivery of new mobile working capabilities to employees in a highly sensitive environment.

April 2011 was a watershed month for the IT group at international air traffic control organization NATS. Under its CIO, Gavin Walker, the department attained a 95% satisfaction level for office IT among its 6,000 users – a target that had been in its sights for almost five years.

It was delivered via what Walker characterizes as a very traditional service delivery model and a standard desktop environment based on locked-down desktops running Windows XP that were typically five or six years old.

Most organizations would’ve been happy with 95%, says Walker, but he adopted a different perspective. Even with a CFO keen to sweat the organization’s assets, he weighed another option: rather than continuing with the existing model and simply upgrading to Windows 7, he explored a move of all desktop IT services to a cloud-based infrastructure — that would “look to the future,” shrink its environmental footprint and be more aligned to NATS’ core business challenges.

A key part of those challenges relates to the organization’s ambitions. NATS controls the air passage for 2.2 million aircraft annually. And far from being limited to the UK, as its name might suggest, it provides services to 30 countries, ranging from its core air traffic control services to the construction of control towers and transport sector consultancy.

“If you don’t have everyone 100% behind the vision, it’s not going to work.”

The organization’s structure also poses an ongoing challenge. NATS is a public-private partnership: a consortium of airlines is the majority stakeholder, while the UK government owns the remaining 49%. This creates a commercial dichotomy because the airlines involved are also part of its customer base – as part-owners these businesses want increased profits, but as customers they demand reduced costs.

In addition to this “tug of war,” NATS must compete in the open market for the two ends of any flight, which are still unregulated, but it has a monopoly over the heavily regulated en-route control through its government contract. So some staff work in the unregulated area, where the emphasis is on tight cost controls, while others are in the regulated part of the business that prioritizes long-term investment.Three-way split

To accommodate this, Walker divided the user base into three classes. The air traffic controllers themselves are typically very light IT users; without a fixed PC, desk or phone, they can be difficult to connect to. That said, the users within that group require fast access whenever they go on a break from their shifts. Alongside them, there are 1,000 engineers, responsible for repairing equipment out in the field or developing the next generation of air traffic control systems, with much more sophisticated IT needs. The corporate office constitutes a third user group, with yet another distinct class of requirements. “One size definitely doesn’t fit all,” he emphasizes.
Walker’s overarching aim was to ensure the solution delivered real value to all three groups — as well as to the business as a whole – so that his team was not simply seen as provisioning core IT capabilities. To ensure that, he devised a vision for the organization’s future workspaces that would make the important distinction between a traditional desktop and a flexible, comprehensive digital working environment.

The cornerstone of that has been the DIAMOND (Desktop & Identity Access Management On Demand) project, conceived around Citrix virtual desktops, with users able to work on their application and datasets on any device. But DIAMOND is very much “a change program, rather than a technology program,” Walter insists, acknowledging how human behavior is the real driver here. The aim is to create a “smarter” system to acknowledge that employees’ time is precious and their rapid access to the right information is vital.

Midway through the roll out, DIAMOND is already meeting many of its goals, he says:

• Enriching the working experience by changing behaviors and enabling people to use technology to improve productivity and efficiency.
• Making the right services accessible via a flexible, role-based computing model.
• Positioning information as the key strategic asset, and focus on collaboration to improve access to this.
• Providing tools on demand, through the consumerization of the professional desktop. This meant users downloading apps whenever and wherever they want them, rather than putting in a request to IT support.
• Supporting NATS’ overall “greener services” efforts, particularly through BYOD and virtual delivery.

None of that was ever going to be achievable without a broad commitment to the vision, from the C-suite to suppliers. “If you don’t have everyone 100% behind the vision, it’s not going to work,” he argues. And to secure that ultimate buy-in, Walker went the extra mile: he commissioned an animation that marketed the far-reaching benefits of DIAMOND to users and stakeholders alike.

Gavin Walker was speaking at Citrix Mobility 2013.
First published October 2013
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