Clouding the workforce: a blueprint for the future of cloud computing

How are new ways of working evolving in an era of hyper-connection? Rob Wilkinson looks at the real estate implications of adopting cloud computing in an ‘Internet of Workplace’

We live in a world dominated by networked devices — not just smartphones, but also smart coffee pots, thermostats, fitness wrist bands, even smart running shoes. That new world — the Internet of Things (IoT), as it has become known — is beginning to permeate into the workplace.

These trends, the IoT and the advent of cloud, are giving rise to what we at Colliers International call ‘the Internet of the Workplace’ (IoW) – an integrated enterprise architecture that connects employees and enables them to collaborate and perform regardless of location and reduces the resources needed to run and maintain their own technology infrastructure.

The IoW is paving the way for new, more flexible and innovative structures, allowing companies to adopt remote working systems and assemble virtual teams in pursuit of greater efficiencies and productivity.

‘The internet of Workplace paves the way for innovative structures…’

Some disruptive technologies changing the way employees conduct their day-to-day activities include: The Cloud, collaborative software, and smart and connected devices.

Applying IoW gives organisations the ability to ‘cloud the workforce’ by adopting de-centralised structures that mirror the cloud computing environment, based around multiple remote teams that can be rapidly combined or scaled as needed, rather than a large central office.

What is the Cloud?

Many people consider the cloud to be just marketing spiel for putting all your data in someone else’s data centre. This is only partly accurate. In simple terms, cloud computing is the delivery of on-demand computing services from applications (such as Microsoft Office 365 or WebEx) to online data storage (such as SharePoint or Dropbox) to pure processing power, typically over the internet and on a pay-as-you-go basis.

So, rather than owning their own computing infrastructure or data centres, companies can rent access to anything they need from a cloud service provider and only pay for what they use.

Location, Location, Location

Ask anyone what the first rule of real estate is and you’re likely to hear, ‘location, location, location’. And that is also one of the defining characteristics of new ways of working. Essentially, in order to compete in this new hyper-connected world we live in, whether it is competing in attracting top talent or in business itself, regardless of the industry companies are being forced to offer more flexible, even location-agnostic, ways of working.

As the IoW-enabled workplace and clouded workforce approach gains pace, alternative leasing options such as flex and core – a combination of a long-term lease for core operations and flexible leases to accommodate headcount changes associated with shifting operational demands – are becoming the norm.

Real estate specialist Colliers has found that 90 per cent of its occupier clients in the APAC Region are considering flexible workspace, a trend highlighted by a doubling of the average leasing term for flexible space to 24 months from 12 months five years ago.

From a real estate perspective, migrating to the cloud reduces the need for physical space as employees can, in theory, access the company network anywhere allowing them to exchange ideas and make decisions regardless of location. If done correctly, this will undoubtedly allow companies to reduce their footprint and bring about cost savings through greater space efficiency.

Overcoming the resistance

Building an IoW promises many potential advantages, but it is not necessarily a strategy organisations should adopt wholesale as there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ IoW blueprint. Several models should be considered and chosen from (or blended) based on the needs, priorities and commercial context of each organisation, as well as the demands of employees and customers.

As a real estate professional, I personally think that the biggest challenge is to do with people. It is not always easy to accept when we are told that we must adapt to new processes and leave the old, familiar systems behind. Some cloud technologies have, therefore, often been met with resistance.

This is particularly prevalent with veteran workers who have done something a certain way for a long time. To avoid this, we recommend introducing the technology as early as possible, training often, allow plenty of time for people to adjust, and creating a forum for employees to voice their concerns and feel heard.

‘Allow time for people to adjust…’

In the old IT world, once a firm or a consumer had decided on an operating system or database, it was difficult and costly to switch to another. In the cloud this ‘lock in’ is even worse. Cloud providers go to great lengths to make it easy to upload data. They accumulate huge amounts of complex information, which cannot easily be moved to an alternative provider. Similarly, firms create a world of interconnected services, software and devices, which is convenient but only as long as you don’t venture outside their universe.

Significant security concerns

For IT teams, security is probably the most significant concern with cloud adoption. We frequently hear about data breaches and hacks impacting the customers of major corporations. These will become more challenging to avoid as companies introduce Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies. Sometimes, even a simple oversight – like an executive leaving a smartphone unattended for a few minutes at a coffee shop – can potentially expose the enterprise to major threats.

As the IoW hits its stride, the future of commercial real estate will be determined by how the industry comes to terms with, and makes the most of, the challenges and opportunities presented by this movement which technological and demographic trends make all but inevitable.

But cloud is not an all or nothing thing, there is no singular right or wrong way to implement it, as cloud is just another way of consuming IT. We must embrace change, look at how this technology can be used, and encourage a more innovative and collaborative workplace.

This article is based on the report, Flex, Core, and the Cloud: A Blueprint for The Future Asia Pacific Workplace. The full version can be downloaded here.

Rob Wilkinson is an associate director at Colliers International. He was a keynote speaker at WORKTECH Singapore 2018 and will be speaking at WORKTECH Hong Kong 2018. More information on the Hong Kong event here.

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