Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Rethinking Employee Well-Being Means Innovative New Support for the Digital Work-Life-Balance

Transcript of a discussion on the current state of employee well-being and how new pressures and complexity from distance working demand new forms of employer-managed support.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Download the transcript. Sponsor: Citrix.

Dana Gardner: Hi, this is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and you’re listening to BriefingsDirect.

The tumultuous shift over the past year to nearly all-digital and frequently at-home work has amounted to a rapid-fire experiment in human adaptability. While there are many successful aspects to the home-exodus experiment, as with all disruption to human behavior, there are also some significant and highly personal downsides.

Stay with us now as we explore the current state of employee well-being and examine how new pressures and complexity from distance working may need new forms of digital support, too.

To learn more about coping in an age of unprecedented change in blended work and home life, we’re now joined by our guests, Carolina Milanesi, Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies and founder at The Heart of Tech. Welcome, Carolina.

Carolina Milanesi: Thank you for having me.

Gardner: We’re also here with Amy Haworth, Senior Director, Employee Experience at Citrix. Welcome, Amy.

Amy Haworth: It’s great to be here.

Gardner: And we’re here with Ray Wolf, Chief Executive Officer at A2K Partners. Welcome, Ray.

Ray Wolf: Thank you, Dana.

Gardner: Amy, how are predominantly digital work habits adding to employee pressures and complexities? And at this point, is it okay not to be okay with all of these issues and new ways of doing things?

Distance work redefines employee wellness

Haworth: Thanks, Dana. It’s such an important question. What we have witnessed in the last 12 months is an unfolding of the humanness of a very powerful transformational experience in the world. It is absolutely okay not to be okay. To be able to come alongside those who are courageous enough to admit it is one of the most important roles that organizations are being called upon to play in the lives of our employees. 

Oftentimes, I think about what’s happened in 2020 and 2021. It’s as if the tide went out. It exposes fissures in our connectedness in the way organizations operate -- even in the support systems we have in place for employees.

We’ve learned that unless employees are okay, our organizational health is at risk, too. Taking care of employees and enabling employees to take care of themselves shifts the conversation to new, innovative ways of doing that.

The last 12 months have shown us that we’ve never faced something like this before, so it’s only natural that we lacked a lot of the support systems and mechanisms to enable us to get through it.

There has been some amazing innovation to help close that gap. But it’s also been as if we’ve been flying the plane, while also figuring out how to do this all better. So, absolutely, yes, there are new challenges -- but also a lot of growth. Being able to come alongside and being able to raise the white flag when needed makes it worth doing.

Gardner: Carolina, the idea for corporations of where their responsibility is has shifted a great deal. It used to be that employees would drive out of the parking lot -- and they’d be off on their way, and there was no further connection. But when they’re working at home and facing new forms of fatigue or emotional turmoil, the company is part of that process, too. Do you see companies recognizing that?

Milanesi: Absolutely. To be honest with you, it’s been a long time in coming because although I might drive away from the parking lot -- for a lot of employees -- that’s not when the work stops.

Either because you’re working across different time zones or because you’re on call, if you’re a knowledge worker, chances are that your days are not a nine-to-five kind of experience. That had not been fully understood. The balance that people have to find in working and their private life has been under strain for quite some time.

Now that we’ve been at home, there’s no escape [from work]. That’s the realization companies have come to -- that we are in this changed world and we are all at home. It’s not just that I decided to be a remote worker, and it’s just me. It’s me and whoever else is living with me -- a partner, or maybe parents that I’m looking after, and children, all co-sharing apartments and all of that.

So, the stress is not just mine. It’s the stress of all of the people living with me. That is where more attentiveness needs to come in, to understand the personal situations that individuals are in -- especially for under-represented groups.

For example, if you think about women and how they feel about talking -- or not talking -- about their children or caregiver responsibilities, they often shy away from talking about it. They may think it reflects badly on them.

All of those stresses were there before, but they became exacerbated during the pandemic. This has made organizations realize how much weight is on the shoulders of their employees, who are human beings after all.

Gardner: Ray at A2K Partners, you probably find yourself between the companies and their employees, helping with the technology that joins them and makes them productive. How are you seeing the reaction of both the employees and the businesses? Are they coming together around this -- or are we just starting that process?

Wolf: I think we’re only in the second inning here, Dana. In our conversations with chief human resources officers (CHROs), they come to the conversation saying, “Ray, is there a better way? Do we really need to live with the way things are for our employees, particularly with the way they interface with technology and the applications that we give them to get their jobs done?”

We’re able to reassure them that, yes, there is a better way. The level of dissatisfaction and anxiety that employees have working with technology doesn’t have to be there anymore. What’s different now is that people are not accepting the status quo. They’re asking for a better way forward. The great news -- and we’ll get into this a little bit later -- is there are a lot of things that can be done.

The concept of work-life balance, right? It’s no longer two elements at the end of a see-saw that’s in balance. It looks more like a puzzle, where you’re shifting in and out -- often in 15-minute or 30-minute intervals -- between your personal life and your work life.

So how can technology better facilitate that? How can we put people into their flow state so they have a clear cognitive view of what they need to get done, set the priorities, and lead them into a good state when they need to return to their family activities and duties?

Gardner: Amy, what hasn’t changed is the fundamental components of this are people, process, and technology. The people part, the human resources (HR) part, perhaps needs to change because of what we’ve seen in the last year.

Do you see the role of HR changing? Is it even being elevated in importance within the organization?

Empowered employees blend life, work

Haworth: The role of HR really has elevated. I see it as an amplification of employee voice. HR is the employee advocate and the employee’s voice into the organization.

It’s one thing to be the voice when no one’s listening. It’s much more interesting to be the voice when people are listening and to steer the organization in the direction that puts talent at the center, with talent first.

We’re having discussions and dialog about what’s needed to create the most powerful employee experience, one where employees are seen or heard and feel included in the path forward. One thing that’s so clear is we are shaping this all together, collectively. We are together shaping the future in which we will all live.

Being able to include that employee voice as we craft what it means to go to work or to do work in the years ahead means in many ways that it's an open canvas. There are many ways to do hybrid work.

Being able to include that employee voice as we craft what it means to go to work or to do work in the years ahead means in many ways that it’s an open canvas. There are many ways to do hybrid work, which clearly seems to be the direction most organizations are going. Hybrid is quite possibly the future direction education is heading, too.

A lot of rethinking is happening. As we harness that collective voice, HR’s leadership is bringing that to the table, bringing it into decisions, and entering into a more experimental mindset. Where we are looking to in the future and how we find ways to innovate around hybrid work is increasingly important.

Gardner: Carolina, when we look at the role of technology in all of this, how should an HR organization such as Amy’s use technology to help -- rather than contribute to the problem?

Milanesi: That’s the key question, right? Technology cannot come as another burden that I have to deal with when it comes to employees.

I love Ray’s analogy of the puzzle of the life we live. I stopped talking about work-and-life balance years ago and started talking instead about working-life-blend because if you blend there’s room to maneuver and change. You can compromise and put less stress on one area versus the other.

So, technology needs to come in to help us create that blend – and it has to be very personal. The most important thing for me is that one size doesn’t fit all. We’re all individuals, we’re all different. And although we might share some commonalities, the way that my workflow is setup is very different from yours. It has to speak to me because otherwise it becomes another burden.

So, one part is helping with that blend. Another part for technology to play is not making me feel that the tool I’m using is an overseer. There are a lot of concerns when it comes to remote working, that organizations are giving you tools to manage you -- versus help you. That’s where the difference lies, right? For me, as an employee, I need to make sure that the tool is there to just help me do my work.

It doesn’t have to be difficult. It has to be straightforward. It keeps me in the flow, and helps me with my blended life. I also think that the technology needs to be context-aware. For example, what I need in the office is different from what I need when I’m at home or when I’m at the airport -- or wherever I might be to doing work.

The idea that your task is dependent or is influenced by the context you’re in is important as well. But simplicity, security, and my privacy are all three components that are important to me and should be important to my organization.

Gardner: Ray, Carolina just mentioned a few key words: context, feelings, and the idea of an experience rather than fitting into what the coder had in mind. It wasn’t that long ago that applications pretty much forced people to behave in certain ways in order to fit set processes. 

What I’m hearing, though, is that we have to have more adaptable processes and technologies to account for a person’s experiences and feelings. Is that not possible? Or is it pie-in-the-sky to bring the human factor and the technology together?

Technology helps workers work better

Wolf: Dana, the great news is the technology is here today with the capability to that. The sad part is the benchmark is still pretty low. The fact is when it comes to providing technology to enable workers to get their jobs done, there is really very little forethought as to how it’s architected and orchestrated.

People are often simply given login information to the multiple applications that they need to use to get things done during the day. The most that we do in terms of consideration for these employees is create a single sign-on. So, for the first five minutes of your day, we have a streamlined, productive, and secure way to login -- but then it’s a free for all. Processes are standard across employee types. There’s no consideration for how the individual employee wants to get work done, of what works best for them.

We subject very highly talented and creative people to a lot of low-value, repetitive tasks. Citrix Workspace allows you to automate out those mundane tasks, allowing workers to contribute more to critical business needs.

In addition, we subject very highly talented and creative people to a lot of low-value, repetitive tasks. One of the things that CHROs bring up to me all the time is, “How can I get my employees working at the top of their skills range, as opposed to the bottom of their skills range?”

Today there are platforms such as Citrix Workspace that allow you to automate out those mundane tasks, take into consideration where the employees should be spending their time, and allowing them to contribute more to the critical business needs of an organization.

Gardner: Amy, to that point of the way employees perceive of their work value, are you seeing people mired in doing task-based work? Or are you seeing the opportunity for people to move past that and for the organization to support them so that they can do the work they feel most empowered by? How are organizations helping them move past task to talent?

Haworth: Great question, and I love how you phrase that move from task to talent. So a couple things come to mind. Number one, organizations are looking to take friction out of the work-day. That friction is energy, and that energy could be better spent for an employee doing something they love to do -- something that is their core skill set or why they were hired into that organization to start with.

A recent statistic I heard was that average workflow tends to involve at least four different stops along an application’s path. Think about what it takes to submit an expense report.

As much as possible, we’re looking for ways that take friction out of those interactions so employees get a sense of progress at the end of the day. The energy they’re expending in their jobs and roles should feel like it’s coming back threefold.

Ray touched on the idea of flow, but the conversation in 2021, based on the data we’ve seen, shows that employees feel fatigued because of the workload. What emerged from a lot of the survey work across multiple research firms last year was this sense of fatigue. You know, “My workload doesn’t match the hours that I have in the day.”

So, in HR circles, we’re beginning to think about, “Well, what do we do about that?” Is this a conversation more about energy and energetic spend? Initially [in the pandemic] there was a lot of energy spent just transforming how things were done. And now we get to think about when things are done. When do I have the most energy to do that hard thing? And then, “How is the technology helping me to do it? And is it telling me when it’s probably time to take a break?”


At Citrix we’ve recently introduced some really interesting notifications to help with this idea of well-being so that integration of technology into the workday helps as an employee manages their energy – to take, for example, a five-minute meditation break because they have been working solid for three hours. That might be a really good idea rather than that cup of coffee, for example.

So we’re starting to see a combination of the helpfulness of technology in a way that’s invited by employees. Carolina makes a great point about the privacy concerns, and so it comes in a way that’s invited by employees. That ultimately enables a state of flow and that feeling of progress and good use of the talent that each employee brings into the organization.

Gardner: Carolina, when we think about technology of 10 or more years ago, oftentimes developers would generate a set of requirements, create the application, and throw it over the wall. People would then use it. 

But what I just heard from Amy was much more about the employee having agency in how they use the technology, maybe even designing the flow and processes based on what works for them.

Have we gotten to the point where the technology is adaptive and people have a role in how services -- maybe micro-services -- are assembled? Are people becoming more like developers, rather than waiting for developers to give them the technology to use?

Optimize app workflows

Milanesi: Absolutely. Not everybody is in that kind of no-code environment yet to create their own applications from scratch, but certainly a lot of people are using micro-apps that come together into a workflow in both their private and work lives. 

Smartphone growth marked the first time that each of us started to be more in control of the applications that create workflows in a private way. The arrival of your own device into enterprise also meant bringing your own applications into enterprise.

As you know, it was a bit of the Wild West for a while, and then we harnessed that. Organizations that are most successful are the ones that stopped fighting this change and actually embraced it. To Amy’s point, there are ways to diminish and lower the friction that we feel as employees when we want to work in a certain way and to use all of the applications and tools, even ones that an IT department may not want us to. 

There is more friction and time loss in someone trying to go around that problem and creating back doors that bypass IT than for IT to empower me to do that work, as long as my assets and data are secure. As long as it’s secure, I should have a list of applications and tools that I can choose from and create my own best workflows.

Gardner: Ray, how do you see that balance between employee-agency and -agility and what the IT department allows? How do we keep the creativity flowing from the user, but at the same time put in the necessary guardrails?

Wolf: You can achieve both. This is not employee workflow at the sacrifice of security. That’s the state of technology today. Just in terms of where to get started with the idea of employees designing their workflows, this is exactly how we’re going about it with many customers today.

I mean, what an ironic thought: To actually ask the people involved in the day-to-day work what’s working for them and what’s not. What’s causing you frustration and is high-value to the company? So you can easily identify five places to go get started to automate and streamline.

What an ironic thought: To actually ask the people in the day-to-day work what's working for them and what's not. What's causing you frustration and is high-value to the company?

And the beautiful thing about it is when you ask the worker where that frustration is, and you solve it, two things happen. One, they have ownership and the adoption is very high as opposed to leadership-driven decisions. And we see this happening everyday today. It’s kind of the “smart guy in the room” syndrome where the people who don’t actually have to do the work are telling everybody what and how the workers actually want to get things done. It doesn’t work that way. 

The second is, once employees see -- with as little as two to three changes in their daily workflow -- what’s possible, their minds open up in terms of all the automation capabilities, all the streamlining that can occur, and they feel invigorated and energized. They become a much more productive and engaged member of the team. And we’re seeing this happen. It’s really an amazing process overall.

We used to think of work as 9 am to 5 pm -- eight hours out of your awake hours. Today, work occurs across every waking hour. This is something that remote workers have known for a long time. But now some 45 percent to 50 percent of the workforce is remote. Now it’s coming to light. Many more people are feeling like they need to do something about it.

So we need to sense what’s going on with those employees. Some of the technology that we’re working on is evaluating and looking at someone’s schedule. How many back-to-back meetings have they had? And then enforcing a cognitive break in their schedules so people can take a breather -- maybe take care of something in their personal lives.

And then, even beyond that -- with today’s technology such as smart watches -- we could look at things such as blood pressure and heart rates and decide if the anxiety level is too high or if an employee is in their proper flow. Again, we can then make adjustments to schedules, block out times on their calendars -- or, you know, even schedule some well-being visits with someone who could help them through the stresses in their lives.

Gardner: Amy, building on Ray’s point of enhancing well-being, if we begin using technology to allow employees to be productive, in their flow, but also gain inference information to support them in new ways -- how does that change the relationship between the organization and the employee? And how do you see technology becoming part of the solution to support well-being?

Trust enhances well-being

Haworth: There’s so much interesting data coming out over the last year about how the contract between employees and the organization is changing. There has been, in many cases, a greater level of trust. 

According to the research, many employees have trusted what their organizations have been telling them about the pandemic -- more than they trusted state and local governments or even national governments. I think that’s something we need to pay attention to.

Trust is that very-hard-to-quantify organizational benefit that fuels everything else. When we think about attraction, retention, engagement, and commitment -- some in HR believe that higher organizational commitment is the real driver to discretionary effort, loyalty, and tenure.

As we think about the role of the organization when it comes to well-being and how we build on trust where it’s healthy -- how can we uphold that with high regard? How can we better bridge that into a different employer-employee relationship -- perhaps one that’s better than we’ve ever seen before?

If we stand up and say, “Our talent is truly the human capital that will be front-and-center to helping organizations achieve their goals,” then we need to think about this. What is our new role? According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it’s hard to think about being a high-performing employee if things are falling apart on the home front, and if we’re not able to cope.

For our organization, at Citrix, we are thinking about not only our existing programs and bolstering those, but we’re also looking for other partners who are truly experts in the well-being space. We can perhaps bring that new information into the organization in a way that integrates with and intersects into an employee’s day.

For us at Citrix, that is done through Citrix Workspace, and in many cases with the rapport of a managerial capability. That’s because we know so much of the trust relationship is between the employee and the manager, and it is human first and foremost.

Then we also need to think about how we continue to evolve and learn as we go. So much of this is uncharted. We want to make sure we’re open to learning. We’re continuing to invest. We’re measuring how things are working. And we’re inviting that employee voice in -- to help co-create.

Gardner: Carolina, from what we just heard from Amy, it sounds like there’s a richer, more intertwined relationship between the talent pool and the organization. And that they are connected at the hip, so to speak, digitally. It sounds like there’s a great opportunity for new companies and a solutions ecosystem to develop around this employee well-being category.

Do you see this as a growth opportunity for new companies and for organizations within existing enterprises? It strikes me that there’s a huge new opportunity.

Tech and the human touch

Milanesi: I do think there’s a huge opportunity. And that’s good and bad in my view because obviously, when there’s a lot of opportunity, there also tends to be fragmentation.

Many different things are going to be tried. And not everybody has the expertise to help. There needs to be an approach from the organization’s perspective so that these solutions are vetted.

But what is exciting is the role that companies like Citrix are taking on to become a platform for that. So there might be a start-up that has a great idea and then leverages the Citrix Workspace platform to deliver that idea.

Then you have the opportunity to use the expertise that Citrix brings to the table. They have been focused on workflows and employee empowerment for many years. What I’m excited to see is organizations that come out and offer that platform to make the emerging ecosystem even richer.

I also love what Amy said about human trust as first-and-foremost. That’s what I caution people to make it all about. Technology should not be a crutch, where technology comes in to try and make you suffer less, but still does not solve the problem. And technology should not be the only solution you adopt.

I might have a technological check-in that tells me that I’m taking on too many meetings or that I should take a break, but there is nothing better than a manager giving you a call or sending you an email to let you know you are seen as a human, that your work is seen by other humans.

I love what you were saying earlier about the difference between the task and the talent. That’s another part where -- if we have more technology that helps us with the mundane stuff and we can focus on what we enjoy doing -- that also helps us showcase the value that we bring as an employee and then the value of the task, not just the output.

A lot of times, some of these technology solutions that are delivered are about making me more productive. I don’t know about you guys, but I don't wake up in the morning and say, “I want to be more productive today.” I wake up and want to get through the day. I want to enjoy myself; I want to make a contribution and to feel that I make a difference for the company I’m working for.

And that’s what technology should be able to do: Come in and take away the mundane, take away the repetitive, and help me focus on what makes a difference -- and what makes me feel like I’m contributing to the success within my company.

Gardner: Ray, I would like to visit the idea of consequences of the remote-work era. Just as people can work from anywhere, that also means they can work for just about anyone.

If you’re working for a company that doesn’t seem to have your well-being as a priority and doesn’t seem to be interested in your talents as much as your tasks, you can probably find a few other employers quite easily from the very same spot that you’re in.

How has the competitive landscape shifted here? Do companies do this because it’s a nice thing to do? Or will they perhaps find themselves lacking the talent if the talent wants to work for someone who better supports them?

Employees choose work support

Wolf: Dana, that ultimately is the consequence. Once we get through this immediate situation from the pandemic, and digest the new learning about working remote, we will have choices.

Employers are paying attention to this in a number of ways. For example, I was just on the phone with a CHRO from a Fortune 50 company. They have added a range of well-being applications that help in the taking care of the employees there.

But there are also some cultural changes that need to occur. This CHRO was explaining to me that even though they have all these benefits -- including 12 hours off a month or more so-called mental health days – they are struggling with some of the managers. They are having trouble getting managers, some of whom may be later on in their careers, to actually model these new behaviors and give the employees and workers permission to take advantage of the benefits from these well-being applications.

The ones who evolve culturally, and who pay attention to this change, are ultimately going to be the winners. It may be another 6 or 18 months, but we'll get there.

So we have a way to go. But the ones who evolve culturally, and who pay attention to this change, are ultimately going to be the winners. It may be another 6 or 18 months, but we’ll definitely get there. In the interim, though, workers can do something for themselves.

There are a lot of ways to stay in-tune with how you’re feeling and give yourself a break and better scheduling of time. I know we would like to have technology that forces that into the schedule, but you can do that for yourself now as an interim step. And I think there are a lot of possibilities here -- and more not that far in the future.

There are things that could be done immediately to bring a little bit of relief, help people see what’s possible, and then encourage them to continue working down this path of the intersection of well-being and employee workflow.

Gardner: I’m afraid we’ll have to leave it there. You’ve been listening to a sponsored BriefingsDirect discussion on how the tumultuous shift over the past year to nearly all digital remote work has amounted to a rapid-fire experiment in human adaptability.

And we’ve learned how employee well-being in the age of distance working may need some new forms of digital and cultural business services support as well.

So a big thank you to our guests, Carolina Milanesi, Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies and Founder at The Heart of Tech. Thank you so much, Carolina.

Milanesi: Thank you very much for a great conversation.

Gardner: We’ve also been joined by Amy Haworth, Senior Director, Employee Experience at Citrix. Thank you, Amy.

Haworth: Thank you. This has been enlightening in so many ways and it’s a great conversation. Thanks for having it, Dana.

Gardner: And we’ve been here as well with Ray Wolf, Chief Executive Officer at A2K Partners. Thanks so much, Ray.

Wolf: Thank you, Dana. This is such an important subject and success is right around the corner.

Gardner: And lastly a big thank you as well to our audience for joining this special BriefingsDirect remote work innovation discussion. I’m Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your host throughout this series of Citrix-sponsored BriefingsDirect discussions.

Thanks again for listening, please pass this along to your business associates, and do come back next time.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Download the transcript. Sponsor: Citrix.

Transcript of a discussion on the current state of employee well-being and how new pressures and complexity from distance working may need new forms of employer-managed support. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2021. All rights reserved.

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Monday, March 29, 2021

How HPE Pointnext Tech Care Changes the Game for Delivering Enhanced IT Solutions and Support

Transcript of a discussion on how HPE Pointnext Services has developed solutions to satisfy the new era of IT tech support expectations. 

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Download the transcript. Sponsor: Hewlett Packard Enterprise Pointnext Services.

Dana Gardner: Hello, and welcome to the next BriefingsDirect Voice of Tech Services Innovation podcast series. I’m Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your host and moderator for this ongoing discussion on how services and support for enterprise IT have entered a new era.

For IT technology service providers, the timing of the news couldn’t be better. Those now consuming tech support are demanding higher-order value -- such as higher worker productivity from hybrid services delivered across many more remote locations.

At the same time, the underlying technologies and intelligence to enhance traditional helpdesk-type support are blossoming to deliver proactive -- and even consultative -- enhancements.

Stay with us now as we examine how Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) Pointnext Services has developed new solutions to satisfy this new era of higher IT tech support expectations.

We will now learn about HPE’s new generation of readily-at-hand IT expertise, augmented remote services, and ongoing product-use guidance that together propel businesses to exploit their digital domains -- better than ever.

Here to share the Pointnext vision for the future of advanced IT operational services is Gerry Nolan, Director of Operational Services Portfolio, at HPE Pointnext Services. Welcome, Gerry.

Gerry Nolan:
Hi, Dana. Great to be here. Thank you.

Gardner: We are also here with Rob Brothers, Program Vice President, Datacenter and Support Services, at IDC. Welcome, Rob.

Rob Brothers: Hi, Dana. Thank you very much for having me on the show.

Gardner: Rob, what are enterprise IT leaders and their consumers demanding of tech support in early 2021? How are their expectations different from just a year or two ago?

IT evolves from fix-it to forward-thinking

Brothers: It’s a great question, Dana. I want to jump back a little bit further than just a year or so ago. That’s because support has really evolved so much over the past five, six, or seven years.

If you think about product support and support in general back in the day, it was just that. It was an add-on. It was great for fix services. It was about being able to place a phone call to get something fixed.

But that evolved over the past few years due to the fact that we have more intelligent devices and customers are looking for more proactive, predictive capabilities, with direct access to experts and technicians. And now that all has taken a fast-track trajectory during the pandemic as we talk about digital transformation.

During COVID-19, customers need new ways to work with tech-support organizations. They need even more technical assistance. So, we see that a plethora of secure, remote-support capabilities have come out. We see more connected devices. We see that customers look for expertise over the phone -- as well as via chat or via augmented reality. Whatever the channel, we see a trajectory and growth that has spurred on a lot of innovation -- and not just the innovation itself, but the consumption of that innovation.

Those are a couple of the big differences I’ve seen in just the past couple of years. It’s about the need for newer support models, and a different way of receiving support. It’s also about using a lot of the new, proactive, and predictive capabilities built inside of these newer systems -- and really getting connected back to the vendor.

Those enterprises that connect back to their vendors are getting that improved experience and can then therefore pass that better experience to their customers. That's the important part of the whole equation.

Those enterprises that connect back to their vendors are getting that improved experience and can then therefore pass that better experience to their customers. That’s the important part of the whole equation -- making sure that better IT experiences translate to those enterprise customers. It’s a very interesting time.

Gardner: I sense this is also about more collective knowledge. When we can gather and share how IT systems are operating, it just builds on itself. And now we have the tools in place to connect and collaborate better. So this is an auspicious time -- just as the demand for these services has skyrocketed.

Brothers: Yes, without a doubt. I find the increased use of augmented reality (AR) to deliver support extremely interesting, too, and a great use case during a pandemic.

If you can’t send an engineer to a facility in-person, maybe you can give that engineer access to the IT department using Google Glass or some other remote-access technology. Maybe you can walk them through something that they may not have been able to do otherwise. With all of the data and information the vendor collects, they can more easily walk them through more issues. So that’s just one really cool use case during this pandemic.

Gardner: Gerry, do you agree that there’s been auspicious timing when it comes to the need for these innovative support services and the capability to deliver them technically?

Pandemic accelerates remote services

Nolan: Yes, there’s no question. I totally agree with Rob. We saw a massive spike with the pandemic in terms of driving to remote access. We already had significant remote capabilities, but many of our customers all of a sudden have a huge remote workforce that they have to deal with.

They have to keep their IT running with minimal on-site presence, and so you have to start quickly innovating and delivering things such as AR and virtual reality (VR), which is what we did. We already have that solution.

But it’s amazing how something like a pandemic can elevate that use to our thousands and thousands of technical engineers around the world who are now using that technology and solution to virtually join customer sites and help them triage, diagnose, and even do installations. It’s allowing them to keep their systems and their businesses running during a very tough period.

Another insight is we’ve seen customers struggling, even before the pandemic, with having enough technical personnel bandwidth. You know, how they need more people resources and skills as more new technologies hit the streets.

To Rob’s point, it’s difficult for customers to keep pace with the speed of change in IT. There’s more hunger for partners who can go deep on expertise across a wide plethora of technologies. So, there’s a variety of new support activities going on.

Brothers: Yes, around those technical capabilities, one of the biggest things I hear from enterprises is just trying to find that talent pool. You need to get employees to do some of the technical pieces of the equation on a lot of these new IT assets. And they’re just not out there, right?

They need programmers and big data data scientists. Getting folks to come in to assist on that level is more and more difficult. Hence, working with the vendor for a lot of these needs and that technical expertise really comes in handy now.

Gardner: Right, when you can outsource -- people do outsource. That’s been a trend for 10 or 15 years now.

What are the challenges enterprises -- as the IT vendors and providers -- have in closing that skills gap?

DX demands collaboration

Brothers: I actually did a big study around digital transformation. One of the big issues I’ve seen within enterprises is a lot of siloed structures. The networking team is not talking to the storage team, or not talking to the server team, and protecting their turf.

As an alternative, you can have the vendor come in and say, “Look, we can do this for you in a simpler fashion. We can do it a little bit faster, too, and we can keep downtime out of your environment.”

But trying to get the enterprise convinced [on the outsourcing] can sometimes be tricky and difficult. So I see that as one of the inhibitors to getting some of these great tech services that the vendors have into these environments.

A lot of these legacy systems are mixed in with the newer systems. This is where you see a struggle within enterprises. It's still the stovepipe silos in enterprises that can make transitions very difficult.

A second big challenge I see is around the big, legacy IT environments. This goes back to that connectedness piece I talked about. A lot of these legacy systems are mixed in with the newer systems. This is where you see a struggle within enterprises. They are asking, “Okay, well, how do I support this older equipment and still migrate to this new platform that I want to do a lot of cloud-based computing with and become more operationally efficient?” The vendors can assist with that, but it’s still the stovepipe silos you sometimes see in enterprises that can make transitions very difficult.

Gardner: Right. The fact is we have hybrid everything, and now we have to adjust our support and services to that as well.

Gerry, around these challenges, it seems we also have some older thinking around how you buy these tech services. Perhaps it has been through a warranty or a bolt-on support plan. Do we need to change the way we think about acquiring these services?

Customer experience choice

Nolan: Yes, customers are all about experiences these days. Think about pretty much every part of your life -- whether you’re going to the bank, booking a vacation, or even buying an electric car. They’ve totally transformed the experience in each of those areas.

IT is no different. Customers are trying to move beyond, as Rob was saying, that legacy IT thinking. Even if it’s contacting a support provider for a break-fix issue, they want the solution to come with an end-to-end experience that’s compelling, engaging, and in a way that they don’t need to think about all the various bits and pieces. The fewer decisions a customer has to make and the more they can just aim for a particular outcome, the more successful we’re going to be.

Brothers: Yes, when a customer invested $1 million in a solution set, the old mindset was that after three or four years it would be retired and they would buy a new one -- but that’s completely changed.

Now, you’re looking at this technology for a longer term within your environment. You want to make sure you’re getting all the value out of it, so that support experience becomes extremely important. What does the system look like from a performance perspective? Did I get the full dollar value out of it?

That kind of experience is not just between the vendor and with my own internal IT department, but also in how that experience correlates out to my end-user customer. It becomes about bringing that whole experience circle around. It’s really about the experience for everybody in the environment -- not just for the vendor and not just for the enterprise. But it’s for the enterprise’s customers.

Gardner: Rob, I think it behooves the seller of the IT goods if they’ve moved from a CapEx to an OpEx model so that they can make those services as valuable as possible and therefore also apply the right and best level of support over time. It locks the customer in on a value basis, rather than a physical basis.

Brothers: Yes, that’s one great mindset change I’ve seen over the past five years. I did a study about six years ago, and I asked customers how they bought support. Overwhelmingly they said they just bought a blanket support contract. It was the same contract for all of the assets within the environment.

But just recently, in the past couple of years, that’s completely changed. They are now looking at the workloads. They’re looking at the systems that run those workloads and making better decisions as to the best type of support contract on that system. Now they can buy that in an OpEx- or CapEx-type manner, versus that blanket contract they used to put on it.

It’s really great to see how customers have evolved to look at their environments and say, “I need different types of support on the different assets I have, and which provide me different experiences.” That’s been a major change in just the past couple of years.

Nolan: We’re also seeing customers seek the capability to evolve and move from one support model to another. You might have a customer environment where they have some legacy products where they need help. And they’re implementing some new technologies and new solutions, and they’re developing new apps.

It’s really helpful for that customer if they can work with a single vendor -- even if they have multiple, different IT models. That way they can get support for their legacy, deploy new on-premises technologies, and integrate that together with their legacy. And then, of course, having that consumption-as-a-service model that Rob just talked about, they also have a nice easy way of transitioning workloads over to hybrid models where appropriate.

I think that’s a big benefit, and it’s what the customers seem to be looking for more and more these days.

Gardner: Gerry, what’s the vision now behind HPE to deliver on that? What’s Pointnext Services doing to provide a new generation of tech support that accommodates these new and often hybrid environments?

Tech Care’s five steps toward support

Nolan: We’re very excited to launch a new support experience called HPE Pointnext  Tech Care. It’s all about delivering on much of what’s just been said in terms of moving beyond a product break-fix experience to helping customers get the most out of that product -- all the way from purchasing through its lifecycle to end-of-life.

Our main goal for HPE Pointnext Tech Care is to help customers maximize and expose all the value from that product. We’re going to do that with HPE Pointnext Tech Care through five key elements.

Products are going to be embedded with a support experience called HPE Pointnext Tech Care. It's a very simple experience. It has some choices on the SLA side, but it's going to dramatically simplify the buying and owing experience at HPE.

The first is to make it a very simple experience. Today, we have four different choices when you’re buying a product as to which experience you want to go with. Now with HPE Pointnext, products are going to be sold embedded with a support experience called HPE Pointnext Tech Care. It’s a very simple experience. It has some choices on the service-level-agreement (SLA) side, but it’s going to dramatically simplify the buying and owning experience for our HPE customers.

The second aspect is the digital-transformation component that we see everywhere in life. That means we’re embedding a lot of data telemetry into the products. We have a product called HPE InfoSight that’s now embedded in our technology being deployed.

InfoSight collects all that data and sends it back to the mother ship, which allows our support experts to gain all of those insights and provide help with the customer in mitigating, predicting, planning capacity, and helping to keep that system running and optimized at all times. So, that’s one element of the digital component.

The other aspect is a very rich support portal, a customer engagement platform. We’ve already redone our support center on hpe.com and customers will see it’s completely changed. It has a new look and feel. Over the coming quarters, there will be more and more new capabilities and functionality added. Customers will be able to see dashboards, personalized views of their environments, and their products. They’ll get omni-channel access to our experts, which is the third element we are providing.

We have all this great expertise. Traditionally, you would connect with them over the telephone. But going forward, you’re going to have the capability, as Rob mentioned, for customers to do chat. They may also want to watch videos of the experts. They may want to talk to their peers. So we have a moderated forum area where customers can communicate with each other and with our experts. There’s also a whole plethora of white papers and Tech Tip videos. It’s a very rich environment.

Then the fourth HPE Pointnext Tech Care element touches on a key trend that Rob mentioned, which goes beyond break-fix. With HPE Pointnext Tech Care, you’ll have the capability to communicate with experts beyond just talking about a broken part of your system. This will allow you to contact us and talk about things such as using the product, or capacity planning, or configuration information that you may have questions about. This general tech guidance feature of HPE Pointnext Tech Care, we believe, is going to be very exciting for customers, and they’re going to really benefit from it.

And lastly, the fifth component is about a broader spectrum of full lifecycle help that our customers want. They don’t just want a support experience around buying the product, they want it all the way through its lifetime. The customer may need help with migration, for example, or they may need help with performance, training their people, security, and maybe even retiring or sanitizing that asset. 

With HPE Pointnext Tech Care, they will have a nice, easy mechanism where you have a very robust, warm-blanket-type of support that comes with the product and can easily be augmented with other menu choices. We’re very excited about launch of HPE Pointnext Tech Care and it comes with those five key elements. It’s going to transform the support experience and help customers get the most from their HPE products.

Gardner: Rob, how much of a departure do you sense the HPE Pointnext Tech Care approach is from earlier HPE offerings, such as HPE Foundation Care? Is this a sea change or a moderate change? How big of a deal is this?

Proactive, predictive capabilities

Brothers: In my opinion, it’s a pretty significant change. You’re going to get proactive, predictive capabilities at the base level of the HPE Pointnext Tech Care service that a lot of other vendors charge a real premium for.

I can’t stress enough how important it is for those proactive, predictive capabilities to come with environments. A survey that I did not long ago supported a cost-downtime study. In that study, customers saw approximately 700 or so hours of downtime per year across their environments. These are servers, storage, networking, and security, and take human error into account. If customers enabled proactive, predictive capabilities, they saw approximately 200 hours of saved downtime. That’s because of what those corrective, predictive capabilities can do at that base layer. They allow you to do the one big thing that prevents downtime -- and that's patch management and patch planning.

Now, those technical experts that Gerry talked about can access all of this beautiful, feature-rich information and data. They can feed it back to the customer and say, “Look, here’s how your environment looks. Here’s where we see some areas that you can make improvements, and here's a patch plan that you can put in place.”

Now technical experts can access all of this beautiful, feature-rich information and data. They can feed it back to the customer to make improvements. That's precious information and data.

Then all of the data comes back from enterprises, saying, “If I do a better job of that patching and patch planning that just saves a copious amount of unplanned and planned downtime out of my environment because I now do a better job of that.” That’s precious information and data.

That’s the big fundamental change. They’re showing the real value to the customer so they don’t have to buy some of those premium levels. They can get that kind of value in the base level, which is extremely important and provides that higher-order experience to end-user customers. So I do think that’s a huge fundamental shift, and definitely a new value for the customers.

Gardner: Rob, correct me if I’m wrong, but having this level of proactive, baked-in-from-the-start support comes at an auspicious time, too, because people are also trying to do more automation with their security operations. It seems to me that we’re dovetailing the right approaches for patching and proactive maintenance along with what’s needed for security. So, there’s a security benefit here as well?

Brothers: Oh, massive. Especially if you look at this day-and-age with a lot of the security breaches we just had just over the past year due to new security remote access to a lot of systems. Yes, it definitely plays a major factor in how enterprises should be thinking about how they’re patching and patch planning.

Gardner: Gerry, just to pull on that thread again about data and knowledge sharing, the more you get the relationship that you’re describing with HPE Pointnext Tech Care -- the more back and forth of the data and learning what the systems are doing -- and you have a virtuous cycle. Tell us how the machine learning (ML) and data gathering works in aggregate and why that’s an auspicious virtuous cycle.

Nolan: That’s an excellent question and, of course, you’re spot-on. The combination is of the telemetry built into the actual products through HPE InfoSight, our back-end experts, and the detailed knowledge management processes. We also have our experts who are watching, listening, and talking to customers as they deal with issues.

That means you have two things going on. You have the software learning over time and we have rules being built in there so that when it spots an issue it can go and look for all the other similar environments and then help those customers mitigate and predict ahead of time.

Secondly our experts can engage better because they’re also dealing with and seeing various challenges happening around the world in various environments. The combined knowledge management process means we’re constantly building more and more content, more and more knowledge, and we’re immediately making that available through the new digital customer platforms.

That means that customers will immediately get the benefit of all of this knowledge. It might be a Tech Tip video. It might be a white paper. It might be an item or an article in a moderated forum. There’s this rich back-and-forth between what’s available in the portal and what’s available in the knowledge that the software will build over time. And all of this just comes to bear in a richer experience for the customer, where they can help either self-solve or self-serve. But if they want to engage with our experts, they’re available in multiple different channels and in multiple different ways.

Gardner: Rob, another area where 2+2=5 is when we can take those ML and data-driven insights that Gerry described across a larger addressable market of installed devices. And then, we can augment that with MyRoom-type technologies and the VR and AR capabilities that you described earlier.

What’s the new sum value when we can combine these insights with the capability to then deliver the knowledge remotely and richly?

Autonomous IT reduces human error

Brothers: That’s a really great point. The whole idea is to attain what we call autonomous IT. That means to have IT systems that are more on the self-repair side, and that have product pieces shipped prior to things going wrong.

One of the biggest and most-costly pieces of downtime is from human error. If we can pull the human touch and human interaction out of the IT environment, we save each company hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. That’s what all this data and information will provide to the IT vendors. They can then say, “Look, let’s take the human interactions out of it. We know that’s one of the most-costly sides of the equation.”

If we can pull the human touch and interaction out of the IT environment we save money and reduce human error. We can optimize systems. It gets to the point where we're relying on the intelligence of the systems to do more. That's the direction we're heading in.

If we can do that in an autonomous fashion -- where we’re optimizing systems on a regular basis, equipment is being shipped to the facility prior to anything breaking, we can schedule any downtime during quiet times, and make sure that workloads are moved properly -- then that’s the endgame. It gets to the point where the human factor gets more removed and we’re relying more on the intelligence of the systems to do more.

That’s definitely the direction we’re moving in, and what we’re seeing here is definitely heading in that direction.

Gardner: Yes, and in that case, you’re not necessarily buying IT support, your buying IT insurance.

Brothers: Yes, exactly. That gets back to the consumption models. HPE is one of the leaders in that space with HPE GreenLake. They were one of the pioneers to come up with a solution such as that, which takes the whole IT burden off of IT’s plate and puts it back on the vendor.

Nolan: We have a term for that concept that one of my colleagues uses. They call it invisible IT. That’s really what a lot of customers are looking for. As Rob said, we’re still some ways from that. But it’s a noble goal, and we’re all in to try and achieve it.

Gardner: So we know what the end-goal is, but we’re still in the progression to it. But in the meantime, it’s important to demonstrate to people value and return on investment (ROI).

Do we have any HPE Pointnext Tech Care examples, Gerry? Rob already mentioned a few of his studies that show dramatic improvements. But do we have use cases and/or early-adoption patterns? How do we measure when you do this well and you get?

Benefits already abound

Nolan: There are a ton of benefits. For example, we already have extensive Tech Tip video libraries. We have chat implemented. We have the moderated forums up and running. We have lots of different elements of the experience already live in certain product areas, especially in storage.

Of course, many HPE products are already connected through HPE InfoSight or other tools, which means those systems are being monitored on a 24 x 7 basis. The software already monitors, predicts, and mitigates issues before they occur, as well as provides all sorts of insights and recommendations. This allows both the customer and our support experts to engage and take remediation action before anything bad happens. 

Customers seem to love this more-rich experience approach. Yes, there’s a lot more data and a lot more insights. But to have those experts on-hand, to be able to gain or build an action plan from all of that data, is really important.

Now, in terms of some of the benefits that we’re seeing in the storage space, those customers that are connected are seeing 73 percent fewer trouble tickets and 69 percent faster time-to-resolution. To date, since InfoSight was first deployed in that storage environment alone, we’ve measured about 1.5 million hours of saved productivity time.

So there are real benefits when you combine being connected with ML tools such as InfoSight. When the rich value available in HPE Pointnext Tech Care comes together, it further reduces downtime, improves performance, and helps reach the end-goal that Rob talked about, the autonomous IT or invisible IT. 

Gardner: Rob, we started our conversation about what’s changed in tech support. What’s changed when it comes to the key performance indicators (KPIs) for evaluating tech support and services?

Brothers: The big, new KPIs that we’re seeing do not just evaluate the experience that the enterprise has with the IT vendors. Although that’s obviously extremely important, it’s also about how does that correlate to the experiences my end-users are receiving?

You’re beginning to see those measurements come to the fore. An enterprise has its own SLAs and KPIs with its end-users. How is that matching to the KPIs and SLAs I have back to my IT vendors? You’re beginning to see those merge and come together. You’re beginning to see new matrices put in place where you can evaluate the vendor through how well you’re delivering user experiences to your own end-users.

It takes a bit of time and energy to align that because it’s a fairly complex measurement to put in place. But we’re beginning to see that from enterprises, to seek that level of value from the vendors. And the vendors are stepping up, right? They’re beginning to show these dashboards back to the enterprise that say, “Hey, here’s the SLA, here are the KPIs, here are the performance matrices that we’re collecting and that should correlate fairly well to what you’re providing to your end-user customers.”

Gardner: Gerry, if we properly align these values, it better fits with digital transformation because people have to perceive the underlying digital technologies as an enabler, not as a hurdle. Is HPE Pointnext Tech Care an essential part of digital transformation when we think about that change of perception?

Incident management transforms

Nolan: It totally is. One of our early Pointnext customers is a large, US retailer. They’ve gone through a situation where they had a bunch of technology. Each one had its own individual support contract. And they’ve moved to a more centralized and simpler approach where they have one support experience, which we actually deliver across each of their different products -- and they’re seeing huge benefits.

They’ve gone from firefighting and having their small IT team predominantly focused on dealing with issues and support calls regarding hardware- and update-type issues and all of a sudden, they were measuring themselves on incidents -- how many incidents -- and they were trying to keep that at a manageable level.

One large, US retailer has moved to a more centralized and simpler approach where they have one support experience -- and they're seeing huge benefits.

Well, now, they’ve totally changed. The incidents have almost disappeared -- and now they’re focused on innovation. How fast can they get new applications to their business? How fast can they get new projects to market in support of the business?

They’re just one customer who has gone through this transformation where they’re using all of the things we just talked about and it’s delivering significant benefits to them and to their IT group. And the IT group, in turn, are now heroes to their business partners around the US.

Gardner: I want to close with some insights into how organization should prepare themselves. Rob, if you want to gain this new level of capability across your IT organization, you want the consumers of IT in your enterprise to look to IT for solutions and innovation, what should you be thinking about now? What should you put in place to take advantage of the offerings that organizations such as HPE are providing with HPE Pointnext Tech Care?

Evaluating vendor experiences

Brothers: It all starts with the deployment process. When you’re looking and evaluating vendors, it’s not just, “Hey, how is the product? Is the product going to perform and do its task?”

Some 99 percent of the time, the stand-alone IT system you’re procuring is going to solve the issue you’re looking to solve. The key is how well is that vendor going to get that system up and running in your environment, connected to everything it needs to be connected to, and then supports it optimizes it for the long run.

It’s really more about that life cycle experience. So, as an enterprise, you need to think differently on how you want to engage with your IT vendor. You need to think about all the different performance KPIs, and match that back to your end-user customer.

The thought process of evaluating vendors, in my opinion, is shifting. It’s more about the type of experience I get with this vendor versus the product and its job. That’s one of the big transitional phases I’m seeing right now. Enterprises are thinking about more the experience they have with their partners, more so then if the product is doing the job. 

Gardner: Gerry, what do you recommend people do in order to get prepared to take advantage of such offerings as HPE Pointnext Tech Care?

Nolan: Following on from what Rob said, customers can already decide what experience they would like. HPE Pointnext Tech Care will be the embedded support experience that comes with their HPE products. It’s going to be very easy to buy because it’s going to be right there embedded with the product when the product is being configured and when the quote is being put together.

HPE Pointnext Tech Care is a very simple, easy, and fully integrated experience. They’re buying a full product experience, not a product -- and then choose their support experience on the side. If they want something broader than just a product experience -- what I call the warm blanket around their whole enterprise environment -- we have another experience called Datacenter Care that provides that.

We also have other experiences. We can, for example, manage the environment for them using our management capabilities. And then, of course, we have our HPE GreenLake as-a-service on-premises experience. We’ve designed each of these experiences so they can totally live together and work together. You can also move and evolve from one to the other. You can buy products that come with HPE Pointnext Tech Care and then easily move to a broader Datacenter Care to cover the whole environment.

We can take on and manage some of that environment and then we can transition workloads to the as-a-service model. We’re trying to make it as easy and as fast as possible for customers to onboard through any and all of these experiences.

Gardner: I’m afraid we’ll have to leave it there. We’ve been exploring how today’s consumers of IT tech support are demanding higher-order value to get the most from their hybrid systems and services.

And we’ve learned how HPE Pointnext Services has matched these new IT tech support expectations with a new generation of readily at-hand expertise, augmented on-location services, and ongoing guidance that will propel businesses to exploit their digital domains better than ever. 

Please join me in thanking our guests, Gerry Nolan, Director of Operational Services Portfolio at HPE Pointnext Services. Thank you very much, Gerry.

Nolan: Thank you, Dana.

Gardner: And we’ve also been here with Rob Brothers, Program Vice President, Datacenter and Support Services, at IDC. Thank you so much, Rob.

Brothers: Thanks, Dana. Thanks, Gerry.

Gardner: And a big thank you as well to our audience for joining us for this sponsored BriefingsDirect Voice of Tech Services Innovation discussion. I’m Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your host for this ongoing series of HPE-supported discussions.

Thanks again for listening. Please pass this along to your IT community, and do come back next time.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Download the transcript. Sponsor: Hewlett Packard Enterprise Pointnext Services.

Transcript of a discussion on how HPE Pointnext Services has developed solutions to satisfy the new era of IT tech support expectations. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2021. All rights reserved.

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