Mobilty

Successfully Working from Home

I’ve learnt quite a bit about working from home in the last ten years and thought is was about time I shared one of the secrets to my success.

It will take longer to get used to than you will first admit. 

Working from home has some obvious benefits; no travel time, no interruptions, working all day in your pyjamas. It’s a breeze right? When I look back I can honestly say it took me over a year to get into the correct rhythm.  I had started a new job, I had a new baby (our first), I was sent a laptop, filing cabinet (don’t why I got that), chair, printer, tech. toys and I was away.  I knocked off what I thought was a day’s work by morning tea and was a very happy man. But how do you get by with no interaction with anyone at work? Monday is great but by Wednesday, outside of the odd phone call and customer conversation, who do you have the work chat with? What happens if you get frustrated at work and the next person you see is your new child or sleep deprived partner?  You suddenly need to slip out of work mode and into home mode, then back again.  You think Superman makes a fast change in a phone box, it’s nothing compared to mental gymnastics of the accomplished home worker.

As you get used to the transition you’ll be telling everyone how great life is but some times you’ll be doing this to convince yourself, more than anyone else. But working from home can be very rewarding and productive. It took me a while to work this out as I am not someone that has had much interest in physiology but you need to train your brain.

What did I do? I decided I had to identify in my mind where and when I was at work.  I picked a space and made sure everything was the same each time I started.  I created a routine of work, emails, calls and customer visits that I stuck to. I even cleaned and tided the space every week and set it up for Monday. I mentally told myself when I leave this spot I am no longer at work, I am at home. I moved a chair by the door and said to myself, work goes there when I leave this room. Over about twelve months I began to surprise myself with how quickly I was able to mentally switch roles.  I could stride through the house be dad, walk into my work space, sit down and get straight back into it. It was at this point working from home truly became great and productive.  

Without knowing it I was taking my brain through a series of mental exercises.  My brain was getting a workout and learning how to flip modes very quickly.

I have switched companies now and at Microsoft I have the flexibility to work at the office or at home. I can spend weeks in the office environment or at customer sites an then a period at home and the mental flexibility is still there. All I have to do is remember to get dressed when I go into the office.

This is a skill I’m sure anyone can learn.  I’d be interested in what makes working from home a success for you. I always say we all learn by sharing and if you have found another way don’t be shy, let the world know.

Flipping the Workplace

Recently I’ve been working in the education space, it’s something I recommend for everyone at least once.  The challenges are numerous, educators are innovators and it is interesting dealing with the technical demands of a user base heavily influenced by consumer trends.

It was the university sector that first introduced me to reverse learning or flipped learning.

“The flipped classroom describes a reversal of traditional teaching where students gain first exposure to new material outside of class, usually via reading or lecture videos, and then class time is used to do the harder work of assimilating that knowledge through strategies such as problem-solving, discussion or debates. (Vanderbilt University, Center for Teaching).”

Further reading – Flipping the classroom – The Economist

With the ability to access information from almost anywhere people are seeking to plough through the noise before they enter the office. In exactly the same way a flipped classroom has students viewing the information before they come together, a flipped workplace lets staff digest the knowledge they need before they meet to work on an outcome.

Martin Dursma, VP Citrix Labs and CTO Office Chair delivered a presentation at Citrix Synergy titled Taking One Step Beyond with other Citrix CTOs he covered some interesting long term technology trends.

Many mirror what is happening in education; organisations trying to mobilse their workforce to slow down the need for additional office space, the medical sector responding to instant information availability and device trends and engineering and construction firms taking information out to the field for instant feedback and collaboration.  Each of these examples is changing the demand on the traditional workspace and enabling people to flip the way they work.

IT professionals and departments need to be enablers and leaders of this approach to working and not the blockers or luddites.

Maybe its time to go back to class?

Are Mirco Apps Changing Everything?

I come from a desktop / application background, I’ve spent most of my IT career working with one flavour or another of Citrix’s XenApp platform (I’ve been through all the name changes) and am currently employed by Citrix as a Systems Engineer in Australia.  To that end I’ve spent a lot of time working with apps; in the early days that meant hacking them as best I could to squeeze them onto a multi-user platform.  This kept me extremely busy however in reality was always a marginal activity, in that most applications were being installed onto desktops.  I saw a major change with my involvement in the launch of an “e” project in 1999; “e” stood for electronic and the company I was working with started investing heavily in creating web front ends to all applications.  The end result was that vast numbers of apps were rolled out onto MetaFrame because users wanted the full application and the business wanted to centralise. (I say business but it was in fact the IT division’s idea).  The end result for me was that I saw the business demanding fully functional applications and the impact of that project has stuck with me ever since.

I often sit with customers today and one statement I hear myself saying again and again is “do you have a desktop or application problem?” The point I am trying to highlight is that maybe we can solve the issue they have raised by pulling out the applications that require attention.  And not look at reworking their desktop strategy. After all it’s the apps that are important?

Recently I found myself again pondering this scenario and so I tweeted “It’s all about the apps, always had been always will be” and this generated a number of responses.  The first that came back was from @bramwolfs “I think it’s all about the data not specifically the apps..” Which immediately had me thinking there was little way out of this; data exists and is manipulated by apps, my focus has always been on the apps and that is where I make my money so that is where I placed my bet.  @KBaggerman highlighted a blog post titled “VDI OK What’s Next” by Stephane Thirion a Citrix CTP (@archynet) talking about desktops versus applications and applications versus data.  He makes some interesting points about the relationships between data and applications and the importance of data.  I can only agree however I would add that as some apps sole purpose is to collect and create data it is hard to define and almost irrelevant to consider which came first or which is more important, both are a requirement.

More interestingly he talks about user habits and the requirement of a desktop operating system, he also talks about the rise of mobile apps or micro apps; i.e.  apps created for a single purpose that do not require interaction or workflows with other applications and therefore do not require a desktop operating system.

This to me is an interesting area of development and I believe we are seeing two forces at play; the rise of SaaS and its adoption and the influence of the iPad and tablet.  Firstly SaaS is entering every workplace, I was recently  hosting a CIO round table discussion and every CIO was focused on SaaS and in fact the most interesting comment was “every app I deliver I now have to compete against a SaaS app, that is the way I have to think.” And you know what I think he was right; if you enforce a monolithic set of apps onto a workforce and it is not meeting the needs of a business unit then you can bet within days that business unit will be hunting out an alternative and swiping their credit card when they find something they like. Secondly the iPad factor, all apps on the iPad have single functions, I book my travel, check my email, look at website and knock over blocks with very upset birds.  Each app performs well and every day I use them I am breaking the habit of having to work within an operating system.  And therefore every day that operating system becomes less relevant to me.

Can we drop the operating system, no there are too many applications built for that platform. Is the desktop operating system becoming less relevant, yes however this has to be taken into context, just take a look at how many Windows 7 licenses have been sold since release.  But I do think that the mico app aided by the choice and availability on offer from SaaS vendors is accelerating change.

UPDATE  If you want  to read some interesting points head back to  “VDI OK What’s Next” by Stephane Thirion and join in or have a read.

BYOD a trend – you kidding me? We are way past that point in time…..

Happy New Year!  Now to start the year with a quick rant (always makes me feel better).

If you run a quick search on the word “trend”:

Google will tell you that a trend is a general direction in which something is developing or changing.

The freedictionary.com returns, the general direction in which something tends to move, a general tendency or inclination and current style; vogue: the latest trend in fashion.

The businessdictionary.com tells us a trend is a pattern of gradual change in a condition, output, or process, or an average or general tendency of a series of data points to move in a certain direction over time, represented by a line or curve on a graph.

Finally the thesaurus in Word tells us a trend is a tendency, drift, leaning, movement or fashion, style look or craze.

So back to BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and the constant conversations I hear about this trend in the workplace.  It’s interesting because every customer I go to tells me of this trend as they make notes on their iPhone and not their work issued phone I may add.  I then leave meetings and the corridor / lift conversation is all about tablets; “what do you use” (for the record it’s an iPad v1), “have you seen the new….”  “I’m thinking of buying….” And you can bet your last dollar that as soon as they have purchased a tablet it will be in the work bag and sitting on their work desk ready or the first meeting of the day.

Whilst I’m happy to admit there is some (a lot) of style behind these devices and in my opinion you could call the “i” devices a craze, we are well past the point of BYOD being a trend and it is very much the norm.  Therefore as we start 2012 what do you have in place to manage this influx of devices, how are you going to cope with the new norm?

 

And by the way this is no trend this is something you have to deal with today.

Mobile Device Access, Citrix NetScaler VPX 9.3 and XenApp 6.5

I am often asked how to enable mobile device access through an existing Citrix Access Gateway Enterprise Edition appliance.  There are a number of useful guides, this is how I configure an environment.

Configure XenApp Services Site

First step is to create a new XenApp Services Site.

Highlight XenApp Services Site and select Actions > Create Site.

Citrix Web Interface create site

On the Specify IIS Location page change the Name to MobileAccess and click Next and Next.

Configure the site now and click Next.

Enter the Farm Name, Add the XenApp Server(s), enter the XML Service port and click Next.

In the Citrix Web Interface Management console high light the new MobileAccess site and from the Actions pane select Secure Access.

Highlight the Default and select Edit.  Change the Access method to Gateway direct, click OK and Next.

Enter the Access (FQDN) of the virtual server and click Next.

Click Add, enter the address of the STA, click OK and Finish.

Configure NetScaler Policy

Return to the NetScaler VPX configuration utility click Access Gateway > Policy Manager > Change group settings and user permissions.

Select Session Policies and Create new session policy.

The Create Access Gateway Session Policy window appears. Enter MobileAccess for the policy name and click New.

Name the Session Profile MobileDevices, on the Published Applications tab Override Global for ICA Proxy, Web Interface Address, Web Interface Portal Mode and Single Sign-On Domain.

Enter the following:

ICA Proxy: ON

Web Interface Address: http://XA65.ctxdemo.local/Citrix/MobileAccess/config.xml

Web Interface Portal Mode: NORMAL

Single Sign-on Domain: ctxdemo

In the Configure Access Gateway Session Policy window, next to Match Any Expression, click Add…

Expression  Type: General

Flow Type: REQ

Protocol: HTTP

Qualifier: HEADER

Operator: CONTAINS

Value: CitrixReceiver

Header Name: User-Agent

Select OK, Create and Close. The Access Gateway Session policy appears as an icon in the Access Gateway Policy Manager.

Under Configured Policies / Resources, expand the Virtual Servers > SmartAccess node and then drag the MobileAccess icon onto the SmartAccess > Session Policies icon.

Modify the priority of the policy so the MobileAccess policy has a high priority than the Remote Access policy.  This is done by assigning a lower policy number.

Close the Access Gateway Policy Manger and Save the configuration.

Test Application Enumeration and Launch

Install the root certificate on the client machine you are going to test from and make sure it is possible to resolve the FQDN of the NetScaler VPX virtual server.

On the mobile device install the Citrix Receiver and configure a profile that points to the FQDN of the gateway.