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Vendors such as Citrix and VMware love to use the term digital workspace, but organizations should carefully consider whether the technology is something they really need before giving in to marketing hype.
Let's first define what a digital workspace is from the perspective of the user, as well as the IT department.
From the user's perspective, the digital workspace enables employees to access enterprise resources -- virtual desktops, apps, data and even co-workers -- easily and quickly from any device. As much as users want fast and easy access, IT departments struggle to incorporate security and scalability at a reasonable cost.
Digital workspace has become a catchall marketing term. Vendors such as VMware and Citrix focus on providing a single pane to access virtualized applications and desktops, as well as data repositories and SaaS apps. Other vendors may highlight their collaboration features, content management, endpoint management, intranet or mobile device functionality. Microsoft uniquely addresses all of these capabilities to some extent, although other vendors provide more depth for specific capabilities.
Do end users really need digital workspaces?
Although users may not recognize the term digital workspace, they are demanding that their employers do more than just provide remote access to enterprise resources. Sales employees, for example, often can't wait until returning to the office to provide a customer with spec sheets or lab trial data; the customer needs the information instantly to make a purchasing decision. The salesperson requires a way to access the documents quickly and easily.
From an employer and productivity perspective, if that salesperson needs to go through hoops to get what should be simple information, the results could range from lost time to a lost sale to a lost employee. While some might argue that enabling the user's smartphone to securely access the data is an example of a digital workspace, that's simply not good enough anymore because the small form factor of a smartphone isn't conducive to filtering through a myriad search results.
Digital workspaces enable workers to access the information that they need, when they need it and from anywhere. Digital workspaces not only minimize wasted time, but they also enable IT to focus on centrally controlled data and resources.
The future of digital workspaces
From a marketing perspective, each vendor will continue to highlight their own digital workspace capabilities and continue to attempt to modify the de facto definition accordingly. As virtualization and VDI became better defined based on the market needs, enterprise feedback and vendor capabilities, so will the term digital workspaces.
The security of digital workspaces must be verified and easy to implement. Users want single sign-on, but they often don't understand the behind-the-scenes requirements of making authentication easy yet secure. While Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) and System for Cross-domain Identity Management (SCIM) technologies should facilitate authentication, IT departments struggle to balance corporate security requirements against user demands.
Further, the next iteration of the digital workspace -- the intelligent workspace -- is a form of artificial intelligence. Intelligent workspaces are gaining prominence as mechanisms to automatically extract and simplify workflows, such as one-click expense report approval, mature.
Digital workspaces will continue to evolve to address business needs. The vendors have initiated this concept based on their products, but it is the marketplace that will ultimately define digital workspaces based on business and technical requirements.