The way we work is changing. Be honest: you’ve heard that before. But Mark Walton, Microsoft New Zealand’s cloud productivity business leader, says the way we work is, simply put, changing at a pace never seen before. “The workforce has changed quite dramatically,” he says. “We’re generally in meetings two times more than we’ve ever been. [And] we’re no longer connected to a desk.”
In other words, our work is more collaborative, more mobile, than ever before. And that, Walton says, requires virtual tools so we can take our “desks” everywhere with us. Digital workplaces? You bet.
Having a digital workplace isn’t just something nice to have, either. In fact, Walton argues, it’s pretty much a necessity.
He points to a recent example. In 2016, a massive earthquake struck Wellington, severely damaging BNZ’s offices. But thanks to having a digital focus and employees already using software like Office 365 and hardware like the Surface Pro tablet/laptop hybrid – as well as storing data and emails in the cloud – operations at the major bank were able to continue with minimal disruption.
Walton says the importance of the cloud for transitioning to a digital workplace can’t be stressed enough – especially for emails, because they can be accessed anywhere. Having your data in the cloud is also a way to “defeat” hackers who might infect your computer with ransomware, Walton says, because you can still get to your files elsewhere. With ransomware becoming ever-more-prevalent, he says, this is especially important (just ask Netsafe, who alone processed over $10 million in reported losses to online scams and fraud in 2017, and report that one in nine adult New Zealanders are being seriously negatively affected by a digital communication).
And to get to the cloud, Walton is quick to tout another innovation: Microsoft’s Surface Pro with LTE Advanced. Rather than connecting to a WiFi signal like most tablets and laptops (though it can do that too), Walton says the Surface Pro is capable of supporting a SIM card, just like you put in your phone. That way, Walton says, the Surface Pro connects to the internet and the cloud automatically – and is also more secure than a public WiFi network. “It automatically connects,” he says. “The best way to think of it is as a very large mobile phone. Think of it as an extension of your network. You could almost do everything off it.”
Simple to use for even non-tech experts, Walton says you can even make calls with the Surface Pro if you’re so inclined. More cutting-edge though, it also utilises virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR) capabilities to be able to do things like interlay objects like lamps and 3D models over photos you’ve taken and what its camera is looking at – meaning you can see how a piece of furniture or appliance would look in your living room before you design or buy it. Pretty cool, eh?
And that’s not all. Office 365 has a Powerpoint translator that, though you may be speaking English or another language, can automatically translate your voice into close captioning (text) into just about any other language – and with a precision Walton says is “scarily accurate.” In other words, you can be giving a presentation in English in Beijing, but your slides will contain close captions in Chinese – even if you don’t know Chinese.
Mobile. Connected. Collaborative. Those, Walton says, are three of the most important things when transitioning to a digital workplace. And it’ll pay to make the transition sooner rather than later, he says – and to make a full transition, rather than just incremental changes. “We’re now in a global economy,” he says. “As we start opening up to more countries, as a New Zealand organisation, it’s important to be able to collaborate.”