Windows 10 for business

Is your business still on Windows 7? You’re not alone however you are working on an operating system that started to be developed nearly 10 years ago, at a time when tablet devices and smartphones were relatively unknown. Windows 10 has been specifically designed to take advantage of these touchscreen devices and smartphones, as well as incorporating built-in security devices such as fingerprint readers and iris scanners.

There are also exciting new features, including Cortana, the intelligent digital assistant that can recognise your voice commands without the need to type anything, set reminders and answer questions; and Microsoft Edge, the default web browser on Windows 10, which has a new layout.

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The Office of the Future

Offices are essentially the same as they were twenty years ago when the web was in its infancy. However, the technology that’s arriving in stores now and over the next few years is set to radically shake up the office environment – improving efficiencies and making work considerably easier and, hopefully, more fun.

In no particular order, here are the top five technology trends for the office of the future.

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Cloud for business

When the personal computer was introduced in the 1980s, it was billed as a liberating technology that would allow us to get more done, faster. However, over the years the complexities involved with IT have also added a new set of challenges. Computers need to be kept up-to-date with the latest patches and security fixes, data – now the lifeblood of any business – needs to be backed up and saved for longer periods, and the productivity software we use has become the biggest cost associated with purchasing a new computer. This cost is also an upfront capital expenditure (capex), which adds to the cost of hiring any new employee.

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Windows 10 The office of the future Cloud for business
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It’s not just the hardware that has advanced. Unfortunately, hackers have also become better at attacking devices. Viruses, phishing (where hackers try to get usernames, passwords, credit card details and other sensitive information) and malware (malicious software that attempts to access or steal information from a computer) are the biggest security threats. Windows 10 tackles these issues with security built in from the ground up. The two business versions – Pro and Enterprise – contain a raft of security features, including Device Encryption, Group Policy Management, BitLocker, AppLocker, Microsoft Passport, Enterprise Data Protection, Credential Guard, Device Guard and more.

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Seamless interface

Another compelling reason to move to 10 is its look and feel. The radical changes of Windows 8 have been removed so the new operating system more closely resembles Windows 7. There’s the familiar Start button and the first screen viewed on startup is the Windows desktop. This means that Windows 7 users will immediately feel at home and there’s no need to retrain staff on a new interface.

Windows 10 has also been designed to run on multiple devices. So, applications that run on your Windows 10 desktop will also run seamlessly and share the same interface with your mobile and devices running the Internet of Things version of Windows 10 – such as TVs, cars, dumb terminals and printers.

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Your personal assistant

One of the key features in Windows 10 is the integration of Cortana, which is just like having your own PA. Ask Cortana to “schedule a call with James on Thursday at 3pm” and it will open up Outlook – or your designated calendar application – go to Thursday and add a calendar reminder for a call with James.

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Microsoft’s Universal Apps Platform

One of the reasons why mobile devices have taken off so quickly is the availability of so many excellent apps. Those apps are now easy to move to Windows 10 using Microsoft’s Universal Apps Platform, which allows developers to convert existing Android and iOS apps to Windows 10. Quite soon you will see your favourite iOS and Android apps start to appear on the Windows desktop and on any other device running Windows 10.

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One challenge of looking after a business with many different devices is keeping them all up to date and secure. Windows 10 simplifies that process. The new Mobile Device Management built into Windows 10 allows administrators to check that a device has all its security updates, including anti-virus protection. They can also control what apps do and put confidential company information in encrypted containers to prevent it from being copied to unmanaged apps.

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Microsoft Edge

The new web browser will make business surfing slicker with the ability to write notes directly onto web pages so you share your thoughts with colleagues. It also features a hub where you can collate all your favourite sites, reading lists and downloads in one place. And the innovative ‘reading view’ feature allows you to concentrate on the content that matters, with text brought to the front and distracting sidebars banished for the duration – you can even change the font and text size for your optimum reading experience.

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Cloud services

What about the presentation itself? If you’re presenting to a room full of people, you don't want to keep walking back to your laptop to move it on to the next slide. This is where a remote control is invaluable. The control will connect to your laptop via wireless, allowing you to click to the next slide remotely. Some even feature laser pointers to help you point out the key areas on your slide deck.

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Smart Connections

Practically every new device on the market now has some wireless connection – be that Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or Near Field Communications (NFC) – but we are only starting to see applications that take advantage of this connectivity. Printing a file will soon just require you to tap your device onto a printer. And it won’t be long before your data will follow you as you move around. As everything will be connected via wireless, the device you have in your hand – a smartphone, tablet or laptop – will have your latest files and know your itinerary for the day.

Your devices will also be a lot more intelligent, and this is already starting: HP’s Instant Ink printers mean you never have to think about ink again, as your printer detects it’s about to run out and automatically orders a refill.

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Remote Working

Many of us would like to work from home but one of the drawbacks is a lack of coherent communication. Old video conferencing solutions were low-definition and suffered from buffering and jittering. But with the latest high-definition video cameras and large screen displays, combined with fast broadband, video conferencing has now reached a new level. You can see colleagues in high definition and communicate with them no matter where they are in the world. Additionally, new technologies such as Double Robotics’ remote-controlled robots, mean you can also have a virtual presence in the office from wherever you are in the world, and you can even chat at the water cooler.

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Little has changed in terms of the way we interact with our computers since the birth of the personal computer in the 70s: we use a keyboard and a trackpad or a mouse. However, new solutions that use voice, gesture recognition and video immersion are already starting to replace the mouse and keyboard. Microsoft’s Surface Hub allows multiple users to share ideas and work with 3D designs, while interactive whiteboards allow groups to brainstorm new ideas. And devices such as Project Morpheus, the Oculus Rift and Microsoft’s HoloLens – all due in 2016 – will allow you to see and manipulate designs in 3D. Sophisticated voice recognition systems such as Cortana in Windows 10 and Nuance’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking mean you will never have to type or touch a mouse again.

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3D Printing

One of the must-have tools for any design business is the 3D printer. In the past if you wanted to translate a design to a physical model, you would have to send away your designs to a dedicated and expensive production facility. However, with a 3D printer in the office, you can reduce the design-to-prototype time to hours, rather than weeks. The implications are far reaching, as you can begin to test and refine your products at an earlier stage, and launch them on the marketplace much more quickly. Current 3D printers are limited to producing models in plastic but new printers (currently in the labs) will allow designers to use many other raw materials to produce anything from pills to electrical devices.

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Smart Office

Over the next couple of years your office will start to fill with intelligent devices from the Internet of Things. The new smart office will start to communicate with these and take cues from your devices. So, as you enter the building, the office will identify you from wearable devices that are on your wrist, built in to your clothes or from your smartphone. It will direct you to the nearest empty hot desk space, set up your workspace before you sit down and start to set the room to the right temperature, with the lighting at your preferred brightness. It will also switch on the coffee machine and open up your Outlook calendar at today’s date.

The new range of SmartThings will take the Smart office even further, by allowing you to keep in touch while you’re away from your desk – motion and presence sensors, and smart power outlets, mean you can control office lights and small electrical devices remotely, as well as receive alerts when anyone enters or leaves the building.

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More employees, greater expenditure

For every member of staff, there’s also the need to store more data: as new emails and files are created they all need to be secured, managed and saved and the associated overhead eats into the business’ bottom line. And with a generation of workers who have only known the world with the internet and mobile phones, IT departments need to work on, and deal with, more devices from more locations. This means that maintaining, securing and protecting your IT is now a full-time job – and a job that requires employees with a wide and deep range of skills, which can be hard to come by and expensive to procure.

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A simple solution

While this might all sound a little depressing, there is a way to overcome these IT challenges; namely the cloud. By utilising the cloud, you are effectively outsourcing the running and managing of your IT, on a pay-as-you-go, monthly operational expenditure (opex) basis. Where you previously had an up-front fixed cost, the cloud operates on a much lower monthly fee that is paid on a per-use basis. It can also be switched on or off instantly. So, for example, if you employ a new member of staff, you can set them up on Office 365 with an email account in a matter of minutes, and it will cost you pounds, instead of hundreds of pounds. Then, if they leave, you simply stop paying the monthly fee.

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Agile IT

One of the key differentiators that small and medium-sized businesses have over large businesses is their agility, and this is one of the reasons why so many small businesses are switching to the cloud. You have instant access to enterprise-class tools without paying the associated overheads. Previously, if you wanted to run an enterprise solution like those used in large corporates you needed teams of IT staff and very deep pockets. With the cloud you can start using the same IT systems as the FTSE 100.

So, if you want to use Salesforce customer relationship management software, or human resources solutions like Workday, now you can. One of the other advantages of the cloud is that you are always using the most up-to-date version of the solution, which means you have access to the latest productivity tools, and are working on the most secure versions. Standard productivity software requires regular paid upgrades and you need to spend time deciding if the upgrade cost is worthwhile: Will the new features and tools cover the upfront upgrade costs? Does the business have the cash flow to cover upgrading everyone now? If you decide yes, then there’s the additional time required to upgrade each PC or laptop. And whether you choose to upgrade or not, you will still need to keep your software up to date with the latest security upgrades, which can be a constant process that needs to be factored into any decision you make.

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Reach for the cloud

While the cloud has many benefits, some businesses may be wary of a move. The key areas of concern are that by placing data in the hands of a third party you won’t have a competitive edge and the data will be less secure.

However, being competitive is about what you do, rather than how you do it. Nearly every business uses Microsoft Office but that doesn’t make them less competitive. Saving money by using the cloud for non-key parts of your business – such as your CRM and HR solutions – allows you to spend more money on the areas of your business where you can make a difference, such as marketing, research and employing better-qualified staff.

A cloud business is essentially spreading its IT costs between many different users, and it will employ the latest security solutions and the best security staff. Additionally, it will also have staff working 24/7 so the service is monitored continually and patches are applied when they become available. The IT cost savings combined with the excellent security and up-to-date software means the cloud is quickly becoming the platform choice for many small and medium-sized businesses. Could yours be next?