Brian Madden spent the first half of his career focussing on problems. From his days as a self-proclaimed “computer geek” in high school, he then worked break-fix computer consulting gigs. Next, he wrote a Citrix book, followed by a few more books and articles. He launched and the BriForum conference, which ran from 2005 to 2016, making a career out of “being something of an IT industry analyst and commentator and keeping an eye on the entire industry,” Madden said, and “holding vendors’ feet to the fire.”

But in 2016, Madden knew it was time for a break. He took a two-year sabbatical to reset and decide what the next stage of his journey would look like.

"I’d never not been working. I just had to take a break," Madden said. "So, I just took a sabbatical. Sold my house, totally vegged out, and it was awesome — I needed that." But in 2018, when he began to consider his return, he realized it was time for a different direction.

"I thought it might be cool to be part of the solution; I spent such a long time holding all these companies accountable for what they weren’t doing, maybe I should look at the other side," Madden said. VMware, he thought, was taking its vision of what an ideal, technology-enabled solution should be and making it reality.

"I remember looking at what the big players in the industry were doing, and thinking that what VMware was doing was just fantastic. They really nailed it — their vision and execution was spot-on, to me, wrapping device management and mobile and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) with intelligence and automation on one platform," Madden says.

Now the director, end-user computing (EUC) in the office of the CTO at VMware, Madden has his finger in a lot of pies. He spoke with Simpler Media Group in advance of the Digital Workplace Experience, taking place online Oct. 13 and Oct. 14, about the ideal workplace experience, the meaning of Zero Trust, and the parallels between pinball and his career. VMware is a sponsor of the event.

The Digital Workplace Ideal

Simpler Media Group: What does the ideal digital workplace look like, and why is that the ideal?

Brian Madden: I feel like you have to answer the question from two perspectives.

There’s the employee standpoint and then the IT admin standpoint. For me, the IT admin view is easier. The ideal for digital workplace from an IT standpoint is a single platform. Because the problem of traditional IT, especially with end user computing (EUC) is with the number of different ways of doing everything.

You manage your Windows machines with Microsoft [System Center Configuration Manager] SCCM, and then you’ve got Apple and Mac. iPhones and online and all this different stuff. And then, at the end of the day, the IT management. It's not just, 'Is everything secure?' Yes or no. It’s let me get into 15 different systems and run this report and those analytics — you read about viruses that ravage companies, and it’s always like, 'How did they get in?' And it’s like, 'Well, we had this exception report that shows something, and we sent around a spreadsheet, and then there’s all these email chains, and we have to perform manual updates here and run another report here.' And so, from an IT admin standpoint, the ideal experience is to just having everything rolled into one platform.

From the employee experience perspective, I think it means everything works the way they expect it to, and the technology really needs to inform every tech touchpoint they have with the company, not just devices. You’ve got to think about how they're handling HR requests, how they’re going through the onboarding experience when they come on, how they know what apps to use, which ones their coworkers are using. It’s where to go to access information, employee badges, it’s tying all these systems together.

Part of that is so they can work on the devices they want, but also so they can work in the way that they're expected to. For example, a lot of people talk about VDI — and you can use VDI to access Windows anywhere. Cool, but people don’t buy an iPad to run Windows on it! So, that doesn’t really count. It has to mean if an employee is using an iPad, they can expect to use standard iPad applications.

If they move to a Mac, they want to use Mac applications. And so, it's the ideal experience that is not just that you can use whatever you want, but that it works in the way that you would expect for it to work however you want.

And then now, working from home, makes it even more necessary that it just has to work as people expect, because you can't look over at the next cubicle and be like, 'Oh, hey, is Outlook down for you, too?' or walk into the help desk and requisition a new laptop because yours just died, or whatever. Because if something does go down, you're really isolated.

We saw a lot of that with everyone working from home where the onboarding process became very important. And not the start-a-new-job onboarding process, but I mean, onboarding new devices. There were a number of people who didn't have laptop computers at home, or who had desktops at work, they couldn’t just take those home, and for a while there, you couldn't buy laptops anywhere, because they weren’t available. In some instances, it was literally like, 'Go to your basement and pull out some laptop from four years ago.' Or boot up your old Packard Bell computer.

That, to me, is what makes a digital workplace experience meet your expectations of how things just should magically work.

SMG: How does that differ from what's the reality at most places?

Madden: IT people in general, myself included, are very, very much — we just like things to work. We kind of want to be left alone. And that's why you've got SCCM managing Windows machines has been around for 26 years, or something like that. You know, it’s like, 'You’ll pry it from my cold, dead fingers because I like it and it works!'

But, that came out in 1994 and, yeah, it solves the 1994 use case perfectly. You know, a computer was a box on a desk. There was no Wi-Fi, there was no VPN because you didn't have laptops. But now it's over 25 years later, and we’re managing this stuff very much in silos: managing Mac separate from Windows separate from VDI. And the people management is separate, too — the VDI team manages that, the Windows team manages this, the remote team manages that, the phone team, etc.

This is all very, very siloed which is fine, but it means that when a new device comes out, you have to start from scratch. So, you're reinventing the wheel with every device. Every time that nothing's talking together, you're just building in pieces. Whereas, if you look at a proper sort of digital workspace or digital workplace experience, you’ve got a platform effect, which means a platform can grow and lift everyone together. You don’t have to reinvent that wheel. If something new comes out, it plugs right in. You don't have to learn anything new, you're off and running.

Brian Madden, VMWare: "“The pie-in-the-sky, single platform, manage- everything-and-wrap-intelligence-around-it and automation and zero trust and plug-ins with third parties — that's real. We've got that. It’s now.”"

SMG: How do companies bridge that gap?

Madden: So first of all, I’ve been at VMware for about two-and-a-half years, and I've talked to hundreds of customers, and a lot of people still do not even know that this digital workplace stuff is real. So, first, they have to understand it’s real — it exists, and it’s here. Some of that I think is the corporate pie-in-the-sky marketing with a deep voiceover of, 'Imagine a Future …' and there's these Very Beautiful People using sleek, silver generic devices in these white coffee shops, and that’s The Future of Working!

And I think even IT people don’t realize it, because, look, at the end of the day, it’s like, 'Great, cool, future of work, whatever, I got a truck full of laptops, they're running Windows 7, I gotta get Windows 10 upgrades done. I can't deal with that Future of Work right now.' Their real focus is a real-world versus this pie-in-the-sky stuff, and I get that, and it makes sense. But I have to tell people that the pie-in-the-sky, single platform, manage-everything-and-wrap-intelligence-around-it and automation and zero trust and plug-ins with third parties — that's real. We've got that. It’s now.

The other thing I would say is it's like with everything — to know where to begin you have to identify your pain point first. Whether it’s 'I’ve got users working from home on older devices I have to enable,' or 'I've got users who want to use Mac,' or 'I've got a new application that needs to be supported, but my devices can't do it,' you start there.

Then, look at starting to build the platform and enable the features and components that help you the most, and then slowly iterate, iterate, iterate. I think people need to understand that if you want a digital transformation or digital workplace, that touches all areas — it’s a lot of projects. It could be, like, 15 different projects over five years, and that doesn't mean you have to wait till the end to get any value, but you have to be prepared for the long haul. It’s like, “OK, let’s do modern management for Windows devices. Now let's enable zero-trust for them. Now let's pull Mac into it. Now let’s do the employee ID badge piece, or whatever. And so we can start doing it bit by bit. Pretty soon, you realize, like the snowball grows and grows and grows and then, 'Oh, wow, we actually have the bulk of the stuff managed with this and it's all working together!' But it takes lots, lots of small, purposeful steps. I feel like is the real key.

Learning Opportunities

Zero Trust and the Digital Experience

SMG: How do you implement zero trust, and what’s the importance of that vis a vis digital experience?

Madden: Zero trust means different things to different people. How you implement zero trust depends on what zero trust means to whoever is answering that question.

Zero trust could mean getting your home computers access to VDI or access to a VPN. Is it a BYOD kind of thing? Is it continually monitoring the security of corporate devices, and then if the security changes, then access is cut off? Maybe it’s a corporate device that you’re making sure has antivirus running, the latest patches, no malware, and if you see that it's not patched, cuts off access to corporate apps until you patch it, and then the access comes back.

So all those could be a type of zero trust. The BYOD thing, I think, back in the day, was kind of a nightmare because the way that we managed computers was to see them as basically the same. You went to Dell, you bought 10,000 laptops and because they were the same, you could  push out a security patch, knowing that they were all compatible with it.

Now, everyone’s got something different, and so you can’t push out things en masse, and that's why it’s gotten to be very complicated. But now, we have to thank a lot of the vendors for making BYO and zero trust possible. I mean like Intel and AMD and Microsoft and Google, you know, as well as Dell, Lenovo, HP, other laptop vendors — now, there’s technology built into the Intel processors and Windows 10 where you open it up and … if you enter a corporate email address, it will know … that the device can be managed by a company. Microsoft built that into the out-of-box experience; it’s built into Windows 10. Intel’s Trusted Computing Trusted Platform Module is built in the processor that third parties can see, and we can know if a machine did a safe boot, or whether it has been tampered with. Intel and AMD did a lot of work, Microsoft, Google, Apple, Dell, Lenovo, HP — the manufacturers of the machines did a lot of work individually and together to recognize there's gotta be a better way to manage this. They put all the plumbing pieces in place, and then the platform vendors like VMware tie it all together to actually make that experience.

When zero trust first became a thing, back in the old days, it was mostly just about the network: How do you get on the network? If I don't trust the device, I would scan with antivirus, and that kind of stuff. But now, zero trust is more than the network. It’s the device, the code, the applications, your data … now you can build automation that allows you to do whatever you want zero trust to be.

And we can do this today thanks to the broader ecosystem of everyone working together.

SMG: What other tech, methodologies, platforms, approaches, need to happen to make that digital workplace experience work?

Madden: There’s a couple things. So first of all, anything digital workspace is end user computing, right? And so, end user computing sort of touches everything. So, what I mean is, in addition to something like VMware Workspace ONE that's managing your applications, profile and your user accounts and tying everything together, there's a big security play that's integrated with this. There's all the networking stuff like the VPN. But now, instead of VPN being done at the computer level, it's at the individual application and process level. So, your entire computer doesn’t need access to the email servers, it’s just Outlook. It's like a micro-VPN where every little process has its own, very narrow VPN to where it's going, instead of everyone sharing the whole thing.

Now, we're even tying into HR and that sort of stuff, too, because once you start looking at, like, onboarding, it expands the scope. We’re doing integrations with Workday and that sort of thing, where if you're an employee, we can send you a link and you download the Workspace ONE Intelligent Hub as an app on your phone. You use that to upload your W-2 forms and sign your pre-hire documentation. We can you can use that to provision your laptop, to choose what desk you want: do you want a standing desk? Click, there you go. You can have that all come through your own device, and then when you actually start your first day, it clicks over and all the applications are available on your device. You can start using Outlook immediately. But that requires working with HR, through their hiring process.

The key thing is that a good digital workplace experience is more than IT, and it's more than your phone or your iPad or laptop. It's about tying all that together.

SMG: What do you do in your spare time? And what lessons do you translate from that stuff to your work?

Madden: There's a few things. So first of all, I like pinball. Like, the actual physical pinball machines. I know the guy who runs that [Seattle Pinball Museum], and Seattle's a great pinball community. Then I got into actually building pinball machines and writing software for pinball machines. And, it seems like a crazy project, but it's funny because there's so many overlaps with my day job!

For instance, how do you manage pinball machines remotely? It’s not that different than how you manage, you know, wireless access points remotely, for example, and I spend a lot of time on stage giving presentations. That’s a whole correlation of developing a story arc, and the ability to tell stories. When you’re building a pinball machine, there’s the immersive story of it, and how do you draw people in and how to keep their attention, all that kind of stuff is similar.

I also do improv and stand up, which also involves a lot of time on stage telling technical stories, so I feel like all these put together make me a better storyteller, in my day job.

But that's exactly what we do in IT as well. You experiment, you see what works, you break stuff, you talk to other people about how to fix it, you try different things. You download the software, you play with it, you figure out, break it, erase everything, download it again, start over from scratch again, play some more. Now, you buy this. Now you go on forums and chat. It's the same kind of drive to figure things out and just iterate. It’s the same exact methodology you use in the office. To figure out technology for you, or for users translates perfectly.

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