Sun implements iWork hot desk strategy

Vendor uses technology to breathe new life into an old concept and enable its workers to log into its network from anywhere around the world.

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By  Maddy Reddy Published  April 1, 2004

|~|iwork_M.jpg|~|Sun employees log onto the system using a smartcard.|~|After more than 15 years of operations in the Middle East and North Africa, Sun Microsystems recently moved into its new regional headquarters Dubai Internet City (DIC). The state-of-the-art, US$1.5 office facility also represents a new technology-driven workspace model, which promises to increase productivity and cut operating costs for the vendor. Sun’s regional headquarters has been fitted out in line with the company’s iWork strategy, and it enables more than 100 employees to use a secure hot-desk environment. Using the Sun Ray thin clients, employees can now access the available workstations and conference rooms via their Java smart cards. The new office, in which fewer than 5% of employees have fixed desks or offices, also features an interactive demonstration environment for partners and customers. Hot desks as a concept have been around since the mid 80s. Essentially it is a physical desk that is not assigned to a particular employee, but rather is available for any employees to use. With a ratio of 1.5 people per desk, the company believes it is a good example of using technology to improve workplace productivity, as well as showcasing its products to customers. “Commercial real estate is at a premium today. Innovative workplaces driven by technology are the best way to tackle this,” says Graham Porter, marketing manager, Sun MENA. Barring the finance, HR and administration teams, who have fixed desks, a large part of Sun’s sales and marketing teams work remotely and reserve their hot desks over the company’s intranet up to two weeks in advance. All employees have a Java smart card, which also serves as an employee ID card. By inserting the card into any Sun Ray thin client machine, employees instantly get access to all their data from anywhere in the world. The office network’s session logging service enables more than 35,000 Sun employees globally to resume their work exactly from the point they left it. But hot desking, which challenges established convention, will take some time to garner wide acceptance. “The allocation of hot desks is fraught with emotive issues, particularly in the Middle East, where permanency and job security can be an issue. A worker used to having his or her own office space can feel really threatened by having to move to a hot desk concept,” warns Mike Hynes, regional general manager of Regus Middle East — part of Regus, a provider of outsourced offices throughout the world. In a bid to target start-ups and SME’s with limited real estate capital, Regus is currently working on plans to expand its 11 regional business centres to 48 by the end of 2006 with ready to use videoconferencing, VPN, IT and administrative services. From a technology perspective, most regional IT companies today have some form of Wireless LANs or WLANs with corporate hotspots. Datamonitor estimates that Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) will account for 25% of enterprise WLAN shipments by 2010 and the market is currently growing at more than 20% per year. This marks an increasing trend with companies such as Sun moving away from the traditional workplace concept of employees being tied down to a desk for connectivity. It is arguably easier for IT and large companies with substantial IT budgets to invest in technology for employee productivity compared to small and medium enterprises. But Fazal Khan, HR manager of Microsoft Middle East, says using technology effectively is not restricted to vendors alone. “We are the earliest adopters of technology, because we believe in eating our own dog food. Encouraging SMEs to invest in at least basic technology and helping them exploit it is the challenge,” he says. Khan believes productivity and performance are now demanded across business sectors and no longer restricted to IT companies. “The usage levels may vary. IT companies could be classified as ‘power users of technology’ unlike non-IT companies, but productivity is vital regardless of the industry,” he adds. In spite of the advances in information and communications technology, the promise of virtual offices, paperless offices and teleworkers is far from reality, says Porter. “There are still times when you need to make physical contact. We have to create an attitude for a different work culture if we are to fully utilise the technology,” he adds. ||**||

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