This has not been the year everyone thought when the calendar first flipped over to January 2020.
As 2019 closed out, the focus of my end of year prognostication honed in on the idea that the tech industry was moving into a post-operating system world. And in 2020, remote access to most services did demonstrate that platform agnosticism was here to stay: Access to enterprise productivity tools – including chat, video conferencing and collaboration platforms – was not contingent on whether an end user was on a desktop, laptop or mobile phone. Also inconsequential was what operating system that device might be running to access those services.
Platform agnosticism also included the idea that enterprise-level management of infrastructure and services was moving outside the organization and into the cloud. As a year of living with – and working through – a global pandemic unfolded, it turned out that companies that had already invested in the cloud were more prepared to have the majority of their workforce begin working from home compared to their counterparts who were not yet all in on the cloud.
So what were the big stories in a year where the notion of workforce productivity was both challenged and scrutinized like never before? These were the three that stood out – and are likely to continue shaping IT into 2021.
Story #1: Enterprise Productivity Tools Took Off
This year, Microsoft made a significant push to incorporate their time management and task management tools into their collaborative workspaces. In a time when employees are adding much more screen time to their workday, being able to access to-do lists and manage calendar commitments without having to jump to those specific apps was a big help.
Some of the enhancements added to Microsoft Teams (the top enterprise collaboration and productivity tool) this year include:
- Microsoft Lists became the to-do list across all of Microsoft 365 and added the option to install the service into a channel for any Microsoft Teams client. This centralized to-do task service can be updated in multiple locations such as the stand-alone app, Outlook and, of course, Microsoft Teams.
- Project Moca is Microsoft’s new service to organize and track projects across Microsoft 365. Data from the projects are accessible not only through the web interface but in Microsoft Teams and stand-alone apps such as Microsoft To-Do, Sticky Notes and OneDrive cloud storage.
- Microsoft Teams itself received a series of updates that continued to make it a central Microsoft 365 platform for customers across all of those services. New modes for video meetings – including a new meeting view called Together Mode – custom presentation layouts, meeting breakout rooms and meeting recaps that are automatically generated post meeting for easy access are all aimed to reduce the monotony of routine tasks associated with online meetings.
- Microsoft Teams also added analytics to help managers and leaders understand their teams' interactions and productivity. These included the new Wellbeing Experience, Manage and Leader Team Insights and a Productivity Score.
Story #2: The Low-Code/No-Code Wave
The idea behind low-code/no-code tools is not new to 2020 but the pandemic has certainly increased their usefulness as remote employees look to automate the multitude of tasks they work with each day.
Third-party services like If This Then That (IFTTT) and Zapier have long been providing the means to create sequenced steps to accomplish these processes. In 2020, the big cloud providers decided to incorporate the same taskflow-creation and automation tools into their enterprise offerings for end users. Consider these moves by Microsoft, Google and Amazon in 2020, which were so big we dedicated three separate articles to them:
- Microsoft’s low-code/no-code approach expanded upon their existing Power Platform and Power BI services with the introduction of Microsoft Power Apps.
- Google’s low-code/no-code implementation meant acquiring AppSheet, a Seattle-area startup that offered no-code app development, in January.
- Amazon’s take on low-code/no-code, Honeycode, came along in June of 2020 and trails Microsoft and Google significantly. The reason for that 3rd place position is because Amazon does not integrate any capability to connect to business data on any cloud service – including their own. Microsoft and Google both offer this capability as a standard feature. Instead, Amazon only allows CSV based data to be imported into the workbook storage used by Honeycode. This is a severe limitation for some users but, as mentioned, it is very entry level at this point.
Much like the collaborative enterprise productivity tools, expect these low-code/no-code tools to expand and gain more functionality into 2021 as this trend continues to be solidified across multiple sectors.
Story #3: Windows 10 Update Cycles Settling In
This year, Microsoft celebrated the five-year anniversary of the release of their primary client operating system – Windows 10. There are now six versions of Windows 10 that get updated monthly, with two larger semi-annual updates each year.
Microsoft has settled into a release cycle that is more accommodating of enterprise customers by making a full feature update and new OS-level features available in the first half of the calendar year, followed by a smaller stability focused cumulative update in the second half of the year.
These semi-annual updates continue to receive 18- and 30-month support cycles respectively after their releases. This allows enterprises to perform major OS updates just once every three years or so instead of every 18 months but encourages users to adopt the smaller cumulative update more frequently since it does not make major additions to the OS.
Stability and a steady set of features is preferred in the enterprise, which makes this new update cycle very palatable. In addition, it helps to reduce the potential disruption because 12 months can be spent focusing on the introduction of new features rather than a short six-month development cycle.
This year Microsoft also made changes to their Windows Insider for Business program by establishing a new three-channel-preview build release structure to accommodate the new semi-annual update release schedule. Now, rather than naming their releases based on a perceived promise of how often those preview builds are released, they now focus on stability and quality in the channels. This change allows IT pros to better focus their efforts on testing upcoming releases that will be more beneficial to their organization.
After five years, Windows 10 is not going anywhere and will be the flagship operating system for Microsoft in 2021 and beyond. All those cloud services and dashboards for managing them must be viewed on a computer and the pandemic has resulted in a bump in PC sales as a result. While that bump may not last, Windows 10 is now a familiar and stable environment with its five years of development and enterprises prefer those traits to anything else when it comes to operating systems.