Ten questions with Kevin Gemmel, Head of Professional Services, Camwood.

The latest version of Microsoft’s ubiquitous operating system is now on the market, and with it are a myriad of deals on new touchscreen tablets to take full advantage of version 8’s touted capabilities. Kevin Gemmel is the head of professional services at Camwood, and he spoke with me about this month’s Microsoft release. Kevin’s background in Windows enterprise consulting at Avenade and HP led him to several years at Microsoft, where he headed up the enterprise finance team and set up the professional school for large enterprise developers. He worked at Microsoft through rollouts of Windows NT, 95, 2000 and XP.

Kevin’s current job involves moving people to Windows 7 and Windows 8, and an expanding range of services around the application space, such as the cloud for example. Camwood focuses on mobile device and application management. With Camwood, Kevin has helped to answer the questions of four and a half million users over the last decade, so answering ten questions about the version 8 release was just part of his normal conversation.

Jeff: When we start talking about Windows in general, there is a perception that it can be hard to integrate with other platforms. Is that still the case and does version 8 change either the perception or the reality?
Kevin: Going back to the release of Windows 7, Microsoft put a lot of technology in place to help with its capabilities. There is a massive stack in terms of the backend transmission protocols. A lot of those have gone away now, both with the use of standardized technologies on the client and with the push to html 5 and previous technologies. Web technologies are really where the integration is going in the future, and to a large extent it’s already there.

If you look at consolidation across the TCP/IP stack with html 5 on top of that, certainly with the new Windows 8 being built from the ground up and the new applications being html 5 based, it removes a lot of the integration question marks that may have been there in the past. The proprietary-based question is one that goes back a few years. There are elements that were added in Windows XP to bring the TCP/IP stack up to a more enterprise-level that are now built into the base operating system. Most of the base level plumbing is in place to allow it to work, which is not to say we don’t have application-by-application integration challenges along the way.

The push from Microsoft has always been either to define the standards or to adopt the recognized standards for integration across platforms. Technologies like the VPN for Windows 8 will enable enterprises to create tunnels back into their organization very rapidly. Previously those were add-on products, and not so straightforward. So, to have those kinds of features built in makes the integration happen much more readily. Even though IP version 6 is built into Windows 7, Microsoft recognizes that IP version 4 is still very much in use, and version 6 is a slow adoption. So again, they’ve retrofitted IP version 4 into the base operating system for both Windows 7 and Windows 8 in the enterprise integration piece.

Jeff: Among the companies you contact, how many of them are still running XP and what effect do you see the closing window for Windows XP support having on what they are doing?
Kevin: For the organizations we work with this is going to be somewhat skewed, because our conversations are usually with the ones who need help. Most of those organizations, certainly among the large enterprises, still have a fair proportion of Windows XP running today. They are certainly feeling the pressure of Windows XP support being phased out. For the ones working with the government, or with actuaries and Sarbanes-Oxley, the risks associated with a burning platform are huge. They’re under multi-year programs to roll out Windows 7 as quickly as possible to beat the deadline.
Jeff: When you go into a client and look at the major hurdles to the migration, in technology or process, what kinds of things do you find?
Kevin: One of the first things we see is that the business doesn’t actually know the size of the problem. They may have gone through mergers or acquisitions, and experienced organic and inorganic growth, and so consequently they have a huge application portfolio. One of the first challenges we try to tackle is getting an understanding of the application catalog that’s out there, which tends to drive a lot of the work associated with the move. Obviously you’ve got the hardware, and then backend services, if you’re doing a backend move as well. But just to move from XP to Windows 7 you need to get all the applications across, so we attempt to cut down that problem size as much as possible upfront. That’s where a lot of the time, effort and money come in moving that application base across to a new platform. So that’s our first hurdle, going in to understand all that they’ve got.
Jeff: How much can you typically cut that portfolio size down?
Kevin: We could help them to ask, for example, with 10,000 applications across their estate, whether we can get as much as 60% rationalized out of the equation. If we can get them down to 4000 applications to move across to the new platform, that’s a whole order of magnitude we’ve cut the work down. The bloated application portfolio may be a result of duplicates, old versions used rarely or not at all, duplicate feature sets, or multiple versions. We put out an engine on all the clients for between one and three months to monitor the month- and quarter-end applications. Then we also use data analysis and business intelligence tools to enable an organization to quickly get a view of their geographies, by region, or group, or by user type. We can see who is using what, for how long, and what applications are most important to them, as well as folding in license information covering whether they were under-licensed or over-licensed. We can also identify which have new versions for the new operating systems, and which ones can be migrated across with a bit of engineering work to get the existing versions onto the new platform.
Jeff: Once you’ve got that piece, managing the size of the migration, what’s the next obstacle?
Kevin: The others that are outside the applications are IE6 and the Office data that’s out there in the business. It is not necessarily centrally held, but it’s extremely business critical data, and when you migrate it across to the new version of Office, which you need to with version 7, some of those things break or get broken links. So again, if you do that work up front to find out where the file problems need to be corrected, you end up with a much smoother rollout when you start up those shiny new version 7 or 8 machines on a Monday morning.
Jeff: When companies do make that migration over to the new version, whether it is from XP or otherwise, do you see that move being more prevalent among early adopters or does it reach further forward into the adoption lifecycle?
Kevin: The fundamentally important thing at the enterprise level is to get off Windows XP and onto a clearly viable alternative for an operating system, which at the moment is version 7. A large enterprise has to make that decision and start thinking and planning for the whole process. With that said, we are working with a few enterprise customers looking at moving from Windows XP directly to version 8, but they are few and far between. Most of the companies considering the move are leading edge thinkers who have already made the move to version 7. They’re looking at where version 8 may be applicable to groups of users or functions within the organization. In field force enablement for example, they are looking to tablet-based, or gesture-interface computing to bring benefits to specific groups of users, but not necessarily as a replacement for all their desktop or laptop users.
Jeff: What are some of the areas where an enterprise’s own IT department is less suited to handle the migration?
Kevin: An important piece of the analysis and survey phase we bring is that it also incorporates office data and web analysis, so we can also identify which websites are being hit most often, and for how long. Once we have that information we can target the most important ones and make sure that they are available and work for IE8 and IE9. If they don’t, we can analyze what exactly needs to be changed to the web site source code, if it is in-house and changeable. If not, we also have a UK partnership with Browsium, to allow us to provide a new wrapper and enable old design IE6 web applications to be rendered properly in an IE8 or IE9 browser. That’s often a better way of resolving some of those web applications than to start from scratch.

Another thing we bring to the table is managing what’s on the list of applications you need to bring through with certainty. That involves working with the deployment teams to marry up hardware and network readiness with application readiness in the most efficient order. For example, you may have one application that’s used by everyone at the office, so you tackle that first and unlock a lot of desktops. It may be the SAP set of applications for the HR department. We get the engineering remediation done and provide a forward path for those applications to get smoothly through our engineering process.

Jeff: How important is the timing of the new hybrid tablets to the Windows V8 rollout?
Kevin: We are actually working very closely with Toshiba in this area, and in terms of hybrids in the enterprise space I would see that being the most common form factor in the enterprise for Windows 8. The ability to have the keyboard flip or be detached with Bluetooth, depending on the machine, together with the benefits of the tablet touchscreen UI, is a great combination. There was a beauty parade of these with twist- or fold-around and slide out keyboards at a conference I attended a couple months ago. The Surface is clearly a response to the success of the iPad and Android tablets in the consumer market, and that will lead to BYOD in the enterprise where there is clear demand for those devices.
Jeff: So most enterprise customers you meet with are already aware of the potential synergy of version 8 with the tablet hybrids?
Kevin: They are aware, yes. When I go in to meet a client with the Slate, and in fact sometimes I leave the keyboard behind and just go in with the tablet and a pen, it’s always a conversation point. It’s an immediate draw for people, and much more convenient carrying it around. It’s less obtrusive when you’ve got it folded down on the table and you’re taking handwritten notes in a meeting, rather than being around a boardroom table where you can hardly see a face because of all the laptop screens. It brings down the barrier and allows a more fluid conversation. So there are some cultural themes here around using a new form factor in a different way, but my personal view is that a change in the way we interact with the user interface for enterprises is always a big headache. It means retraining the users to do their job in a new way. When you get to the nirvana of a fully native Windows 8 application portfolio, it will be an easier place, but there is that transition process involved.
Jeff: Do customers have a good sense of general expectations, not necessarily around hybrids, but generally for what they can expect from version 8?
Kevin: The IT departments have been putting a good deal of focus around version 7 migration. Windows 8 for some organizations is too new and shiny and a distraction from the business of getting off XP. They are all aware of Windows 8 and what it can and can’t do, and there is a complete mix of responses across verticals as well. Government organizations for example are going to be less looking to Windows 8. There’s an interest and a need and even a desire, but it’s going to be a business justification and a planning lifecycle. Not every IT department is in a position to take advantage of it. There’s no hard and fast rule. If an organization is already well into their version 7 deployment, and they have made the investment into the hardware, chances are they are going to need a hardware refresh and a corresponding capital expenditure in those environments to get the most benefit out of version 8.

Kevin Gemmel is the Head of Professional Services at Camwood in London, UK. Customers include Morgan Stanley, Vodafone and BAE Systems. Kevin is a graduate of the University of Manchester, and has worked in information technology for more than 25 years. If you have questions, he can be reached via Skype as kevingemmel. You can also download a free copy of Camwood’s “Application Migration Intelligence in 5 Easy Steps” here: http://www.camwood.com/resources/ebooks/application-readiness-ebook/

Is your business counting down the days until the sunset of Windows XP support? If you’re in the UK, you can mark the remaining time at the “500 days to the end of XP” event in London. Highlighted will be the key milestones and strategies in running a smooth migration. Presenters from Microsoft and Citrix will be joining Camwood at the event. See the link to full details on the event here: