Digital workspace portals are getting all the attention in EUC, but they’re not the only way to work

There are lots of other ways for users to do their job—everything doesn’t have to be wrapped up in a single app.

Today, the trend among EUC vendors is to talk about digital workspace portal apps.

In general, this is the idea of a single app, with clients available for all types of devices and platforms, that gives users access to all of their native apps, web/SaaS apps, virtual apps and desktops, files, and more.

I’m talking about apps like VMware Workspace ONE Intelligent Hub, Citrix Workspace App, Microsoft Intune Company Portal, and others, like Awingu and Lenovo Unified Workspace (formerly Stoneware).

These workspace apps continue to grow. For example, both Workspace ONE and Citrix have added “workflow” or micro app capabilities, and Citrix has plans to launch local Windows apps from their Workspace App.

Overall, these workspace portals are a great message. Tame the complexity of having a bunch of apps all over the place! Instead, no matter what type of device you’re on, just look for one workspace app (with corporate branding) and get all your work done!

I agree with this message, as it’s appealing and something we’ve been striving to for years. These apps neatly wrap up all of the components of a modern EUC strategy—take EMM, IDaaS, desktop virtualization, desktop and laptop management, files and more, and wrap them up with conditional access policies to make a modern digital workspace.

However, I want to point out that implementing a modern EUC strategy doesn’t have to mean that users have to go to these digital workspace portal apps to do all their work.

You don’t have to have a workspace portal app to have a modern EUC strategy

There are several reasons why workspace portal apps aren’t the only way to do EUC.

First, not everything a user needs will be available from the workspace portal app. Maybe you can use the portal to publish URLs to anything you want, but at the end of the day, users are still going to go elsewhere for some portion of their tasks. For example, many users will use native Office apps, and so the role of the workspace portal might be just telling the UEM platform to push down the local clients.

Second, most users just aren’t accustomed to working this way. They’re used to clicking on icons on their desktop, digging around File Explorer or Finder, and typing addresses in browsers. Yes, for many people, it will be super convenient to be able to say “Just go to our workspace app, you’ll find everything you need in it and you can launch all your apps from it.” But most users will have other preferences and habits.

Third, from a technical perspective, you can do all of the cool modern digital workspace stuff—EMM, SSO/federation, virtual apps, file sync, conditional access policies—without having to wrap everything up in a portal app. We can provision native apps directly to devices, sync files directly in the native file system, and go directly to SaaS apps to do service provider-initiated logins. We’re used to seeing notifications and tasks come up in email, standalone task apps, Slack/Teams, system notifications, carrier pigeons, and the like.

Lastly, users already have a lot of portals. The question of “Where can I start my work day?” can be answered on a desktop, browser homepage, intranet, the page that comes up when you log into your VPN, the portal for your IDaaS, and so on. Even Siri is trying to get in on this with suggested apps and workflows.

Workspace portals are part of a broader EUC strategy

Don’t get me wrong—I love that we can finally bring all this EUC tech together in a sleek experience. Workspace portal apps also make for a great demo, since you can show a user going throughout their day in one consistent and branded product.

If you don’t use a workspace portal, then the EUC tech is more behind the scenes, even if we’re talking about the exact same EMM, identity, desktop virt, and workflow stack. (“You couldn’t see it in this demo, but we provisioned that app earlier and took care of federation in the background!”)

Single workspace portal apps do lend themselves well to BYOD—you might not want to get your management stack and data and everything tangled up with the innards of a user’s personal device. Instead, just base everything in the workspace portal. This is especially important for frontline employees, too.

But even with BYOD, things don’t have to be wrapped up in a workspace portal app. A user could get on their personal computer, launch any browser, navigate to a corporate web app, do an SP-initiated login, and the app and data could be protected by remote browser isolation. In other words, the policies can come to the user, instead of them having to go to a special app.

Final thoughts

Today, I’m pointing out the difference between a workspace portal app and an overall modern EUC and digital workspace strategy for two reasons.

First, I remember the backlash against “containerization” on mobile devices. People would rail against the idea of using MAM and third-party email apps because the experience was different from built in apps. Luckily, this settled down once everybody realized that you can just use different tools for different scenarios, and you don’t have to be dogmatic about it.

Second, I don’t want anybody to look at all of this great digital workspace stuff—EMM, identity, virtual apps, and so on, all tied together with intelligent management policies—and think it means forcing users into a single workspace portal app.

At the end of the day, there are a lot of different ways to do EUC. It can be packaged in a slick portal, or it can be ambient, and the user can use any native apps and experiences that they want. That any app, any location, any device goal that we’ve been working towards includes another part: working any way you want on that device.

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