It Takes an Enterprise to Raise a Digital Workspace

Christine Dunbar
March 22, 2021

VMware and Citrix are promoting their flagship digital workspaces to CIOs as a way to improve employee engagement. If you implement them without stakeholder involvement, or adequate resourcing, it will backfire.

At Citrix’s industry analyst summit in 2018, the company unveiled a marketing shift. It is focusing on the CIO and positioning it Citrix Workspace, virtualization, and infrastructure offerings as tools that can improve employee engagement.

It was not surprising, then, to see the same at VMware’s End User Computing Industry Analyst Day 2019. The company in particular focused on how VMware Workspace ONE and VMware Horizon can improve the hiring and onboarding experiences.

What Is a Digital Workspace?

A digital workspace is a platform that has security, device and app management, virtualization, and potentially other infrastructure and collaboration components build into it. Users can then interact with apps and data within that platform and the embedded security, management, etc. that has been built into it.

Citrix Workspace and VMware Workspace ONE incorporate application virtualization in order to theoretically support any app on any device. ZDNet suggests that platforms like Slack, Asana, and Office 365 can also be considered digital workspaces because of the vast number of apps that are listed in their respective app stores. BMC also offers a digital workspace.

This note focuses on Citrix and VMware as they have been advertising that their digital workspaces, along with the rest of their product portfolios, can improve employee engagement.

Improving Employee Engagement by Improving IT Tools

Both Citrix and VMware say their respective digital workspace apps and wider product portfolios can improve employee engagement by improving IT’s tools to enable a better hiring and onboarding experience, to scale business processes more easily, to apply security seamlessly, and to better support user choice.

These digital workspaces can reduce the time to fulfill requests. Citrix and VMware can integrate with ServiceNow to allow cross-product workflows for ITSM and ITAM processes. VMware Workspace ONE can also come preinstalled on Dell computers along with a set of applications, meaning that users don’t need to wait for gigabytes and gigabytes’ worth of files to download and install. Apps can be automatically provisioned to the end user’s devices using either solution. These features can allow new employees to be productive faster.

VMware and Citrix can scale workloads to various public clouds. This feature allows apps to better respond to increased demand. Both VMware and Citrix have strategic partnerships with Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform.

Both companies are powering threat management capabilities using artificial intelligence to identify suspicious behavior. Instead of locking out users that are either acting suspiciously or unwittingly install malicious software, the systems will auto-remediate by requiring reauthentication and/or performing a virus scan to remove malicious software.

Most importantly, employee choice is being championed by both. The workspace apps and any virtual or SaaS apps within the workspace provide the same user experience regardless of which device a user chooses. They can work productively on a Mac, Chromebook, or Windows PC, and the workspace app (along with the built-in UEM features) makes it easier for IT to manage the device. People can access ERP systems such as Workday and instant messaging or conferencing apps such as Slack, Cisco, and Asana on any device, anywhere.

Citrix and VMware also allow users to open files from and save files to Dropbox, Box, OneDrive, Google Drive, etc. IT can more easily support a variety of public storage options (and their business-oriented equivalents), allowing both users and business units to have more choice.

Our Take

In order to truly take advantage of these advertised benefits, IT needs a strategy that is supported by the whole department and relevant business units. Infrastructure and Operations needs to work with Enterprise Apps teams. The Service Desk and Tier 2 support teams need training to ensure that Tier 3 can focus on projects that deliver business benefits. The digital workspace strategy will result in a program of projects, and these projects must be structured to enable early value. Most importantly, though, is organizational change management – mobile devices are incredibly personal to users (even corporately owned devices), and IT has to remember that.

Organizational Change Management

Psychologists have known for a few years now that people are emotionally attached to their smartphones. As such, you need to ensure that you’re incorporating many organizational change management activities into your strategy. Involve users early and often, regardless of whether they’re using a corporate-issued device or a personally owned one.

Non-adoption and/or heavy-handed policies will have the opposite effect of the intended result. Employee engagement, and satisfaction with IT, will plummet. Effective organizational change management will ensure that your investment into a digital workspace app isn’t derailed by the very users you are trying to help.

The tool also must be easy to use. Only 50% of US adults have Level 3 computer skills – they can easily accomplish tasks that cross between apps, files, and web pages. Over a quarter have Level 2 skills – they can accomplish tasks that may have a slightly nebulous goal, that may involve going across two pages or apps – but almost 70% have Level 1 skills (able to use standard apps and accomplish tasks within one app), below Level 1, or can’t use a computer at all. As this chart shows, the rest of the world’s population is not much different.

Source: “Skills Matter: Further Results from the Survey of Adult Skills.”  OECD, 2016

Throughout this project, you will likely have to develop microapps that make it easy to perform various business processes. You definitely have to perform user acceptance testing and focus groups to ensure that the workspace is easy to use. Employee engagement will increase only if you go beyond the basic use cases of email and calendaring.

IT Satisfaction With These Tools

When we look at SoftwareReviews reports in the Enterprise Mobile Management category we see that customers of feature-rich EMM solutions (such as Citrix Endpoint Manager and VMware AirWatch) are less satisfied with their product than are customers of simple, point EMM solutions (e.g. Cisco Meraki) or tools that focus on managing one line of devices (e.g. Jamf Pro with Apple devices).

The more feature rich the device management tool, the more resourcing, training, and effort it will take to realize the tool’s potential. Reflecting on the data collected about Citrix and VMware in the SoftwareReviews EMM category, even large enterprises do not always seriously consider the resourcing required to implement and maintain these systems.

Source: SoftwareReviews Enterprise Mobile Management category. September 2018.


This theme carries over to Citrix’s and VMware’s digital workspace offerings. Citrix Workspace and VMware Workspace ONE are positioned as enterprise solutions because these customers can afford to invest in them. Midmarket IT departments can take advantage of these products – and the advertised benefits – so long as they devote the resources to a proper implementation project.

Company-Wide Strategy

Building a digital workspace will involve the entire IT group. In order to support business processes in the workspace, you will need to involve your Enterprise Apps teams. In order to ensure that the environment is secure, you will need to involve your Cybersecurity teams. In order to ensure that the underlying IT infrastructure will support the workspace, your IT Infrastructure team needs to be involved. To ensure that the environment runs smoothly and can be maintained, you need to involve Operations.

You also need support from HR, Finance, Procurement, and Legal. HR has to be involved in your work surrounding hiring, onboarding, and offboarding. Any use cases that streamline IT asset management should involve the finance group. HR and Legal need to be involved in the policies that support the digital workspace. Legal and Procurement should help you review your existing contracts with software vendors and review any new contracts that are related to this initiative.

Several teams will need to work together in order to achieve the desired benefit of improved employee engagement.

Agile and Early Value

When so many teams need to work together, and when the desired project goal is so nebulous, Agile is more suitable than Waterfall-style project management. The traditional Waterfall approach is to work in stages: completely gather the requirements, completely design the deliverables, completely build the solution, and then completely create the training materials. For projects where the requirements are not likely to change during the project, Waterfall tends to be a better approach.

This is not true for digital workspace projects (or programs of projects). Your requirements are likely to change throughout the project, and the available resources are likely to change throughout the project, and the available resources are likely to fluctuate (especially with operational staff). Therefore, an Agile approach is more likely to be successful. Perform requirements gathering, design, and execution in parallel. Develop functionality in iterations and incrementally, and plan to provide early value – allow users to start taking advantage of the features being built before the project is fully built.

Prioritize supporting user groups that are most closely aligned with business value and that are also friendly towards IT. Start with features that can be used by most users (e.g. mail, instant messaging) as well as features that are specific to the processes used by the prioritized user groups.

One key difference here is to gather only the high-level requirements that are necessary to start the project. It can be difficult to identify where that line is. Focus on gathering enough requirements to make the following decisions:

  • Which user groups should be prioritized?
  • What business processes will be supported on mobile devices?
  • What policies will the organization need to develop and implement?
  • With what devices and systems do the mobile devices need to integrate?

This information should provide IT with enough information to come up with a high-level implementation roadmap. You will of course need to continue to gather more requirements throughout the project, but since those requirements will change, you do not want to make it a hard finish-to-start dependency.

Train Tier 2 and Tier 1

These are complicated systems. Respondents do not think highly of these systems’ usability and IT administrator experience.

In order to harness the potential of these systems, Infrastructure leaders need to be able to focus on strategic project work – digitizing business processes, developing new functionality, etc. You need to devolve maintenance work to Tier 2 and incident resolution to Tier 1. Time that you spend working on patches and updates means lost time toward developing new functionality.


  1. Form a cross-functional team to champion the digital workspace app.
  2. Adopt an early value approach to this initiative.
  3. Train the Service Desk and Tier 2 teams on maintaining the digital workspace infrastructure.
  4. Use organizational change management throughout the development and deployment of your digital workspace app.

Bottom Line

Digital workspace apps can help IT become seen as a strategic partner by improving employee engagement. If you don’t properly resource the project and plan your strategy, however, it can completely backfire.


Research by: Ken Weston

Info-Tech Research Group

July 5, 2019

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About the Author

Christine Dunbar

We believe in listening to our clients and facilitating robust dialogue to learn the full picture of the project from multiple perspectives. We craft solutions that are tailored to our client’s needs, emphasizing a robust process that engages the correct stakeholders throughout the project so that once it’s complete, our clients can continue to manage it successfully.

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