When roadside assistance company Agero wanted to let its call center agents work from anywhere, it turned to Microsoft Azure Virtual Desktop managed through VMware Horizon cloud, says Director of DevOps Billy MacDonald.

Mar 09 2023

The Right Solutions Make it Easy to Support the Modern Digital Worker

Whether in the cloud or on-premises, elegant remote-access solutions simplify the digital workplace.

Talk about perfect timing.  Just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Agero, a roadside-assistance company based in Medford, Mass., had determined it was ready for the world of digital work. Up to that point, its call center agents worked from regional offices scattered across the U.S. They are now able to work from more approved locations across the country, a decision made for a simple reason: It’s good for business.

“We’d heard from our employees that they wanted more flexibility,” says Billy Macdonald, Agero’s senior director of DevOps. “We realized that letting them work from home could be a potential differentiator for us as an employer, and we also saw it as a chance to increase our workforce capacity without having to invest in more physical office space.”

Agero had previously leveraged its own data centers to allow contract workers to connect to its systems via virtual desktops. Macdonald and his team were happy with that approach, but they also recognized it wouldn’t be enough to support the thousands of agents in its call center workforce.

“We decided we needed a larger-scale solution, as well as something that would give us better redundancy,” he explains. Performance was also a concern, as they knew virtual desktops should be located relatively close to their users to minimize latency.

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How Virtual Desktops Are Transforming the Employee Experience

Macdonald and his colleagues considered their options and ultimately chose a combination of Microsoft Azure Virtual Desktop and VMware Horizon Cloud on Azure. He says the VMware solution is the “orchestration engine and access-control mechanism” of the virtual machines running in Azure. Agero employees connect to their virtual desktops automatically through the VMware Horizon software, and once they’re in, they have access to everything they would have in the office.

“When agent sign in at the beginning of the day, it doesn’t matter where they are,” Macdonald says. “They have the same browser, they see the same applications, and everything looks and works just like they’d expect it to.”

    Jeff Hughes Photo
    With cloud-based applications and similar solutions, we've been able to avoid many of the maintenance and management complications that tend to slow IT teams down. It’s helped us become a place where people want to work.”

    Jeff Hughes CIO, Brighthouse Financial

    For his team, the two platforms working together simplify IT management. With the help of built-in monitoring tools, Agero’s IT team can easily track its virtual desktops to ensure it has enough to meet the company’s varying needs in different parts of the country at different times of day.

    “Our business being roadside services and accident scene management, our agents are busiest when there are more people on the road, and especially during the morning and afternoon commutes, when everyone’s driving to and from work,” Macdonald says. Azure’s cloud-based environment can scale up or down instantly, and the company only pays for what it’s using at any given moment.

    “It’s cost-effective, it’s secure and it’s reliable,” he says, noting that he’s heard nothing but good reports from the call center agents the solution serves. “They’re happy about it, and so are our business leaders. It’s been a success for everyone involved.”

      The Benefits to Cloud-Based Virtualization

      While few companies can claim to have looked to Desktop as a Service at the same pivotal moment Agero did, many can readily attest to the benefits of cloud-based virtualization and the impact it’s had on their employees.

      “Even if they’re not turning to virtual desktop infrastructure exclusively, most businesses at least see VDI as the right solution for certain use cases,” says Forrester Senior Analyst Andrew Hewitt. One recent Forrester survey found that nearly 7 in 10 IT decision-makers had either adopted or were planning to implement cloud-based VDI at their organizations.

      LEARN MORE: How CDW can help your organization implement VDI.

      Hewitt says the trend reflects “the continued rise of anywhere work and hybrid work.” Most organizations have concluded that digital work is acceptable, if not preferable, in at least some circumstances for some employees. “So, to facilitate that shift, they’ve embraced all sorts of different technologies, and a large part of that is cloud-based Desktop as a Service.”

      Many organizations find DaaS appealing because it greatly reduces the need for IT infrastructure while making it easy to quickly spin up resources. “It simplifies everything. You don’t have the on-prem servers, you’re not doing the maintenance, you’re just sort of off-loading into the cloud,” Hewitt says. In addition, management has become easier and user experience has improved as hyperscalers like Microsoft and Amazon Web Services have refined their virtualization services in recent years.

      56%

      The percentage of full-time workers in the U.S. who say their jobs can be done remotely; 30 percent of these workers work fully remotely.

      Source: gallup.com, “Returning to the Office: The Current, Preferred and Future State of Remote Work,” Aug. 31, 2022

      How to Keep Digital Work Secure

      There’s also an important security angle, Hewitt notes: With endpoints offsite and potentially more vulnerable to threats that organizations can’t control, VDI provides a layer of built-in protection by separating user data and applications from the underlying hardware.

      Security was top of mind for Greenberg Traurig, an international law firm employing more than 2,500 attorneys serving clients in 43 offices in the U.S. and abroad. An early adopter of VDI, the company relies on Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops, a solution now known as Citrix DaaS.

      “We’ve always needed our employees to have access to data at any time and any place,” says Greenberg Traurig CIO Jay Nogle. “And for us, security has always been critical, regardless of what we’ve used to enable remote work.”

      The technology consolidates IT services onto a single platform, Nogle says. Citrix offers a cloud-based service he anticipates using eventually, but for now, the firm stores and runs its workloads on its own infrastructure and relies on the cloud for backup only.

      “We’re really belt-and-suspenders people,” Nogle says. “We’re all about having choices and multiple solutions. Right now, we have several clients that don’t want their data in the cloud, so until that changes, we’re on-prem, and it’s working great for everyone.”

      The firm’s lawyers, he adds, now commonly work while they’re on the move with laptops or smartphones that connect to Greenberg’s systems using either Citrix or a VPN. “This is the world they live in now: Just about everything they used to do in the office can now be done from anywhere.”

      DIVE DEEPER: A look at the advanced networking technology optimizing digital work.

      Enabling the Workforce Through Virtualization

      Brighthouse Financial, an annuity and life insurance provider with more than 1,000 employees, has long relied on Microsoft 365 to streamline communication and collaboration across the company. Digital work is now the norm at Brighthouse Financial, and its IT team has adopted what CIO Jeff Hughes describes as a “100 percent cloud, 90 percent Software as a Service” approach to running its operations.

      Part of that involves using Azure Virtual Desktop. Hughes says the solution has allowed Brighthouse Financial employees, who also lean on tools like Microsoft Teams, to be just as productive and engaged with their colleagues in the company’s flexible, hybrid work model as they were prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

      “I think that we’ve had success in this regard because we’ve gone with proven technologies,” Hughes says. With cloud-based applications and similar solutions, the company has been able to avoid many of the maintenance and management complications that tend to slow IT teams down. It’s also managed to make itself more attractive to potential employees.

      “That’s certainly benefited us as well,” Hughes says. “It’s helped us become a place where people want to work.”

      Photography by Shawn Henry
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