We currently have a wide variety of hardware and software on our desktops and are encountering all the problems this scenario brings. In addition, our organisation supports a substantial number of home and mobile workers. We are looking to standardise and introduce an ongoing "technology refresh programme" for the desktop. What strategy should we set in place for developing an effective and appropriate programme?
Communication is key
Desktop standardisation and the introduction of remote software management tools make systems far more manageable, but it is worth making a few key observations.
Set company-wide standards
Professor Dan Remenyi
Do you have a comprehensive IT strategy? If you do, you start by implementing this. If you don't, you give very serious consideration to developing one. This will involve establishing standards that will minimise many of the problems you refer to.
How do you implement this without spending a fortune? You phase in the new standards over an appropriate period - probably 12-36 months. The first step is to ensure all new hardware and software - on desks, in homes and with mobile workers - complies with the standards. You then move towards replacing all the established equipment on a first-in, first-out basis, until the whole of your organisation is covered.
Of course, in any organisation of size there will be exceptions. Someone will need specialist hardware and software and this has to be accommodated in your strategy, on a specific-need basis. But by bringing a general set of standards into your organisation, you will alleviate many of your problems.
Gauge your level of support
The first step is to determine what level of support you have within the organisation for the programme you would like to introduce. Presumably the present problems are recognised as being serious. Does this recognition extend to the board and out to the regional management? Does the board accept that there will be a substantial capital cost in achieving corporate uniformity and that this is essential expenditure? Does management accept that it will have to give up some local autonomy and favoured existing solutions in pursuit of the common good?
Assuming you have the requisite support in principle there are then questions of which hardware and software products and which implementation and technical support arrangements to adopt.
Consider the corporate priorities. Is a particular region in difficulties or is there an application that is needed desperately or failing nationally? How soon should the whole programme be completed? Could you achieve a quick roll-out followed by a period of stability, or will there have to be a continuing programme of "technology refresh", as you put it. Advantages and disadvantages are present in each approach.
One of the risks is that you spend so long investigating all these questions and developing the perfect plan that customers lose patience and you lose credibility. So think about some "quick wins" to solve the most urgent problems and don't spend too long over the decisions that are easy, like the basic hardware and software specs for the standard desktop.
Remember that plans should be kept fluid. Even if the technology is predictable up to two years ahead, the needs of the business probably are not. And get top management to accept that this will be an on-going programme for the foreseeable future, not a one-off upgrade.
Avoid macho status symbols
A great deal depends on the culture of your organisation. Financial institutions tend to enforce a standard desktop but a similar approach can be difficult in other organisations. Assuming you are in the latter category, there are two factors to consider. First, the support costs are a lot higher when there is a mix on the desktop. This is easily quantifiable, or you could ask a third-party company for estimates of maintenance. Second, do people have a real business need for a different desktop (be it hardware or software), or is it a macho status symbol?
For your new strategy, set clear boundaries. Explain what the standard desktop is and investigate any genuine exceptions. If there is significant business need for a particular piece of software, you may need to support it. Otherwise, ensure there is a managerial process in place that does not allow users to install software on their machine. Should they ignore this, make it quite clear that they pay the cost of any work necessary to restore their desktop.
Remember as you roll out the new desktops to see whether it is possible to redeploy existing machines to users who may only need a lower-spec PC. For home and mobile workers, the critical area is virus-checking. Insist they are responsible for maintaining adequate virus protection on their machines, but ease the process by having the latest release of your preferred protection software available for them to download from a central server.