I first encountered the concept of the standard desktop environment when I was a sales representative with Michael Faktor's Sigma Data in the late 1980s. Back then it represented an obstacle to my progress in the Telecom account. It was only much later, when I attended a speech by Compass Analysis, the operational benchmarking company, that I began to appreciate the real significance of the standard desktop. Compass presented on best practice at the desktop and their talk highlighted the trademarks of organisations that had the PC under control.
In particular, Compass emphasised that these IT departments maintained a strong centralised control of the PC environment through disciplines such as standardised software configurations, change control and a formalised help desk for support. In my discussions with InTEP members it has been clear to me that more and more companies are recognising the importance of maintaining a standard desktop environment. However, the real challenge for many larger organisations seems to be maintaining the standard given the dynamic nature of the desktop and the vast geography of Australia.
Many are starting to explore an emerging solution called enterprise systems management (ESM). This term seems to be piggy-backing on the accepted wisdom of integrated systems as promoted by the ERP vendors. At its core ESM provides a set of comprehensive tools by which an organisation can manage all facets of its IS environment. For large companies, anxious to maintain standard environments -- especially at the desktop -- it would seem essential. This is because it helps automate routine and laborious tasks such as software distribution, change management and disaster recovery. However, research from Computer Economics in the US in 1997 shows that many CIOs are yet to be convinced on the merits of ESM. When asked to rank the importance of ESM 35 per cent said average and 25 per cent rated it minimal. Other research by IDC in the same year supported this by revealing that the majority of CIOs in the US were allocating under $US50,000 of their budgets to the purchase of ESM tools.
Perhaps though the challenge lies in the fact that the comprehensive nature of ESM is not appreciated by many CIOs. This was highlighted by research I carried out last year for an ESM vendor. I interviewed senior IS executives in top 500 companies and asked what they understood by ESM. 50 per cent viewed it purely as a network management solution while only 31 per cent saw it as a total systems administration tool. Furthermore, 19 per cent considered it solely in the context of an ERP solution.
These findings are reinforced by the IDC Systems Manager survey. forty-seven per cent of respondents were implementing an ESM solution to improve systems availability. Despite the evidence of Compass Analysis that best practice IT departments devote above average resources for support, another 24 per cent wanted to use ESM to reduce support staff. Only 6 per cent of systems managers hoped ESM would lower their support costs or enhance the performance of their IS systems. This appears to represent the biggest challenge for ESM. Only a small number of organisations have undertaken an audited operational benchmark to measure their true costs of running IS. As such, how can you measure the return on investment when you do not know the true costs in the first place and so cannot quantify the savings that automation via ESM will provide. Moreover, the comprehensive nature of ESM means it crosses departmental boundaries and, like IS infrastructure, the business case for it needs the support of multiple executives. Nevertheless, other IDC research shows that ESM is gaining in popularity. In its forecast for the global ESM market over the next five years IDC predicted a 79 per cent compound annual growth rate. As such, it is likely that more CIOs will be embracing the advantages of ESM in the near future. If so, the task of ensuring a common desktop environment looks as if it might get easier in the coming years.
Peter Hind is the manager of User Programs, which includes InTEP, at IDC Australia
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