Last year I organised a series of focus group meetings of InTEP members to explore issues they face with desktop management: what they have done (successfully and unsuccessfully) to address these problems, and what they would hope a vendor could provide to help them in these areas.
The desktop is taking up an inordinate amount of the time and energies of the IS department. A senior IS executive in Melbourne equated supporting the desktop to running downhill fast: periodically you want to stop, catch your breath and retain your balance. Unfortunately, momentum keeps you going until you crash to a halt. Most of those present at the focus groups were concerned about "crashing".
Many IS executives believe that the effort expended in supporting the desktop could be better spent elsewhere. They are caught on a technology treadmill of upgrades: installing 286 PCs, then 386s, then 486s and now Pentiums and 686s.
Plus there are the various software iterations that have accompanied these upgrades. And, because most business people need a PC to work effectively, if it malfunctions they tend to see fixing it a priority for the IS department.
The focus groups discussed ways to better manage the PC environment. Activities centred on three areas: tools; methodologies or procedures; and deployment strategies such as the use of outsourcing or the formalisation of the support process. There was strong support for establishing a common desktop environment across the organisation. The view was that a common desktop environment reduced the potential incidences of failure. And because IS staff would be familiar with likely problems, they could respond more quickly and more effectively. At the IDC Directions conference, the operational benchmarking organisation Compass provided data which showed that best practice Australian companies were running desktops for about 60 per cent less than average organisations, and had about 42 per cent fewer problems. Typically, Compass pointed out, these best practice companies had a standardised software configuration on the desktop. IS executives also advocated tools to help automate or simplify PC management. Among these tools were enterprise systems management products to help with software distribution and support monitoring.
There was also significant interest in thin-client solutions such as Citrix Winframe and the NetPC. The view was that these slimmer machines enabled much more of the systems management activities to be undertaken at the server. Since this work would be undertaken at one place rather than many, the overall total cost of desktop ownership would drop.
Still, most of those at these focus groups agreed their biggest hurdle regarding desktop management was disabusing users of the notion that the PC was "theirs", and they had a perfect right to tailor it as they saw fit. It appears that IS departments must win the battle over who has desktop governance -- before they can win the desktop management war. Peter Hind is the manager of User Programs, which includes InTEP, at IDC Australia
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