Office IT: One size doesn't fit all?
Can everyone get what they need?
Workshop “We are all individuals” – Brian
“I’m not” – computer user
'One size fits all' might be preferable for IT departments, but from an end-user perspective, everybody thinks they have different needs. But choice can be a two-edged sword. I remember way back when, having been put in charge of IT, I was surprised that desktop computers (at the time, Sun SLC and ELC workstations) were arranged in neat rows in what was the equivalent of an old-style computer room, away from the offices and desks of their users. How obvious it was to me that users would be happier to have the workstations on their desks… and how shocked I was to find that the user base pushed back strongly against having those big, noisy, smelly machines on their desks.
Similarly, despite the fact that some users may prefer to install what they like on what they feel is “their” computer, others feel better off when they are working with a fixed, locked-down configuration – there is at least less that can go wrong. But how to decide what approach fits with which type of user?
The answer lies in profiling users. We know from Reg reader studies such as this one (pdf) that users fall into certain categories, and while these may be different for every business they’re not going to be that different. For example, you may have a mix of developers, ops staff and IT architects, general professional users and transaction workers, power users and creative types, and mobile professionals, in varying proportions. If you can map out a standard build for each group, or at least for the majority, then you can treat any exceptions by, ahem, exception.
So far so (theoretically) good, but as we all know, the nature of the universe is that everything will ultimately descend into chaos, including best-laid plans for computer allocation. A number of factors come into play: desktop refresh cycles overlap with changing roles, specific requirements (which can seem all too innocuous) - “I need to be able to watch the sales video” – can scupper the best-laid plans of just a few months before.
Indeed, there may be a point at which the categories themselves need to change. Perhaps your organisation started from the perspective that most staffers needed a laptop and access to a broader range of applications, but in hindsight a more locked-down, desktop-based approach would be more appropriate for office-based staff and management. New technologies, such as the plethora of options offered under the “virtual desktop” umbrella, can open up opportunities to set policies, open some things up and lock others down.
Then, of course, you get the sudden changes in organisational structure, site reorganisations, company mergers and so on which can be the equivalent of ripping up the desktop IT strategy and starting again. How much fun it must be to define a set of capabilities for a certain user group, only to find it is outsourced in its entirety the moment after you press the “buy now” button with two hundred new machines in the shopping basket or the PO lands on the salesman’s desk.
Desktop IT strategy has to strike a balance between getting things right for the IT department, and getting things right from the end-user perspective. Or at least from the end user’s perception of “need”, which may be something completely different. If the traditional rooms full of computer terminals lie firmly at one end of the spectrum, the trend to allow individuals to bring their own PC to work is right at the other. In both cases, some fundamentals need to be observed, which it may be best to enshrine in a short, sweet, enforceable and accepted policy – covering areas such as where data lives, how backups are done, what level of security protection is necessary as a minimum and so on.
Given that things are only going to get more complicated and users more demanding (you can choose your own culprit for that between Apple and Facebook), it’s difficult to see a rosy future for desktop management without being pretty stringent about policy – which needs to be based on user profiles such as those we talk about earlier. It is obvious that such policies must have senior business management buy-in, and very public buy-in at that. You may disagree – indeed, you may feel you’ve got this stuff taped. In which case both we, and the rest of the Reg readership no doubt, would love to know more. ®
The only reason this is difficult...
...is because some businesses (both through management and IT depts) seem to take an ideological approach instead of a practical approach to "THE standard PC". "I am THE ONE true standard PC, thou shalt have no other PC but me" and all that...
Blowing this up into a 'major business dilemma' is frankly pathetic. The question is exactly the same whether you're talking about computers, stationery, desk chairs, salesforce promotional gifts or surgical procedure packs. It's not an "IT" question, it's a "basic administrative principles" question. The question is how high you set the bar that people have to clear before their needs for something non-standard are acted on. And yes, unless you have a workforce you can trust absolutely to only make fully informed, reasonable requests, you do need a bar. An applied mathematics PhD canditate friend of mine once requested his dept to purchase a new SGI workstation for him - when asked "why?" he replied "so I can play Doom at a higher level" - they _thought_ he was joking [this was the early '90s].
This is reasonably well handled in my workplace of 5000+ PCs (Govt health dept of all places). The standard, supported config is broadly based and includes things like WM player and flash, so it exceeds the (legitimate business) needs of the vast white collar majority. The vast majority of users work on a standard PC, standard image, locked down profile with no admin rights, and are fully supported by IT.
Users who have software or hardware needs which aren't met by the standard PC are treated as exceptions, and come under a different support model.
Those of us who can work on standard hardware but need administrator rights get local admin access. Our PC's are supported as far as hardware and standard apps, but if through our local admin we screw something up, the support model is "we will re-image your PC (and install any site-licensed software that's not part of the base image) but the rest is up to you".
Users with non-standard hardware requirements (e.g. techs, medical diagnostics) purchase their hardware through diffferent channels, and get their hardware support through those same channels instead of in house. Depending on the config required, those machines may be quarantined from the domain, and may or may not have the standard application suite installed.
"And XP can be locked down - as long as you don't try and run some legacy app from 1990 developed for windows 3.1 by a graduate VB "programmer" who only go the job because they were the son of the business manager."
So you've had to support Swift too then eh?
Assuming management aren't clueless
I may be falling for a troll here, but...
"The business management meets with the IT management to discuss and agree on giving the user technology that meets their requirements"
Except in the case where the business management don't actually know what the user requirements are, and the IT management wouldn't have a clue what software might actually meet those requirements.
And XP can be locked down - as long as you don't try and run some legacy app from 1990 developed for windows 3.1 by a graduate VB "programmer" who only go the job because they were the son of the business manager.
I've encountered this at my workplace and have had to be somewhat clever in respect to a) keeping as close to the corporate standard as possible whilst b) Giving the users what they want and need to get their work done.
Example: One of our technical groups has a laptop that they use to talk to the embedded micro-controllers they maintain. While the controllers have (thankfully) migrated largely to USB, and our standard configuration still had a serial port for anything legacy at that time, the software they used interacts with a hardware copy protection dongle. We ended up buying a PC-Card based parallel port just for them to use this thing, after much back and forth with the vendor of the controller and the vendor of the dongle itself. Sure, it's more thing to lose/break/ etc. but it'll work until the vendor updates their software to use USB based copy dongles.
Similarly, my own internal group's shared laptop has a USB to serial cable in the laptop bag for talking to network gear and other fun stuff.
No, you dunce, that's the wrong version of profiling!
What the article clearly talks about is lining people up and viewing them from the side in order to work out how to place their desktop.