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The desktop demands of board-level managers

Can they be kept in the realms of sanity?

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SANS - Survey on application security programs

Workshop Register readers tell us that supporting employees and their IT equipment is a daily challenge, seemingly designed to expose any weaknesses in the IT team's ability to keep systems available and users working productively.

It is interesting to note that it is users of all levels of seniority who provide the test, with executives frequently proving to be the most difficult to satisfy with their ever-changing, sometimes ill-conceived demands. You know the sort of 'request': "I want an iPad running the entire Business Intelligence analysis software we use on the HPC (High Performance Computing) system. And I want it tonight."

So what strategies are there, that IT managers and CIOs can deploy to ensure that IT policies are followed by all employees, including the bosses, while at the same time ensuring that executives do not feel frustrated or constrained? In the past the choices have been limited, essentially, to variants of two main approaches. But in reality it is how the relevant policies are pursued that can make the biggest difference in minimising board level friction rather than the subtleties of the approaches themselves.

The two approaches boil down to either prevention/prohibition or education. The prevention method utilises some form of company policy that details exactly what machines will be provided across the business. If the organisation is more than a few tens of users in size it makes sense for the policy to recognise that there may well be instances when exceptions will be allowed in order to cater for particular requirements.

In order to reduce the number of exceptions and to ensure that there is a degree of transparency to the accompanying process, it is essential to ensure that some form of "external", ie non-IT, involvement be part of the exception evaluation and approval process. It can also be effective for the policy to include additional "support charges" to be levied (or at least flagged) against the budget of the exception seeker. While this may not stop all board members or senior management from attempting to generate spurious exceptions it can help make them think twice before asking for this month's ridiculous 'must have' gadget. This can be especially effective if exception reports are made to all board members, non-executive as well, along with the costs, including additional support expenses.

Education, the other approach, involves explaining to all users across the business - especially those at the top - about exactly what the policy is and why it is in place. This method can help generate a degree of mass backing for the policy and potentially act as a direct rein on excesses. A large groundswell of "Why have they the latest device when we can't have it?" has in my experience sometimes held back over exuberant demands.

The fly in the ointment is of course that everyone is getting more demanding, not just senior staff. We know from your feedback that more and more users are asking and, much more importantly, expecting to be able to make use of an ever-expanding portfolio of devices. This is creating a need for effective device management tools to be brought in as, in some areas of the business. the device standardisation approach is becoming untenable.

It also puts in question these traditional methods to hold back on executive demands. How do you address these challenges and user expectations, especially among the top brass? Is the approach quoted by Theodore Roosevelt, namely "speak softly and carry a big stick", still valid or have you resorted to deploying virtual machine technologies or good desktop management tools to keep users on side? Please let us know in the comments area. ®

SANS - Survey on application security programs

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