Just how special are Power Users?
Standard kit will do them just fine
Workshop Power users are often at the cutting edge of an organisation’s revenue generation, product development, operational excellence or strategic core, and as such they require excellent IT systems to support their role. In years gone by, the needs of these specialist workers often necessitated that their PCs be customised and configured precisely to their needs.
Advances in technology raise the question as to whether desktop systems have now become so powerful in terms of processing power, memory, networking and storage capacities or bandwidth, that the demands of these high performance users can be met by “standard” equipment - or at least a common base with manageable options?
Where power workers are responsible, critical or important business functions, it is important to understand not only the “physical’ requirements of the PC kit in terms of performance, but also to factor in the entire working environment, including the licensing costs of the applications, business risk exposure, time constraints or the cost of lost productivity when something goes awry.
The cost to the business of each of these could easily outweigh the cost advantages of trying to run common machines and support processes across high performance users and less critical ones. This factor alone may justify making use of specialist hardware, but only if this kit is demonstrably more reliable than that of the standard issue equipment.
It is likely that modified, or even dedicated, support processes will be required, not only for the customised workstations but potentially for application packages or other software tools.
If it is decided that power users require special equipment, it needs to be remembered that the support team may also have to implement specialist hardware recovery or break/fix processes. Clearly, such customised support requirements, potentially making use of dedicated “hot spares”, will come with additional costs.
Companies where over 50 per cent of users are classified as “demanding” are far from rare, as seen in the figure above. For these organisations, the question posed at the start of this article needs to be inverted - it becomes one of whether there are economic benefits to be realised in supplying the minority of non-demanding users with PCs or laptops of a lower specification.
Instead of buying dedicated new machines, this could be achieved by phased refreshes where high performance users receive the newest machines, and older kit moves to the more “casual” users. This approach needs to be balanced against other options, such as dividing the user base into a few “pools” with a standard configuration for each use case.
Whichever way it happens, the process of device selection is rarely straightforward. There is also another factor to be considered beyond the normal cost of acquisition and support. This is the “personal” component that is always involved in PC selection.
If the organisation does decide to “downgrade” power users to the same devices supplied to the rest of the user base, it may well have to take a diplomatic approach when explaining its decision to those who previously utilised specialist kit.
The culture of users is still to regard the PCs they use as their personal device rather than as equipment supplied by the business for productivity enhancement. Perceptions of being “downgraded” are likely to lead to a degree of discontent, something that often results in friction. ®
Some are, some aren't
Power users are just like ordinary users. Some know what they're doing - others don't have a clue. The biggest difference is that they all take a disproportionate amount of support resources to stop them moaning like little babies when they run into difficulties.
Of our "power users", some genuinely have the ability to save the world - or at least earn the company enough to justify the huge bonuses the directors get. Others are basically just drama queens (of either gender) and create more noise and uncertainty than anything else. The hard part is being able to distinguish the one from the other.
Of course, the really valuable employees are the invisible ones. The ones who quietly get on with their jobs: competently, on time, solving their own problems as they go and doing what they said they would. However their lack of "star quality" usually gets mistaken for idleness and as a consequence, they're the ones who get axed at the first signs of economic trouble.
Re: Sales Director
"I use the exact same make and model laptop our Sales Director does and surely thats's a job in which you're considered a power user"
Word, excel, and MAYBE a bit of powerpoint / project?.......... errrrr, nope.
Director != power user
The last place I worked was very top heavy with managers. They all had to have the latest laptops available so they could email powerpoint and excel files to each other. When something new came out the "old" laptop would be passed down to the next most important person in their department and there laptop would be passed down... so we had a hodge podge of laptops. Sales and marketing primadonnas demanding toys are almost as bad.
The real power users doing design work had to fight like hell to get better monitors.
I'll take power users over managers with toys any day.
Demanding does not necessarily mean power
You seem to be confusing demanding users with power users. While some power users are demanding, many non-power users are also demanding. In particular, a (good) software developer may need a more powerful machine for some specialized work they are doing, but needs very little IT support since they know how to resolve most issues themselves. At the other end of the spectrum are the technical illiterate who, no matter how basic and managed their computer, still call help desk all too often.
There is a reason for the stereotype of the "is you computer plugged in" service call.
I was with you while you were discussing whether power users really do need more powerful kit, but you then lost me when you jumped to a chart about demanding users, as if they were the same thing.
I always figured a "power user" was someone that could close a window without using the mouse.