The traditional end-user computing strategy for organisations is to buy a bunch of desktops or notebooks and roll them out indiscriminately to workers. These machines are tightly controlled because the assumption is that users are stupid and will invariably break any machine you give them. This approach is sorely out of date and we sat down with IBRS IT advisor Dr. Joseph Sweeney to discuss why companies should revamp the way they look at end-user computing.
It's not uncommon to see public and private organisations buying a number of the same computing device and deploying them to staff as part of their regular desktop refresh process. These machines are often loaded up with the same type of software and are locked down to minimise the chance of users breaking them. The computers don't even need to be portable since workers will be coming into the office to do their jobs anyway.
But the end-user computing landscape has moved past the archaic notions that:
- Users are stupid and have a low level of knowledge when it comes to computers
- You go to work in order to do work
- PCs are quite expensive so procuring standardised devices would be a lot cheaper
"All of those assumptions led to a way of managing the end-user environment in what we would call the '90s-centric, best practice standardised environment; all of which drives down total cost of ownership, the holy grail for all end-user computing managers." Sweeney told Lifehacker Australia. "But all those assumptions are no longer relevant but a lot of organisations are still holding on to them.
"When we talk to organisations about next-generation work environments, a lot of the time they are being stymied because the end-user computing team or desktop team would still be trying to build those end-user computing environment with all those old assumptions."
So what has change?
For one, the end-users are no longer ignorant about technology. In fact, there is a high level of digital literacy among professional workers today. That is why Shadow IT has become a problem in businesses as users seek their own technology solutions to solve their work problems.
Another change is that computers are so much cheaper now as they have become heavily commoditised to the point of being viewed as disposable. This has resulted in most people owning more than one personal device that they can work on and the rise of bring your own device (BYOD) in organisations.
"If you look at things like Chromebooks and mid-range tablets, they should be treated as disposable assets by the business. This is very unlike the old way which is to extend the life of the PC for as long as possible to get the most value out of it," Sweeney said. "All of the cost now is in the software."
The advent of cloud computing has liberated workers from their desks. Work can now be done anywhere, any time. Work practices are changing as a result and more people are able to work outside of their offices.
"All of this changes the way you think about managing security for end-user computing. It's no longer about securing the devices, it's about securing the data and the app. The device just becomes incidental," Sweeney said.
This has major ramifications for teams that manage end-user computing and the IBRS analyst has some strong words to say to them.
"For desktop teams, if they're not able to start talking the language of business and stop thinking of everything as standardised, they're going to be out of a job; it's literally that savage," he said. "I've already seen significant pushback on desktop teams that want to roll out 10,000 of the same laptops and the business just turns around and goes 'No, we're going to get our own iPad or Surface Pro, get some Salesforce software and do our own thing'."
So what should organisations do to move their end-user computing strategy into the modern era?
Sweeney advises that the best approach is to let workers choose their own device. As for software, a self-service model where users can go on an enterprise app store and choose what they need on their devices would be desirable. This can go through a quick approval and provisioning process, preferably automated.
Likewise, when users leave the organisation, all of those services and licences that were provisioned to them are automatically pulled back into the corporate pool. According to Sweeney, companies can expect up to 30 per cent cost savings in licencing if they take this approach and managing that end-user lifecycle better. It also makes provisioning services to contractors easier.
"You can create a very light management framework where you're not really managing much of the device but you're locking down who accesses to applications and data," Sweeney said. "Those applications and data must be available on cross platform devices."
He noted that there are tools out there that are mature enough to help organisations modernise their end-user computing strategy. Most companies already have about 80 per cent of the tools required to do this, they just need to be arranged in a different way, he said. But the most important thing companies need to do to move all of this forward is to admit they have to make a change.
"It's kind of like being an alcoholic," Sweeney said. "There are these assumptions that we have that we don't know we've got and until we admit that we have a problem we're going to keep managing the desktop in the same, inefficient way."