How long do the PCs in your organization stay on any given desk? Does it vary by user or role? Are some users assigned laptops instead of desktops? Or are they assigned both? What about tablets and other “companion devices”? Who makes the final call when users request something faster or smaller? Is there a process? Are you buying or leasing? And do you know why?
These are a lot of moving parts when managing end user computing and IT departments need to have a firm handle on budgetary, functional, and personal requirements to deal effectively with the relatively short lifespan of most PCs, as well as the software licenses associated with them. While it would be easiest to simply dictate three-year lifecycles for all PCs across the board with three staggered leases that sees a third of all computers replaced every year, significant organizational growth, redeployment opportunities, and different refresh cycles for different job functions can all get in the way of this cookie cutter approach.
Instead, good management software, sensible policies, and a well-documented lifecycle roadmap for enterprise will optimize resource utilization and allow for appropriate budgeting. At the same time, many organizations are looking at BYOD and computing allowances instead of traditional approaches to lifecycle management to maximize productivity and employee satisfaction.
Lifecycle management software
A wide variety of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) applications are available that have components devoted to PC lifecycle management. However, most ERP platforms like Microsoft Dynamics, Oracle ERP, and NetSuite have many other capabilities built in like CRM (Customer Relationship Management), manufacturing visibility, business intelligence, and so on. If your organization is already using an integrated business management platform, then it makes sense to leverage its ERP capabilities.
However, for many businesses, the overhead for such a platform is simply not necessary. In that case, a simple database will probably be adequate to track employee roles, assigned hardware, anticipated upgrade cycles for those roles (or particular upgrades for given users), software licenses, etc. Even a spreadsheet can be useful in small organizations, but reporting and summary data will be challenging and a spreadsheet or basic document will not scale well. It’s quite straight-forward to custom-build a database or an organization can adopt a more focused SaaS solution like OCS Inventory (http://www.ocsinventory-ng.org/fr/) or AssetExplorer (http://www.manageengine.com/products/asset-explorer/).
Project management software can also be used to track upgrade cycles and the tasks around them. Individual cohorts of machines can be assigned to a “project” or subtask and dates, budgets, etc., can be tracked there.
Regardless of the software you choose, it’s critical to be able to visualize, share, and interact with the various parallel timelines, PCs and devices, and the users to whom they are assigned. Reporting tools should make it trivial to determine devices due for upgrade and time to scheduled upgrades for any given user or device. The idea of a “lifecyle roadmap” is vital to forecasting and budgeting, as well as evaluating user requests and optimizing deployments for new users.
Policies and procedures
Perhaps even more important than software is a set of clear policies and procedures governing upgrade cycles and special requests. If a user requests an upgrade to a mobile workstation after 18 months, for example, who needs to approve the request? How is it budgeted? What happens to his or her previous machine, which obviously has additional utility? What roles require or can be automatically approved for more frequent upgrades? What roles have longer lifecycles? What roles are eligible for companion devices or multiple computers such as a desktop and an ultrabook?
All of these sorts of policies will take the guesswork out of planning and budgets and ensure that upgrades are necessary, appropriate, cost-effective, and add value to the organization.
BYOD and computing allowances
A final approach, though not a perfect fit for all organizations, is to truly embrace BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and allow users to manage their own upgrades and devices. Businesses will usually license software as usual and make it available to users; they may also provide guidelines for employee purchases (e.g., Windows or Mac only or Windows 7/8 Pro only) or enroll in employee purchase programs with OEMs. They will often then allocate the funds that would have gone to centralized procurement and deployment to an employee computing allowance that users can apply towards the devices of their choice.
The advantages of this approach are manifold:
- IT resources are freed up to manage strategic initiatives, infrastructure, and user support.
- Users can choose to apply their allowances to more expensive machines, using their own funds to purchase higher-end PCs, multiple devices, or services (like built-in data capabilities) that an organization might not otherwise support.
- Users get to pick the devices that they believe will help them do their jobs the best and with which they are most comfortable.
- Users can meet their own accessibility needs or individual requirements. For example, a user with physical disabilities may choose an ultrabook for easy portability or a visually impaired user may choose a very large monitor, all without IT needing to track and accommodate these needs.
The days of cookie cutter, standardized business PC deployments are over. How will your organization take advantage of the breadth of choices and deal with increasingly varied user requirements?