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Global CIO: Get Off The PC Upgrade Treadmill Now

Instead of handing out fat clients to everyone, match the device to user needs as part of a service catalog. Then watch your costs come down.

"I'll give you my multimedia PC when you pry it from my cold, dead hands." OK, maybe the situation is not that dramatic, but after the heyday of overpowered PCs, it's hard to start rightsizing end user devices, especially in environments where tangible employee benefits (raises, anyone?) have been curtailed. But it must be done.

I wrote in 2009 and 2011 about the need to get off the PC upgrade treadmill. It's expensive. And it's pointless. How does a PC upgrade provide a strategic benefit to a business? It doesn't.

Yet according to Information Analytics research, up to 40% of IT spending at some organizations goes to end user devices; nearly one-fourth of organizations devote 21% to 40% of IT spending to it. Organizations that can reduce that spending will be heroes. More important, they'll free up money for innovation and, dare I say, raises.

At Apple's worldwide developers' conference on Monday, senior VP Scott Forstall reiterated the company line on end-user computing devices: "We're ushering in the post-PC world." But such rhetoric smacks of Apple religion, just as PC-only zealots represent another religion and the desktop virtualization/thin client faithful represent another. Certain approaches work best for certain user populations, but blind devotion isn't an appropriate basis for provisioning end user devices. Match the work to the device.

That's why you need a service catalog. Think about it: The way to cut through the quasi-religious hype and emotional attachment to a certain type of device is to get factual. What exactly will the device be used for? The catalog provides a menu of choices that lead users through a rational process of selecting services. Once IT knows which services will be consumed, it can match those services to the appropriate new device.

If an executive uses his or her computer mainly for the company's Web-based ERP dashboard, email, and light document preparation, mobility is important; a physical keyboard, not so much. Here, an iPad might suffice. Similarly, a data entry worker doesn't need a fat PC with lots of RAM and a hard disk (which barely hits 10% CPU utilization most of the time). Here, a terminal may be a good option. How about an engineer with massive CAD and GIS requirements? No-brainer: A fat PC is the way to go.

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But a service catalog without pricing is like a vision without follow-through. You must include pricing for services associated with each end user device. The package of services plus the device will express the ultimate cost of the device to the organization.

For example, a user might simply need a $300 PC. Fine. Do it. Except, your service catalog should specify that the user will also need anti-spyware, anti-virus, possibly host-based intrusion prevention software, a license for automated patching, etc. These services must be selected and costs tabulated. Similarly, if you're provisioning an iPad to a field employee, your security team may require that mobile device management software be deployed, in which case you will have to factor that into the device's total cost of ownership.

I'm not saying you need a comprehensive and near-perfect service catalog that will take eight months, a million bucks of consulting, and an ERP-type software implementation effort. Hit the first two standard deviations of the services that users will consume and you've handled most of the likely scenarios. We keep preaching "lightweight" and "agile" to our staff, so let's take our own advice and create a basic service catalog quickly. The best source for the first two standard deviations? Your help desk/service desk manager, naturally. This person knows which provisioning requests are the most common, whether it's for an enterprise app or a lighter weight, off-the-shelf app.

If you implement a lightweight and agile service catalog with pricing--and share that pricing with business managers--my prediction is that you'll cut your end user device spending dramatically in years to come. Now that's my kind of religion.

Jonathan Feldman is a contributing editor for InformationWeek and director of IT services for a rapidly growing city in North Carolina. Write to him at or at @_jfeldman.

Innovative IT shops are turning the mobile device management challenge into a business opportunity--and showing that we can help people be more connected and collaborative, regardless of location. Read the new report from InformationWeek Analytics. Download it now. (Free registration required.)

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