How To Improve Your End-User Device Strategy

We need to develop smart new ways to deliver the computing power employees require while ditching the fat desktop PC with its replacement cycle treadmill.

Jonathan Feldman, CIO, City of Asheville, NC

December 11, 2009

4 Min Read

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Who says we're not getting more tolerant? A few years ago, InformationWeek Analytics managing director Art Wittmann suggested in a column that we give stipends to end users and let them purchase whatever computing devices they desire. The kindest commenter speculated that he'd been dropped on his head as a child. Then, in our July 2008 Radical Desktop Survey, we asked about the likelihood our 376 respondents would adopt such a policy. Just 18% allowed that there was any chance; 43% said probably not, and 37% said heck no.

Given advances in desktop virtualization, app streaming, smartphones, and 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity, we revisited that topic and others with 558 business technology professionals who responded to our October InformationWeek Analytics survey on end-user devices. We found that some IT groups have expanded their thinking. When asked about the possibility of offering employees stipends to purchase their devices of choice, 44% expressed openness; 17% said it was likely for some or all users.

Yet on the poll's main premise--whether it makes sense to get away from the short-life-cycle upgrade treadmill of powerful, fat desktop PCs--the attitude was, essentially: Well, it might, but most of us are pretty busy right now and don't have the time or inclination to think about anything but fat clients with some enhancements.

"A few executives have smartphones and laptops, but all other employees are using desktops only," says one respondent. "Current mobile end-user devices pose a significant risk to the security of our data and network, and to bring end-user devices up to the point where we can implement them on a widespread basis would require extensive capital investment and reengineering of our network."

Really? We're playing the reengineering card?

So perhaps the increasing openness we're seeing toward end-user devices is less about enlightenment and more about economic necessity. After all, there's nothing like penury to make people willing to try something new. When we look at the context in which IT continues to deploy those fat and expensive desktops, reasons for our new openness come into focus: Budgets have been slashed. Inexpensive netbooks are wildly popular with consumers (your end users). Desktop apps are becoming less dominant, and the devices themselves continue to be labor-intensive to manage. Like nonvirtualized servers of old, fat PCs equal lots of idle resources. We're serving an increasingly mobile and tech-savvy workforce, and many of us have invested in sophisticated data-focused security technologies, like network access control and data loss prevention, that provide defense in depth.

We also need to get serious about cutting spending here, and more than half of respondents do indeed say that they treat end-user device replacement as overhead. One-third are, frankly, doing pretty well in terms of how much they've allocated for desktop upgrades--we consider 10% or less of the total operational budget reasonable. But that means that two-thirds are spending too much. If an IT shop is dedicating over 11% of its budget on PC refreshes, as is the case for 67% of respondents, that's cause for concern. For the 19% spending upward of 21%, we have to ask: Are you the IT department, or the PC department? Continuing to throw buckets of money at something so mundane defies current wisdom that IT dollars should be targeted toward innovation, not maintenance and operations. Some CIOs have already learned that lesson.

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About the Author(s)

Jonathan Feldman

CIO, City of Asheville, NC

Jonathan Feldman is Chief Information Officer for the City of Asheville, North Carolina, where his business background and work as an InformationWeek columnist have helped him to innovate in government through better practices in business technology, process, and human resources management. Asheville is a rapidly growing and popular city; it has been named a Fodor top travel destination, and is the site of many new breweries, including New Belgium's east coast expansion. During Jonathan's leadership, the City has been recognized nationally and internationally (including the International Economic Development Council New Media, Government Innovation Grant, and the GMIS Best Practices awards) for improving services to citizens and reducing expenses through new practices and technology.  He is active in the IT, startup and open data communities, was named a "Top 100 CIO to follow" by the Huffington Post, and is a co-author of Code For America's book, Beyond Transparency. Learn more about Jonathan at

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