IT is often at the forefront of technology innovation -- but not always. When it comes to the concept of a standard desktop -- every employee's core install that consists of an operating system, applications, hardware drivers, and a security suite -- IT has moved at a snail's pace.
Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT, says companies have tended to live with older software because it works well enough for their needs. Enterprises don't always ramp up to the latest releases, especially in this era of "making do with less."
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Then there are political issues, which can take the form of pushback from key end-user constituencies that want to do their own thing, and whom IT doesn't want to alienate in budget-challenged times. Plus, some people want to continue using whatever ancient software they've long since gotten used to using.
But now, it seems, the snail is picking up some speed. The use of a standard desktop is becoming more of a best practice. According to a February 2010 Gartner report, 50 percent of 300 people surveyed in a large company said they will be locking down more corporate computers, not allowing end users to install their own applications.
One major factor behind standardization is that security concerns are looming large. IT can make a strong case about rogue (untested) applications that can bring down the network, or vulnerabilities inherent in old software that crackers often pounce on.
IT managers who are implementing a more locked-down desktop say the strategy can lead to lower costs and smoother operations. King makes a point about the "overall fitness" of how organizations deal with software and handle operational budgets. A standard desktop forces IT to think about deployment strategies and, if handled correctly, ultimately reduces the number of approved desktops to just one or two.
Dealing with rogue employees
Some companies wrestle with the notion of standardization because they also want to allow some flexibility in how an employee does his or her job, says Pund-IT's King. There are approaches that can be used, including allowing employees to select new tools from a pre-approved applications library, or allowing employees to request new tools from IT.
Still, no matter what you do, some end users will insist on bending the rules, or breaking them outright, by downloading their own software.
In this case, King suggests, "If the app is fairly benign, simply note that the download is unapproved, explain why and have the worker scrub it from the system," he says. "In addition, creating a review mechanism for employees to submit applications for consideration/approval can be a good way for organizations to learn about new technologies and to reward workers for their initiative."