By virtualizing, St. Luke's IT staffers can root out incompatibilities between applications that use Java. For example, they can determine that the standard desktop for accounting always needs a specific Java plug-in. Yet, they keep the core the same and deliver Java versions as needed, outside of the standard desktop.
Interestingly, one of the lessons Johnson has learned is to avoid tweaking the standard desktop -- even when it comes to IT staff. "Less than 1 percent of our IT staff have admin rights," says Johnson. "But we do give people room to roam. We don't say you can't use that application. We're happy to deliver it, as long as we can deliver it virtually," to any employee.
St. Luke's is a bit unusual in how it locks down administrative rights even for IT staff. Ed Boyle, a consultant with SecurityCurve, says the tactic makes the enterprise more secure. In the long term, there are "saved dollars in overall fewer security issues."
Starwood Hotels: Managing consistency
Starwood Hotels owns Sheraton, Westin, Four Points and many other hotel chains; all told, it operates about 1,000 properties around the world. In the U.S., Starwood North manages approximately 160 of those hotels and about 15,000 desktops.
One major goal is to improve consistency. This is the golden rule of hotels, says Michael Van Lare, the vice president of IT: Make the experience the same in every brand. "We had a problem with consistency, even around the brand of computer, the specs, and the model we used. This made things very difficult to manage."
Van Lare says each hotel also uses a different merchant for payments. They discovered that the wide disparity of applications was causing incompatibilities with the other applications.
To achieve more consistency, the hotels now use ScriptLogic Desktop Authority, which manages the desktop OS, the applications and the user settings. The software helps create a standard for various departments within each hotel and configures user settings such as which printer to use, any system registry tweaks and even the application shortcuts used on the desktop.
Van Lare says they choose which applications to include in the standard desktop by going through a rigorous testing process. He says most of the testing occurs in the field rather than within IT because each hotel brand is slightly different -- an upscale Westin might need a certain version of Microsoft Office that a different Starwood hotel would never need.
Another example: The front office's property-management system, which Van Lare declined to name, by necessity often dictates the packages included with a standard. That's because, as Van Lare described it, the most critical systems are those that are used in the front lobby when a guest first checks in, some of them custom-developed. He says the check-in process, payment, room-key generation and other steps must flow smoothly.
Van Lare says Starwood is fairly aggressive about keeping up with the latest software versions. The company typically has an enterprise agreement with vendors, so there is no reason to delay an upgrade. On the desktop, the major software in use is Microsoft Windows and Office software, plus the front-office software and the McAfee endpoint security suite.
Starwood has not only standardized on the OS and apps, but also on Outlook email signatures. That brand-management step is important, he says, so hotel guests receive similar emails from all Starwood hotels.
Pund-IT's King says Starwood is on the right track by having multiple standards, even though that can cause management headaches. King says the goal is not necessarily to have just one global desktop standard across the entire chain, but to have the standard that each hotel brand needs and make sure employees have the tools they need.