The real challenge is not in managing the standards, but in managing the user requirements, which can change dramatically depending on the business' needs and growth, King says. That said, there is a big advantage in having as few standards as possible. Fewer standards means fewer headaches with configurations, licensing, and support for those applications -- and, ultimately, lower IT support costs.
Travelport: Taming the rogue employee
Based in Langley, U.K., Travelport is a 3,500-person firm, with offices in over 160 countries, that provides transaction processing for the travel industry, including many major airlines. For its standard desktop, the company has taken a fairly aggressive stance about administrative rights and whether an employee can install his or her own apps.
The company uses Altiris, now owned by Symantec, to manage the standard desktop. Moore explains that as soon as a new employee turns on his or her work computer, the core OS image is updated with a few standard applications such as Microsoft Office 2010, Adobe Flash and Adobe Visual Communicator.
Requesting software outside of the norm is a fairly easy process and involves a call to the help desk to gain access to a software repository, which contains hundreds of applications; Moore declined to give an exact number. The company chooses software that will not interfere with the core enterprise applications, and it upgrades to the latest versions only if Moore's team knows the back-end processing required for core applications has not changed too much. The 25 to 30 people on the help desk are well-acquainted with the approved applications.
However, because of a highly distributed workforce in many countries, Moore says Travelport has locked down workstations more than most companies. He says users can request a unique application like Google Chrome, but it won't become part of the core offering. In fact, he says, since streamlining the standard desktop, rogue installs are extremely rare. An industrious end user would have to re-build the computer from scratch.
Travelport also uses the standard desktop process to manage licensing: staffers can run reports to see if an approved application that had been used by 300 people is now being installed by 3,000. This could happen, he explains, if one department suddenly starts making more use of a CRM tool to match up with its own needs or to deal with a business issue.
One lesson Moore has learned is: Maintain a core standard desktop that is hardware-independent, even as you develop standard images that are department-specific. There may be some variance, but he says most of the efficiency in the organization comes from having the fewest possible deviations.
Advocate Health Care: The challenges of a larger enterprise
For a smaller company, a standard desktop is easier to develop and the processes are often easier to manage. But for larger firms, every change to the standard image and core applications is compounded quickly.
That's why it's no surprise that, of the companies we interviewed for this story, Advocate Health Care in Chicago, which serves central Illinois, is using some of the oldest software in its standard desktop. The 30,000-employee firm still uses Windows XP SP2 and Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) in its standard image, mostly because IE8 would cause problems with a core set of proprietary business applications used in the branch offices.