"It's a tricky process because we want to stay current and near the curve, but we can't use an OS or a browser that cripples the business unit just to be current," says Dan Lutter, the director of field technology services at Advocate Health. The timing might not be right for the Advocate support staff to deal with new applications because they are still rooting out problems with existing installs, and the new version may not be fully tested for security vulnerabilities.
Lutter explained a recent scenario where users started requesting that IT make Mozilla Firefox available as part of the standard desktop. Ultimately, he decided against it. The company never actually tested Firefox because the timing was not right to deal with incompatibilities.
"When key business apps will not work properly, there is a loss of productivity, more frequent calls into the help desk so that support services staff have to get involved and remove the app, which confuses the customer. We don't want to have apps on our standard desktop that we manage that cause our customers to have a non-satisfactory business experience," he says.
Advocate uses the LANDesk Management Suite for managing the standard desktop and the software repository. Lutter says one of the benefits of using this tool is that his team receives alerts when someone attempts to install a rogue application. He says Advocate has spent the last seven years fine-tuning the standard desktop process, and one recent lesson they've learned is to keep the core standard as minimal as possible. Today, they have one core for all laptops, one for desktops and a third for tablets.
"The effort required in planning, testing and migrating [operating system and apps] is all compounded when you are talking about a very large environment, so it's not unusual at all to find much older systems used in large firms when IT staff time is at a premium," says Boyle.
In the end, whether using a standard desktop helps save valuable IT time and effort, roots out rogue installs or improves overall security, every company has to develop its own standards to meet employee requirements. As SecurityCurve's Boyle noted, in the age of the cloud and mobile devices, a standard desktop is more important than ever, especially if the goal is better IT efficiency.
John Brandon is a former IT manager at a Fortune 100 company who now writes about technology. He's written more than 2,500 articles in the past 10 years. Follow his tweets at @jmbrandonbb.