Desktop Transformation: Pros And Cons

The principles of business computing have remained fundamentally the same for the best part of two decades. Now, changes in technology, working practices and user expectations are coinciding to force a re-think; demanding that IT has a much more flexible approach to how, where and on what device users get access to the applications and data they need.

‘Desktop transformation’ is a term used to describe both the process of change (capturing the organisation’s requirements and architecting a strategy and solution to meet them) as well as the end goal of dynamic, secure, managed, anywhere, anytime, any device access to business IT. In this article I look at the benefits you can expect to realise from it and the potential pitfalls.

A brief history: use of the corporate desktop computer

  • Desktop computing entered most organisations with green-screen terminals
  • These were exclusively task-oriented business tools accessing centralised data and systems
  • PCs introduced personal productivity tools, allowing users to create ‘rich’ content
  • The emergence of email and the internet changed employees relationship with the device in front of them, by introducing the personal (or at least functionality that could be used for personal purposes) alongside the business
  • Organisations have tried to restrict personal use, predominantly through HR policy
  • Laptops, smartphones, netbooks and now tablets have brought desirable consumer electronics into users’ homes and into the workplace
  • As the devices have evolved, content has become much richer and user expectations of performance, functionality, reliability and ease of use have increased dramatically
  • The lines between business and personal use of IT are becoming increasingly blurred with business use of personal devices, people wanting to access work from home and with social media becoming a valued business tool.

Achievable benefits

A well thought through, well-executed, desktop transformation project will yield as many of the following benefits as you want it to.

Increased flexibility

Although it’s something of a cliché to talk of change, we are nevertheless experiencing great changes in the way people are working. Desktop transformation increases flexibility for the user and the organisation.

Facilitate it, don’t fight it

It can help you to meet the increasingly demanding requirements of your ‘knowledge workers’ for different ways of working. And by accommodating their needs (on your terms!) it stops them circumventing your existing data and security policies.

Regain control

Crucially, meeting users’ needs also shifts IT from reacting to them and being seen as an ‘inhibitor’ to being an ‘enabler’ and re-establishing control over the user’s workspace and work practices.

Enable performance

By allowing users to work the way they want, or even need, to work you enable them to deliver the performance the organisation, and world at large, expects of them – such as resolving issues when away from the office and interacting with colleagues and partners in different time zones.

Even the cleaner needs IT!

The work of even the most mobile, non-computer worker is now scheduled centrally and delivered electronically, often by smartphone, and changing your desktop delivery model allows you to recognise and accommodate this.

Secure remote access & BC

Providing secure remote access from any connected location facilitates flexible, home and mobile working. And, by enabling employees to access their work from outside the office, it provides a business continuity solution during times of weather, pandemic and transport disruption.

Flexible access for business partners

It can also allow you to provide controlled access to specific systems and data to business partners: for the delivery of shared services, outsourcing or collaboration across organisational boundaries.

Hot-desking

By breaking the direct association between an employee and a fixed PC (and desk location) it enables hot-desking, allowing the organisation’s premises to be re-organised and consolidated around active use.

Bring your own . . .

It provides a secure, controlled means of allowing personal devices, such as iPads, to access your organisation’s network. Consequently, it can support the introduction of a formal BYOD (bring, or buy, your own device) policy to reduce the number of corporately owned and hence corporately managed devices.

Windows XP migration

If you’re still operating Windows XP desktops you need to be aware that there’s an approaching ‘end of life’ (and support!) deadline. While migration to Windows 7 or 8 will be a natural consequence of a desktop transformation project you can also off-set much of the cost of one against the other.

Increased employee satisfaction

Providing an infrastructure that’s closely aligned to user needs predictably improves employee satisfaction and therefore retention. More insidiously, it’s being suggested that not doing so will, in time, hamper your organisation’s ability to recruit key people.

Performance and efficiency gains

Enabling users to work the way they want to can, if user performance and efficiency have a measurable monetary value, yield huge benefits to the organisation.

Potential pitfalls

‘Transformation’ is by definition a ‘dramatic change’ and there are a several potential pitfalls that must be avoided to deliver a successful and rewarding desktop transformation.

It’s not just technology

It’s not easy to effect a successful transformation. Unlike many IT projects it’s not purely a technology project and success requires an equal understanding of strategy, people, process and technology. Transformation requires sound methodology, thorough planning and a level of investment in order to succeed.

The skills delusion

While your IT team may pride itself on its ability to deliver major projects, most have little recent experience of managing wholesale strategic change at the desktop level. There is a real danger of under-estimating the skills required and as a result a huge potential for the project to have a negative impact on the organisation.

It touches everyone

Many IT projects are undertaken in the background and you can afford to get it mostly right, and then tweak and refine, without employees being any the wiser. Changes to the desktop affect every user in a direct and personal way. Even minor issues are highly visible and can have negative impact on the organisation.

Technical complexity

The desktop is the focal point for a complex inter-dependence of user settings, devices, applications, data, network, storage and security and getting any one part wrong can compromise a project.

Getting the balance right

There is a potentially bewildering array of options and balancing questions of functionality and longer term flexibility against cost can be very difficult, without the correct guidance.

Mismanaging user expectations

Users’ expectations of new desktop devices are very high (everyone thinks (hopes!) they’ll get an iPad out of it!) and need to be carefully managed to ensure that a successful transformation project is recognised as such.

Alleviating the risks

Although there are undoubtedly risks associated with desktop transformation, the good news is that these can be mitigated with the right methodology, planning and investment. Few organisations have the right skills and experience internally to deliver this sort of project alone and so, realistically, this means choosing a specialist partner.

Ewen Anderson is Managing Director of Centralis. Prior to founding Centralis, Ewen worked at a senior level in corporate IT and management services within British Gas. He has helped establish Centralis as one of the leading influencers of application and desktop delivery strategy in the UK, winning excellence awards from customers and major software vendors. Ewen holds a BSc Honours Degree in Psychology from Manchester University and a Diploma from the Institute of Management Services, the primary UK body concerned with the promotion, practice and development of methodologies for the improvement of productivity and quality.