Standardizing the Desktop

Creating a 'gold standard' desktop version to push out to all employees can mean lower costs, tighter security and smoother operations.

The IT department is often at the forefront of an organization's technology innovation -- but not always. When it comes to the concept of a standard desktop -- every employee's core install consisting of an operating system, applications, hardware drivers and a security suite -- IT has moved at a snail's pace.

Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT, says companies have tended to live with older software because it works well enough for their needs and because they don't want to incur the expense of upgrading to the latest releases in this era of "making do with less."

Then there are political issues. Key users who want to do their own thing might resist change, and IT may not force the issue in order to avoid running afoul of influential employees in these budget-challenged times.

But now, it seems, the snail is moving a bit faster. The use of standard desktops is becoming a best practice. In a 2010 Gartner survey of 300 IT professionals at large companies, 50% of the respondents said they will be locking down more corporate computers.

One driving force behind the push to standardize is concern about security. IT can make a strong case that rogue applications can bring down the network, or that old software has vulnerabilities that hackers pounce on.

Another factor is the advent of virtualization, which makes it easier to standardize. More companies are using virtualization tools to create a "gold standard" -- one desktop version that gets pushed to all end users.

IT managers who are locking down desktops 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.

Yet, some companies wrestle with the notion of standardization because they want to give employees some flexibility in the way they do their jobs, says King. There are ways to allow some flexibility with standardized desktops, including allowing employees to select 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 that 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."

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