How do you know when a best practice is about to give way to a next practice? Typically, you look for credible signs of change and a compelling story line that points the way toward a different future. Well, if you believe in those two criteria, you might want to start to rethink the way your company manages its PCs.
Since the beginnings of the client/server era in the mid-1980s, organizations have sought to standardize their PC configurations to minimize installation, support and migration costs and to ensure a consistent application and security environment. Clearly, these remain important company goals, and not surprisingly, this practice has become pervasive in the marketplace. It still makes sense for most enterprises.
However, there is growing evidence that this one-size-fits-all approach is starting to break down and may not be nearly as efficient as you might think. Over the years, laptops, handhelds and mobile phones have all become powerful objects of fashion and desire, and many of your most valuable employees simply won't be happy with standard-issue devices. They are clearly looking for more flexibility and choice.
More importantly, many of these same employees have shown that they are perfectly willing to spend their own money on IT products and services if that helps them do their jobs in a more effective or satisfying manner. Given today's tight IT budgets, this factor shouldn't be underestimated, especially since individual consumers will often get much more for their money than the typical corporate purchasing department does. The idea that centralized PC acquisition will save money has been obsolete for many years.
Over the past year, we have seen several multinational companies begin to experiment with various allowance and cafeteria-style programs, where employees are given money to spend on technology and the option of supplementing it with their own money if they want a more capable or aesthetically pleasing device. This is pretty much the way that many company-car programs work in London.
The result is device diversity, but that's becoming much more manageable as companies migrate toward pure Web-based environments, where the need for client-specific software largely goes away.
Someday, we will no more expect our companies to pay for and fix our PCs than we would expect them to fix our cars. Then we will have truly personal computers, and the real company savings will begin.
l David Moschella is global research director at the Leading Edge Forum