Rants and Blogs

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

IT Standardization

There are thousands of pages on the internet with just as many explanations on why you should standardize.  All of those can be combined into three words – Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).  That is not true I know, but then again… 
If you have spent any time at all in an IT role you have certainly experienced the lack of appreciation for your efforts.  All these years later and I am still surprised that a business will do diligence on the cost of materials, manufacturing, marketing, and many others of sort yet expect you to simply flip a switch and make IT equipment dependable and affordable without similar considerations.  I will discuss many benefits and tips to standardizing, as well as hurdles you may encounter, but truly the business buy-in will be the greatest.
This is where I will go back to the three words that make up one of those acronyms that people so often toss around.  You as the IT professional know the other thousand reasons or you wouldn’t have been down this track already.  Just the same I will discuss some of the larger ones later.  The only reason that matters is the TCO, because it is the only one the business will relate to. 
So what is a TCO?  When you are shopping for a car you consider your options such as make, model, new or used which you will also do in standardizing, but you will also, certainly today question its gas mileage.  Considering not only your needs, but the cost involved in purchasing, owning/operating, maintenance, user training, deployment/testing and lifecycle all make up your TCO. 
You will need to put together some benefits that are specific to your situation.  The first step in any of this will be a business case.  As mentioned above your highest hurdle is getting the buy-in from the business.
End Users
·         Often set in their ways and comfortable with what they currently have.
·         If you have bought any new computers in the past 6 years you have probably purchased on an as needed basis.  When you buy in bulk he will see a number that is now difficult to swallow. 
Department Heads
·         Same scenario as with the CFO if you practice charge backs
Your strongest points are going to be cost and time.  Regardless of your situation you should be able to get a good picture of your current environment.  Pick a time frame and pull some metrics from it.  How many PC’s have you purchased at what interval and cost over “x” amount of time.  Maybe you have a ticketing system showing the vast number of issues and time to resolution or metrics pertaining to system/network uptime. 
You will also need to perform an audit of your current assets including hardware and software.  This is the time to both worry and hopefully gain some ground with the end users.  Make them feel as they are part of this change by basically doing a short interview with them on what tools they use to accomplish what and “what feature could I provide you with to make your job easier?”  Analyzing this data will instantly show you where you have multiple tools in place to perform the same task.   Each tool comes with cost while adding variables to your troubleshooting.
You will want a 3 to 4 year picture here so be sure to go get those department heads on board.  Now is the time to go to them and present your initial findings (briefly) while again asking what it is that they have planned for their next great change and “how can we enable you to get there.”  This should be a simple enough event, but we all know that life is politics.  Make them feel that it is all about their needs and you’ll both end up with what you want.
With this information you will be able to make an informed decision regarding software requirements as well as the quantity and specifications of hardware.  Before you get to far ahead of yourself I would simply get a few quotes on a bulk order of hardware based off of this information.  By the time that you are ready to move on this the model may have changed or maybe new requirements have surfaced but you should still be looking at a cost range of ± 10%. 
Note:  If you are able you may want to schedule this to line up with the manufacturers 4th quarter to get larger discounts on that bulk order. 
Along this same timeline you will need to get your current maintenance and license agreements together so that you can determine an upgrade/change path as well as understand the cost per SW/HW.    
At this point you should be able to show a simple comparison of current vs. future cost and unless you completely did it all wrong you will show a significant savings.  This should be all “Green Dollars” and very real.  So it is time to go have a chat with the CFO and show him how much money we (IT) have wasted over the past 4 years and your plan to resolve this issue. 
So you should have costs now on:
·         Cost of individual machines or break fix machine vs. bulk ordering at the right time
·         Current annual maintenance cost vs. future state maintenance cost
·         Other variables such as a cost of a new hire that may be specific to your company
Hidden Costs
Now you can start wordsmithing (not telling lies) to explain all of those blue dollars. What interests you that is going to interest the stakeholders? 
·         Standardized software/hardware leads to standard images
o   Faster deployment to the end user or new employee.
o   Provides easier upgrade/testing allowing it the business to stay on top of changes.
o   Faster response time for resolution.
o   Allows for root cause analysis to be addressed across the board with a push of a patch or fix making IT more proactive and preventing downtime.

Selling this is going to take some guess work in determining (current time spent)x(employee hourly rate) for both current and future state as well as putting a dollar to either all of the other proactive work that could be getting done or… Don’t panic.  The other savings are either the ability to downsize the support staff or prevent additional need for staff.  When you are standardized, truthfully the staff should be re-evaluated anyway being that you will need less break fix and more specific skill sets to concentrate on taking the business where it wants to go. 

Back to those department heads and their buy-in.  If you are charging back these costs it is great to explain to them that once you are done and on a 4 year lifecycle you can give them the ability to budget by year or quarter up to 4 years in advance in regards to IT equipment.  They will have a constant picture of when you will show up on their doorstep with a shiny new piece of hardware to make their staff more efficient at what they do. 
IT Benefits
So they are going to let you go ahead with this and re-evaluate your staff, but let’s take a look at what you now have.  You have:
·         Simplified your vendor management by eliminating a number of applications.
·         Made deployments a push button solution.
·         Made testing simple enough to do on only a few builds rather than individuals.
·         Standard software and no admin rights help in preventing the downloaded ad-hoc tools that often come with spyware, viruses and software compatibility conflicts.
·         Train users and more importantly train the trainers.
This list could go on so I would lead you back to Google to refer to the thousands of examples.
Congratulations!  If you are still reading this far then you have accomplished more than most IT departments. 
The first thing that I would do is start on an Acceptable Use Policy.  You want nothing to do with implanting all of this only to have users go off and make it their own again. 
Outside of that take a look at your asset findings from earlier, assess the priority needs, package software, develop a software deployment system or technique and get a roll out plan.  Asset tagging and an asset database are essential to maintaining control of what you have out there and upholding the promise to the department heads by being able to tell them when they have new ones due within their departments.
Keep in mind that in standardizing we could be talking about computer models, software, operating systems, printers, overall PC configuration.  While acquiring everything above go ahead and get started with minimizing the software out there.  Roll out your laptops with the same configurations going forward. 
Printers are just another area with similar benefits.  It used to be common that a printer sat in every other cubicle for no apparent reason.  With secure printing and higher speeds, businesses need to go to multi-function shared machines.  Lessen the amount of different types of toners on hand or testing to print reports from custom applications. 
Bottom line is find the cost benefit to the company and the selling points that the business is interested and go in with detailed business case and supporters.