Tech Standards? Or The Wild, Wild, West Of IT?

December 1, 2009

Standards or Wild West?

Gary Hamel writing on the Wall Street Journal blog blasts corporate IT departments for enforcing technology standards with a post titled; Why Don’t IT Departments Give Employees More Freedom? The premise is that if the best tool for the job is something that an employee provides themselves, or downloads from the Internet, so what? In Mr. Hamel’s words;

How is it that employees can be trusted to take care of important customers, safeguard expensive equipment and stay within their budgets, but can’t be trusted to use the Web at work, choose their own IT tools, or download programs onto the workplace PCs? Do IT staffers really believe that conscientious, committed employees turn into crazed, malicious hackers when you give them a bit of freedom over their IT environment?

Sounds Great In Theory -But Tell Me, Who Pays?

When it comes to business computers, the actual total cost of ownership of an IT asset can be as high as five times the purchase price, no not one time – annually! And a significant portion of that cost is supporting that IT Asset. Support is defined as direct, an example being technical services staff paying a visit to fix something, as well as indirect support. This latter support is when you spend your time helping a neighbor (or they help you) trying to figure out why that mail merge is not working properly.

Now, in my smaller business, we are pretty relaxed about people utilizing their own tools of choice as stated by Mr. Hamel. But in the past three or four months – that choice has cost me over 10 grand to do it. (more on that later)

Who Fixes What? (Or When I Just Go Home!)

Just in the past few weeks, I recall reading  about a larger organization (if I find it again I will update with a link) that has allowed its employees to provide their own computers or laptops. With the caveat that corporate support would not be able to help them if they chose the non-standard devices. In other words – you are responsible for getting it fixed if it breaks.

OK, So what happens when it does break?

In larger organizations, if a notebook or PC software or hardware dies, it will be either re-imaged with clean versions of the software, or new PC dropped into place with the corporate tools pre-loaded. Job done. In fact this type of computer support can often be done remotely.

So if I chose to forgo the corporate supplied PC, and provide my own Mac, and it dies. Lets see, I unplug it and trek off to my repair outlet of choice. They tell me it will be back to me by Wednesday.

OK. Do I sit twiddling my thumbs until Wednesday?

Maybe call my my clients and say; “Hey – can’t help ya until next week, will call you back then!”

Somehow I don’t see that going over well with your clients. So the question is;

If staff supplies their own IT assets, and they are responsible for repairing them, what productivity loss do you face when they don’t have their machine until next Wednesday?

Next: How About The Cost of Security?

Leaving hardware failure out of the picture, lets assume we allow everybody to install their software of choice on business computers. Read the following quote from an Information Week article by Avi Baumstein after  audits found peer to peer file sharing software on PC’s;

The results were shocking and scary–loads of confidential business documents and enough personal information to ruin any number of lives and create PR nightmares for quite a few companies. Among the business documents were spreadsheets, billing data, health records, RFPs, internal audits, product specs, and meeting notes

As smaller businesses, we are not immune to this either!

In this previous post, I wrote about a small business owner that was fired by three network support vendors.

And why did three IT Services companies fire this customer?

After every abusive , screaming support call, the service providers found the affected PC to be riddled with viruses and spy ware from the kids playing on business PC’s. His attitude was that he should never have problems in spite of his own irresponsibility.

My Personal Experience

At the beginning of this post I mentioned above the 10 grand dollar value.

As an organization, we are pretty liberal on what people do with their PC’s. And of a staff of about 20, three of them use that advantage more than others.

And yes. I have to rebuild or fix those three users computers every couple of months. In fact I just finished fixing one again that took a few days to repair. But lets leave out those softer productivity and labour costs for a minute. After all, maybe you don’t consider these type of things as costs. (but you should!)

How about hard dollar accounts payable costs? Does that strike a nerve?

One of these three individuals configured a three way data synchronization with our email server, his iPhone, and his Google calendar.

Immediately after he did this, I started getting errors on our e-mail server, all coming from his account!

Even after removing the e-mail server part of this synchronization, the errors rapidly escalated in severity and number.

Articles and support notes suggested completely deleting this individuals email account, taking the server off-line and running certain database repair & diagnostic tools.

To avoid bringing critical e-mail to a halt during business hours, I planned that work for late on the next Sunday.

Unfortunately – my e-mail server did not last until the next Sunday.

That Friday morning was nothing but a complete nightmare of error messages and failures that completely crashed the server. The crash completely corrupted all message stores, the file system, the works. At one point we could not even get that e-mail server to actually run the operating system.

After a few hours of work, I contacted one of my preferred vendors who specialize in this type of disaster recovery. It still took myself and two of their experts 3 days to get a complete rebuild of that server, a restore of all that data from backup tapes, and then use the database tools to clean up the corruption.

Three days and a 10 grand service bill

The SMB Takeaway

It is easy to say; let everybody use what they want.

But you better be willing to pay for the excess costs! Because somebody has to pay them.

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Photo Credit peppergrass via flickr

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