Right now IT has too much to do and too little money to do it with. New PCs just dont seem to be a priority.
At the same time Im watching Apples release of their most business compatible version of their OS yet. Ive been surprised at the massive number of Apple boxes that are showing up in corporations that arent showing up (due to how theyre purchased) in Gartner or IDC reports.
I think this means we are seeing a change in the way personal computers for business are purchased, at least in North America. And IT (because of budget constraints) is increasingly allowing this to happen. Clearly not in all shops but in enough that it is driving a much healthier consumer market. Its also creating new business opportunities and potential problems that should be addressed.
PCs over the last three decades have dropped from nearly $4,000 in 1980 dollars to under $500 in 2009 dollars. When inflation is factored in, a PC today costs a small fraction what a PC cost when corporations first started buying them for employees.
In fact, if you think about it, they are in line with the cost of some business Smartphones.
At the same time, IT has been overwhelmed with the pains of managing these things. They have to hire for help desks, manage software images, handle repairs, and staff for infrequent hardware deployments.
Over time an increasing number of companies have shifted desktop applications targeting HR, sales, governance, and data entry back to Web-based centralized services that dont require a client. With a declining number of exceptions, the only desktop application set that is still consistently on the desktop is Office.
Employees, who at one time drove upgrade cycles, now are more likely to try to prevent them so that their workspace isnt disrupted. Big Bang, or all at once, deployments are exceedingly rare and with P&L responsibility drifting to the operating groups, purchase authorization has drifted there as well. And the operating groups have, for the last 5 or so years, not put a high priority on new PCs except for new employees.
Employees, particularly executives and younger employees, when they needed a new PC simply bought one (generally a laptop). They used existing polices that provided for system access from a home PC to enable them for work. For those working from home, many have used their own PCs for years.
In addition, with the massive number of layoffs people have increasingly had to buy their own PCs while looking for a job and when rehired, appear willing to go on using it.
The cost savings is about $300 per employee per month that flows right to the bottom line at a time when profits are elusive for many companies. You can understand why neither the IT organization nor the line organizations that would have to fund a replacement program are eager to fix this.
This potentially opens the door for a number of service and configuration opportunities to surround this growing concept of employee PC ownership. The first would be a standard virtual machine upon which a corporate image could be placed and maintained. This would allow the employee to buy a new machine, run a configuration utility supplied by the seller or OEM, and then download the protected and managed image from the corporation (which then could be remotely deleted upon employee termination).
Increasingly desktop motherboards are coming with a slot for a TPM (Trusted Platform Module), and hardware-based encryption is generally advised for corporate data. A configuration with an easily added TPM and software for a nominal charge or one where an additional TPM-enabled hard drive perhaps a high capacity flash drive could be used for the corporate image. This would address the need nicely.
Bundled connectivity and services would seem a natural for a service that rolled to market, initially Wi-Fi hotspots and eventually with WiMax or LTE. This would allow notebooks to ease into a version of the Smartphone model and allow employees with something distinct that could be easily expensed.
If not managed properly recovery of company intellectual assets could, and likely are, becoming increasingly compromised.
Granted, employees who are thinking of departing are likely making copies of critical files anyway against company policy. But at least there is currently some protection for terminations (though even here laptops and remote workers have always been problematic).
Network Access Control and Anti-Malware requirements can be problematic, further suggesting the virtual machine approach above. Of course much of this can be mitigated by a more aggressive Web-based model where all devices are treated like they are remote, and access to company resources are through a secure browser connection.
But conformance to security policy with employee owned hardware needs to be fully thought through (and probably isnt today even though employees are likely gaining access with it).
Theft exposure for employee hardware stolen from company premises needs to be considered for site insurance as the firm is likely at least partially liable for it if the stuff is stolen or lost as part of a fire or other disaster.
Wrapping Up: Change is Inevitable
It is becoming increasingly clear that the successful IT manager of tomorrow will need to manage an increasingly diverse selection of services that come with fees, that are free, and that are actually partially funded by employees.
The most successful will be the ones that husband their own funds most successfully without putting their companies at excessive risk. This last part will likely become increasingly important as the same drivers that tanked the financial market, competing with other similar organizations, could drive organizations to take unreasonable risks.
Thinking through ahead of time how to mitigate the risks and which are reasonable will likely pay dividends in the end, with both happier employees and defensible budgets. One of those areas is employee ownership of PCs which is happening now regardless and could provide benefits to both the employees and the strapped IT organizations if done properly. Doing it properly is the key.