Is it still relevant to control equipment purchasing in Enterprise IT?

When I first started working with Bluefin in late 2003, pretty much the first thing that I worked on was internal IT policy, with founder Mike Curl. They had been buying equipment here and there at the lowest price, and it felt very much like the acquisition policy of a small company.

We had aspirations of being a serious Enterprise player and there was a decision to try to act like one. We shifted to a policy of purchasing standard equipment – the then excellent Dell D600 laptop – and built a standard laptop image that was tailored to the modern consultant.

In the 8 intervening years not much has changed – the laptop image from early 2004 was still in use until recently – and we progressed through the Dell laptops available at that time – D610, D620, D630 and lately the E6410. This standardised on laptop docks and brought benefits of a lowered cost of support and a professional look and feel.

There are some major downsides to this approach though – mostly that the mainstream laptop that these models represent is jack of all trades and master of none. The more technical people would prefer a bigger screen and more power, and those who travel a lot – particularly women – would prefer something lighter.

These days I’m much more a consumer of IT policy within Bluefin rather than a setter, but it strikes me that we may have come to a point of inflection. There are a few of us, for example, that use MacBooks, and others who have a larger screened laptop as a special order.

There are some other trends which are important – Windows 7 is so much more reliable and laptops needs fixing less often, and support costs are much lower than they were. In addition, whilst Bluefin’s roots were in technical SAP consultancy (needing developer tools) and we have now got a growing number of less technical consultants, who only need a small number of tools.

There is some precedent here for us, because in 2008 we started to move those phone users who have large usage over to a corporate contract: there are major tax savings to be had. Most people chose an iPhone but we aren’t prescriptive and some have Windows Phones or Blackberries.

To add to this, Dell have just released a new range – the Dell Latitude E5420m, and it is divisive. It doesn’t look too professional and it has a smaller screen, whilst is no lighter. And this appears to be making our IT department wonder if we should stick with Dell.

But more to the point: is it still relevant to tell people what laptop they should have? Should people just get a budget to spend and buy what they want? And how does this balance against the need to keep IT support costs down? In any case, keeping employees happy and feeling valued is really important, and making sure that they have the right tools to do their job should be at the top of the agenda.

I suspect the answer is to give people a choice of systems – and to allow them to make an informed decision about their choice. But will everyone choose the MacBook anyway and then become a support overhead because the stuff they need doesn’t run on it? Perhaps there has to be some governance around that to make sure that the right people get the right machine.

However it turns out – it seems that we need more choice around equipment purchase – but without losing the governance for procurement. It will be interesting to see if we can keep the balance and make people happier by providing them with better tools to do their job.

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6 Responses to Is it still relevant to control equipment purchasing in Enterprise IT?

  1. Not sure how big bluefin is, John – but for a company that grows in size – it is one less headache if they standardize on hardware. There is a loss of flexibility for sure for the employees – but in the grand scheme of things, it is not that awful.

    For 3 years, I worked for a smaller sized company – this wast not be a big deal to support multiple devices at that time.

    Some day soon, when laptop just needs to connect to internet – or cloud for fancy term – and most data sits in a server, this problem should go away. At least that is my hope 🙂

    • Hi mate,

      We’re pushing 200 now and it was definitely one less headache at the time and worked well to only provide one laptop. Question is, whether the world has changed since then and it would be the right thing to provide a choice?

      I noticed when I was in SAP recently that I caught Mike Prosceno tapping away on a MacBook – SAP have such a flexible equipment procurement policy and they have a fair few employees.

      Agreed that the cloud should change this, but it seems to me that we’re still years off that utopia.

      John

  2. Robert Whittaker says:

    I don’t think you need to standardize on one size fits all or give everybody carte blanc to buy anything they want.

    There’s no reason why you can’t have 2 or 3 offerings (from the same vendor to keep costs down) that meet different needs, .e.g the small light, medium and the heavy duty developer laptops that John alluded to. You can then have 1 or 2 builds, the developer build and standard build for everybody else. Or just accept that developers are developers and let them install what they want on their laptops but you’re not supporting it.

    I would say it’s a bit different in the environement that John lives where the employees are IT professionals/consultants and should know what they’re doing. In an environement of 13,000 users most of which use word, excel, email and a couple of specailist apps, having a standard build is essentail. Most of our users don’t care about, or even want the flexibility.

  3. Gareth Ryan says:

    I’m just going through the fun of ordering a new laptop at Atos Origin. As a SAP development architect, I’m one of the people you describe who want/need a more powerful machine with a bigger screen. Unfortunately, the size of Atos and the range of roles means that a list of standardised builds is the only viable option for our support and purchasing functions (4 laptops and a couple of desktops from memory.) This has worked slightly in my favour in that I’m waiting for a 17″ powerhouse to be delivered, as the standard 14″ builds won’t cut it. Having said that, I’m sure I could have got a machine that was capable for much less.

    I think there will always be a play off between standardised platforms to ease support & management, and the flexibility needed for none “average” users.

    I guess an alternative way of looking at it is to ask what challenges would be introduced by giving all employees an individual hardware budget – for Atos with 10’s of thousands of staff in different roles I suspect it would be an administrative nightmare!

  4. steverumsby says:

    This is, at the end of the day, just a set of trade-offs and each business needs to find their own ideal solution based on their user base. There is no single right answer, and cost of support isn’t the only issue. You also have to take into account the risks of employees being without a machine if it takes longer to diagnose/fix a non-standard laptop. And don’t forget the risks to corporate data if a laptop is lost – employees buying their own machines running their own software are more likely to leak data than centrally controlled machines. On the flip side, giving employees the freedom to choose a machine that they like and that allows them to work the way they prefer increases job satisfaction and productivity, and helps with staff retention.

    Of course, the choice only makes sense at all if your staff are able to (a) make an informed choice (many don’t know/care and shouldn’t have to) and (b) provide some level of self-support. For all but the smallest organisations I would guess a mixture is needed. A standard offering for those staff for which it makes sense and a more relaxed policy for those staff that need it and can cope. I think a complete free-for-all – here’s some money, go buy your own – won’t work terribly well in most organisations.

  5. Shane Martin says:

    Being a part of that IT support group in Bluefin that offered the standardized purchasing was a fantastic experience. I was also lucky enough to have the same experience at Curtin University before working at Bluefin.

    From an IT support side of things – this model was a god-send. Having the policy approved by management meant we had the power to say no to supporting non-approved devices meaning support costs were reduced and our lives were that much easier. For supported devices the entire lifecycle was easy – from purchasing all the way through to retirement.

    That being said, it is very easy to lose sight of the reason why IT support exists – for the end user and every user is unique. I see this happen all the time in most workplaces. IT support generally has a bad name for itself – just look at the stereotypes shown in “The IT Crowd” (one of my favourite shows). It may not be half as bad as that, but I’m certain you know of a few people in your workplace that rolls their eyes everytime IT Support is mentioned. I can see a paradigm shift starting out there with CIOs talking about BYO devices and the cloud.

    I think products like VMWare VDI and the impending release of iCloud means that there will be a future (closer than you think) where it matters not what device you use, your IT support can still provide a standard environment from which you can operate within – the best of both worlds perhaps?!?

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