Standards help lower PC costs, expert says

If managing your fleet of desktops is giving you headaches, then stock up on pain tablets because according to one expert there are no easy answers when it comes to reducing PC total cost of ownership.

Neil Barton, head of desktop and client/server consulting at Compass Ltd. in London, U.K. made the comments while speaking at a Compass-sponsored IT executive Conference, New Strategies for Managing the Desktop held in Toronto recently.

The first problem is that with around 92 million PCs sold per year, the onslaught of upgrades by companies like Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp. is here to stay, Barton told attendees. And that means IS managers will have to learn to cope.

“This is not going to change, ever. It’s always going to be happening,” he said. “They have no choice but to keep scrambling up the ladder as fast as they can.”

Next, Barton discussed the problems that drive up PC total cost of ownership, including “app suck,” applications that hog resources; increasingly literate end-users who don’t like waiting for IT help and who may turn to the Internet to make their own adjustments; users who want more mobility; and the time and effort needed to give adequate support.

But Barton warns against relying on TCO benchmarks to gauge your success. “Industry average TCO is about as useful to you as average industry shoe-size,” he said, adding that TCO figures don’t reveal the level of service or value you’re trying to extract from your PCs.

Instead, Barton urged attendees to increase the life-cycle of the desktop. First and foremost is standardization. IS managers should tell vendors they want standard components. “You should expect to pay more for it, and don’t look for bargains,” he said, adding that reduced maintenance costs will make up for the initial outlay,

Next, get a handle on your inventory, and improve your asset management. “All PC inventories are wrong. There is an error [in yours], I guarantee it. The question is, how wrong is it?”

Barton also advises IS managers to take control where they can; compile a help desk call analysis, and perform annual service reviews. Plus, enforce trickle-down policies and scrap old machines when obsolete, but don’t be afraid to upgrade where necessary. Companies should also shy away from leasing, Barton added, since leasing is only efficient if it ends on time, something that’s hard to guarantee.

Finally, establish a life-cycle goal, and stick with it. “Setting the lifecycle that you want to work on is probably one of the most important decisions you can make,” Barton said.

One attendee, an IS manager at a major Canadian bank who requested anonymity, said his bank forecasted that the cost of rolling out new desktops