Ready or not, here comes user PC choice

IT is preparing for employee-owned devices with virtualization and baseline PC requirements to help keep up with support demands in a less standardized world.

Some IT executives might have been alarmed when Gartner predicted that by next year 10 percent of companies will require employees to purchase and maintain their own notebooks and other devices. But for Bill Leo, CIO of Oliver Wyman Delta Organization & Leadership, it was confirmation of what he already knew: He is already taking the first steps toward allowing employees to purchase and use their own PCs.

Leo hopes his program will be in full swing by 2010. "This will be an optional program and will evolve over time since investments in hardware are already in place," he said. He's hoping to have a "handful" of newly hired and affiliated consultants participate in the program throughout next year. His company is a 250-person management consultancy in New York.

One benefit, Leo said, will be to "have my staff focus more on strategic IT deliverables vs. tactical tasks." It's a potential cost-saver, too. "If I can grow my business by 30 percent and not add head count to the help desk or desktop infrastructure groups, that's a big payback," he said.

That said, he is taking some precautions to ensure success. "The first thing you have to do is move applications off the desktop and onto the Web," he said, something he has started doing.

Also, Leo has migrated his users from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Outlook in a bid to simplify e-mail setup. Because Outlook already comes preloaded on most laptops, where Notes does not, this "allows for improved application access from any machine," Leo explained. Plus, the use of Outlook "creates greater flexibility for e-mail access from noncompany machines," for example, for any consultants who may be working on a project but who do not work for the firm full time.

In general, Web-based applications allow IT staffers to move from supporting distributed client applications on every desktop to consolidating everything in the data center. They also "allow you to maximize security for the applications and the data they generate." Leo said this is essential when complying with corporate and regulatory mandates. "I put restrictions on what data they can modify and copy over the Web. This lessens the risk of someone being able to steal data," he said.

He also has strict guidelines for acceptable PC configurations, including minimum requirements for operating system versions, antivirus, firewalls and antispyware. To ensure these standards are being met and to make sure infected machines do not get into the company, Leo recommended the enforcement of corporate policies through VPN appliances from Cisco Systems and others that scan devices for compliance before they are permitted on the network. Also, he said, it's imperative that companies consider at minimum two-factor authentication to access data from noncorporate machines.

Leo said to gain employee buy-in for any optional program such as his, companies might have to offer some level of reimbursement. "I think it's something that needs to be considered around connectivity," he said, adding that users will need cable modem or better bandwidth to adequately access network resources.

At Chicago-based law firm Vedder, Price, Kaufman & Kammholz, PC (Vedder Price), CIO Maureen Durack has already started a company program to reimburse attorneys for home Internet access and personal productivity devices.

"Over the last five years, we've seen a trend where attorneys utilize personal technology -- such as smart phones, BlackBerries, cable and DSL, and wireless headsets -- not only to make their lives better, but also to make servicing their clients more timely and convenient," she said.

Durack said while many firms are standardizing on devices and purchasing them for their attorneys, Vedder Price chose a different route. "We know personal devices are not one-size-fits-all and that each person has a unique way they approach their work," she said.

So instead, Vedder Price offers a stipend to employees to spend in a calendar year for personal technology.

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