Desktop Modernisation

by Dale Vile and Tony Lock

The personal computer is one of the few parts of the IT infrastructure with which the user interacts directly, and is often, rightly or wrongly, regarded as ‘personal’ by the employee. The desktop environment is also very dynamic from a technology evolution perspective, with the relentless release of higher spec machines and new versions of software. Against this background, how important is it to keep things up-to-date, and is there still a case for investing in modernisation?


The normal upgrade cycle has been interrupted, but activity looks set to resume

Over half (54%) of the 1,127 participants in a recent study report desktop upgrades being deferred as a result of the economic downturn, typically by about a year. Together with a lukewarm response to Windows Vista, a consequence is that only 23% of organisations would describe their current desktop infrastructure as modern and up-to-date. The more positive response to Windows 7, however, together with an upturn in the economy, looks set to rekindle quite a few upgrade plans looking ahead. Overall, two thirds of organisations have desktop modernisation on the agenda for the coming 12 months, and around 20% anticipate Windows 7 deployments to have started by mid-2010.

Understanding user needs is an important pre-requisite to any desktop initiative

In terms of demand, while some argue that the personal computer has now become ‘part of the furniture’ in the business environment, feedback suggests the majority of users actually care quite a bit about the PC they use, so the appetite for upgrades within the business is generally strong. In terms of specifics, performance and stability are universally highlighted as key concerns. Mobile users then emphasise battery life and convenience, while power-users call out a desire for the latest software. Even those with more modest needs highlight the importance of the user experience. Understanding these varying requirements is key to prioritising, scoping and justifying investment.

Future proofing the desktop estate is as important as meeting immediate needs

In terms of current pain, over three quarters of study respondents allude to issues arising from older equipment, ranging from excessive operational overhead in the IT department, to reduced employee productivity and staff morale/satisfaction issues within the business. Tellingly, just over a quarter of respondents are running estates in obvious need of modernisation, and these are typically between 30% and 50% more likely to be experiencing problems. Another half of respondents are faring reasonably well today, but have aging estates likely to run into issues as hardware and software release cycles continue to turn. Future-proofing for this group is therefore an important imperative.

An objective, service-centric approach is recommended when moving forward

Rather than blindly re-start the traditional routine of upgrade and migration in response to better hardware capability and new software releases, IT departments are urged to take a step back and think of the desktop from a service delivery perspective. Some are already considering the role of desktop virtualisation and/or Windows alternatives such as Mac OS X and Linux, and with a selective approach to adoption, these may or may not help with service levels in some areas. Another key area to look at is operations and support, as the evidence suggests significant room for improvement here. Whatever route is chosen, the imperative is to focus on business value rather than pure technology.

Study based on feedback gathered via an online survey of 1,127 IT professionals from the UK, USA, and other geographies.

Content Contributors: Dale Vile & Tony Lock

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Dale is a co-founder of Freeform Dynamics, and today runs the company. As part of this, he oversees the organisation’s industry coverage and research agenda, which tracks technology trends and developments, along with IT-related buying behaviour among mainstream enterprises, SMBs and public sector organisations.