Tech-Savvy Staff Challenging IT Departments

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Today’s workers are more mobile and they are demanding greater choice in their technology, putting more strain on IT departments that are trying to keep up with those demands

IT organisations are facing the growing challenge of how to address the demands of increasing numbers of younger, tech-savvy and mobile workers, according to a Forrester Research analyst.

Analyst Benjamin Gray said these new employees, who are a growing presence in the work force as they replace the retiring baby boomers, expect more out of their work IT environments in terms of the technology they use and how that technology fits in with their more mobile lifestyles.

“It’s going to be increasingly difficult [for IT departments] to support all those mobile workers,” Gray said in an interview. “A lot of organisations will cater to their needs.”

Supporting these “anytime, anywhere” workers will be the subject of a talk Gray will give at Forrester’s IT Forum, which runs from 19 May to 22 in Las Vegas.

Already, there are several emerging trends within larger enterprises that are occurring in reaction to the change within the work force, which Gray calls IT populism. The move toward desktop virtualisation is one of these trends, he said.

“In a couple of years from now, it’s going to be a lot less about the old computer box that IT hands out [to employees] and more about the image that IT is handing out to you,” Gray said.

These more mobile workers are less interested in the system and more interested in being able to get their desktop images wherever they are. And technology vendors are pushing that idea.

One idea is to give workers greater freedom in picking what PCs they want to use, either by having the company buy a wider range of systems from multiple vendors and then letting employees pick, or by giving employees a stipend to find their own PC systems.

There are a number of pilot programs under way at enterprises, which in some instances are encouraging workers to exceed their stipends, with the idea that the employees will feel a sense of ownership of their systems if they invest some of their own money in them, Gray said.

Netbooks, which are still primarily a consumer play, are another trend finding its way into the enterprise. Again, the idea is that it is less about the computing assets and more about the users’ individual images.

Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo, which Gray said account for about 90 percent of all corporate PC sales, all are offering netbooks, and Intel is also pushing the form factor with its Atom processors. Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 7 operating system will further enhance the netbook trend, he said.

“CEOs [and] CIOs are looking for lightweight machines,” Gray said. “They like [netbooks] as a sort of companion PC; I don’t see them fading away.”

Businesses also will need to reassess their policies on handheld devices, Gray said. Currently most companies standardise on a single platform, such as the RIM BlackBerry. However, employees are beginning to push to be allowed to use whatever device they want, including Apple’s iPhone, which is going to force businesses to expand the number of platforms they’ll support.

“IT essentially is looking to support whatever platform people need or want,” Gray said.

That’s not an easy task. There are a host of management and security issues that need to be addressed, he said. Businesses will need to be able to lock down all those platforms, and centrally manage them. While the buying power is shifting from the IT department to the employees and business unit executives, Gray said, it will still be up to IT to figure out how to manage the platforms.

The global recession is playing a role in this as well, he said. Businesses are extending the refresh cycles on their desktops and laptops by at least a year or more—though not only because of the recession, but also in anticipation of Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 7 operating system. Windows XP is still on about 87 percent of all PCs, Gray said, as most businesses opted to stay away from Windows Vista.

However, as they look to refresh their systems, companies will have to decide which devices to get for their workers.

In the area of handhelds, businesses are starting to look at being more proactive in managing the costs. For example, Gray said, they are tracking how much employees use their devices and what they’re doing with them. Not only are they more careful with what they’ll reimburse, but businesses also are deciding whether to continue paying for a device that is rarely used by an employee, he said.

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