5 ways to ease desktop PC-induced pain

August 6, 2010 Off By Hoofer
Grazed from Government Computer News.  Author: John Moore.

It didn’t take long after the desktop PC earned a regular seat at the enterprise technology table in the early 1990s for agency managers to realize that PCs can be a real drag. Buying, managing, backing up, fixing and securing PCs are expensive, time-consuming tasks that spawn a seemingly never-ending ordeal.

The problem must be tougher than they thought because they’re still trying to fix it. Here is a rundown of what has been working, what hasn’t and what might work in the future.

5 agency-tested desktop fixes

Fix #1: Desktop Outsourcing

What’s the plan?

Desktop outsourcing, also known as seat management, has been around since the late 1990s. The basic idea is to find a willing party to take over the cat-herding exercise that is PC management. In this scenario, a contractor assumes responsibility for managing the desktop PC environment by bundling hardware, software, support and maintenance. The government customer pays a fixed price on a per-seat basis.

Ideally, desktop outsourcing makes chores such as maintenance and updates someone else’s headache. The practice can also make it easier for agencies to achieve standard configurations on the desktop. There’s also the potential to reduce total cost of ownership (TCO) through centralized, contractor-provided support and upgrade services.

Who uses it?

The Treasury Department’s Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives generally gets the credit for kicking off the desktop outsourcing approach. That was in 1997. Since then, a number of other agencies have queued up for seat management. Notable examples include the Outsourcing Desktop Initiative for NASA contracts, awarded in 1998, and Navy Marine Corps Intranet, awarded in 2000.

Has it worked?

That has been a dangerous question to ask NMCI users, some of whom consider the program a dastardly plot to undermine their productivity and aren’t shy to say so — just Google “NMCI complaints” for a taste. E-mail and Web performance have been among users’ concerns. That said, customer satisfaction rates have exceeded 80 percent in recent years.

As for TCO improvement, NASA reports that ODIN keeps costs in check. In 2007, NASA cited 25 to 30 percent cost avoidance for desktop PCs through ODIN. John Sprague, NASA’s user services project executive for ODIN, said the program has generated an additional 10 percent cut in desktop PC costs. The cost of catalog items, such as memory and external hard drives, also has declined.

Future prospects?

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, desktop outsourcing contracts are in transition. Last month, the Navy awarded HP Enterprise Services a contract worth an estimated $3.4 billion to transition NMCI to the Next Generation Enterprise Network. And NASA will transfer ODIN capabilities to a new program, the $2.5 billion Agency Consolidated End-User Services program.

In both cases, making seat management more responsive to users’ needs seems to be a priority. A contract summary provided by the Navy states that the new award will offer the “flexibility to meet emerging requirements.” Meanwhile, ACES calls for multiple seat types, including a build seat that will let scientific and engineering users get the specific desktop tools they need, Sprague said.

Although some agencies are refining seat management, observers question whether other agencies will move in that direction. “There hasn’t been a lot of other agencies that have adopted the practice,” said Chris Burns, director of engineering at General Dynamics IT.

One reason: Many agencies now take a do-it-yourself approach to managing desktop PCs. Burns said that over the years, agencies have gained experience in managing information technology assets, making them less likely to outsource. He cited a maturation in management processes and frameworks, such as the IT Infrastructure Library best-practices and self-help guide, and better desktop management software for deploying software updates and patches on an enterprise scale.