Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Psst … You want to replace your office computer with an iPad? Sure. Do you want the SLA to go with it?

There was an interesting in Wall Street Journal that I was reflecting on over the weekend (Apple Macs Land on More Corporate Desks). The article chronicles how General Electric employees can now choose Apple over Windows PCs. Though the spotlight was on GE, the author adds “Apple has very little of the corporate computer market but is making progress, according to market researcher Forrester Research, which estimates the Cupertino, Calif., company will sell $9 billion worth of Macs and $10 billion worth of iPads to businesses this year, up about 50% from last year.” A tweet from Prof. San yesterday alerted me to another article, almost a corollary to the fist one titled “How management has failed at RIM.” The article chronicles the rise and fall of Canadian tech giant that that till few years ago was unstoppable.
These and other similar articles appearing in business press are a sure sign that business users are looking at adopting wider range of smart-devices at work. The popularity, ease of use and features of smart phones and tablet computers have been analyzed by tech analysts, digerati and bloggers but the Enterprise Architect in me continues to reflect on the implication of these technologies on business computing.

The shift towards personal choice of computing devices at work has interesting implications: Blackberry, that till recently was the standard-issue smartphone for business users is now losing ground. Business users who prefer iPhones or Android smartphones are tired of carrying two devices – one for personal use and another issued by their employers. Add to the mix the resurgence of interest in tablet computing devices, lead by iPad’s, Amazon’s Kindle Fire, BN’s Nook and several Windows based competitors.
Technology innovations in the space continue pushing boundaries of usability, restricted only by imagination. What began as a move from Personal Computers to Laptops a few years ago is leading to yet another seismic shift towards smartphones and tablet computers. The implication is clear: IT teams are increasingly getting requests from “IT user” communities to either expand the scope of computing devices that are approved for Personal (and Professional) computing at work. Most organizations still dictate a narrow array of devices that can be hooked to corporate networks for ‘business’ use.

Enterprise Architects, responsible for spearheading (and gate keeping) technology standards are coming to grips with the implications. However, for EA’s it is not just usability or “coolness factor” we have to weigh in while evaluating this push towards open computing. Security (of course), Support, Upgrades and updates, Integration and extensibility are just a few dimensions to evaluate while formulating an approach for corporate rollout.

 Traditionally, IS teams have been responsible for support of hardware, software and infrastructure required by ‘users’. This division of labor suited everyone well. Non-IT users could focus on their core competence - be it sales teams out in the field or bank tellers or reservation agents or nurses at hospitals monitoring patient records. For most system issues, users would call the IS help-desk that either walks them through the problem resolution or sends someone onsite to help. Service Level and Operating Level Agreements (SLAs/OLAs) were well defined and understood. By opting for personal choice of computing device, there are a few scenarios that begin emerge:

Scenario 1: Laissez faire Cafeteria style buy-and-bring-your-own-device to work. In this model, users will have to take on ‘personal responsibility’ for problem resolution for the devices they opt to acquire. For example, I opt to bring in an iPad to work (instead of my office issued HP/Dell/Whatever Wintel laptop) and just before an important client presentation, I encounter a problem with wifi and network access that I am unable to troubleshoot. Turns out it is a hardware problem for which I cannot call my IS tech support. I have to get in touch with Apple’s help desk and work through the issue.
Scenario 2: Expand scope of support with levels of service: IS team extends a list of “supported” systems to include emerging genera of desktops, tablets and handhelds. To control costs, one could contemplate level-of-service for device classes. For example currently serviced Windows desktops/laptops would get a “Platinum level” service that includes hardware, operating system and application support, Mac OS devices would get a “Gold level” service level and so on.

There are several other scenarios besides one can analyze but before that a few critical questions one would need the business users to answer: 
  • How much of “ownership” is the typical business user willing to take in a Laissez faire model?
  • What is the total cost(to organization) to be able to expand support and service levels for “All” devices - current and emerging?
Other interesting links on the topic