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Microsoft

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Why is it so easy to fall behind on keeping workplace user devices secured, productive and enjoyable to use?

 

That’s the question my team began investigating a few years ago on our mission to help customers accelerate their paths to a modern workplace. 

 

Among businesses that fall behind, technology is commonly considered overhead – a necessary cost that must be controlled over time, while other, core competencies drive profitability and competitive differentiation. That mindset is understandable: device management is almost no one’s idea of a core competency.

 

However, we find some business leaders treat technology not as a cost center, but as a core business enabler: a strategic function that fuels growth and innovation. These organizations recognize that underinvesting in technology can compromise crucial business functions, waste their people’s time, and drive down employee sentiment introducing risks, inefficiencies, and distractions that can cap overall company performance.

 

Imagine your conference call is about to begin, but your device is going to take another five minutes to boot. Or imagine your device crashes midway into a customer presentation, and it takes ten minutes to get your slides back onscreen. Experiences like that quickly frustrate your people, which could give your business a reputation for being out of date – and out of touch.

 

My team has been collaborating with customers over the past few years to understand and work to overcome the technical and business challenges that keep organizations from delivering secure, modern, and fantastic device experiences with Microsoft 365.

 

The result is Microsoft Managed Desktop: a cloud-based IT management and security​ monitoring service that improves productivity by delighting users and empowering IT to focus on core business goals.​

 

One enterprise customer had an average 18-minute boot sequence, largely due to its hybrid mix of desktop security agents running redundant functionality. Microsoft Managed Desktop has replaced that experience with a new boot sequence averaging under 30 seconds. Saving 17.5 minutes per day, times 240 workdays per year, reclaims 70 productive hours for every user. For a company of 2,500 people, that’s more than 150,000 hours reclaimed per year. The financial saving or efficiency gain for this one item alone can be a huge win.

 

In our next post, we’ll share even more compelling data about how Microsoft Managed Desktop has helped customers fuel core business impact by modernizing device management. This post examines how a “cost center” mindset can cap an organization’s potential for productivity and innovation.

 

Maintaining a complex environment

Devices house a delicate ecosystem that is always evolving in tandem with innovation and security threats. That ecosystem includes the device hardware, apps, drivers, and the operating system (or platform software) that enables all those components to function together.

 

Any change to the operating system can interfere with the way apps and drivers interact with the new platform version as deployed on any given device model.

 

To mitigate such risks to user productivity, IT typically researches and tests each combination of hardware and software for compatibility with the new platform version prior to deployment. If a company’s combination of apps, drivers, hardware and operating system don’t reliably work together, IT then takes the role of system integrator for a set of components that may have never been tested together anywhere in the world.

 

Without access to most of the code in this unique set of componentry, IT has the unenviable task of lobbying third parties to debug and fix issues – which can take months – and if they are successful, they then test, re-integrate, and test again ad infinitum until the system works. This is highly redundant and wasteful work.

 

Worse, IT seldom receives fixes for everything. Instead, IT may have to release a set of software, drivers and platform componentry that “kinda” works. The end user then gets to discover the instability of the unique integration package on their own, randomly impeding productivity and steadily building frustration with IT.

 

We see evidence of this effect every day when we look at performance issues like system crashes. When we compare the crash rates of Microsoft Managed Desktop devices to the rest of the corporate devices that send diagnostic data to Microsoft, we see that non-Microsoft Managed Desktop corporate machines, on average, have four times the system crash rate of Microsoft Managed Desktop devices. This is an example of the benefit of an architected service like Microsoft Managed Desktop tested and verified by Microsoft engineers.

 

Sweating assets

The “cost center” mentality keeps devices in production until assets are fully depreciated, or longer, which adds to the challenge of managing complexity. Software evolves faster than hardware, so a device manufactured five years ago typically can’t activate all new software or platform features.

 

For example, Windows Hello uses facial recognition to help eliminate high-friction password security from the user experience. This provides a dramatically more secure environment; however, older devices don’t have adequate hardware to perform facial recognition.

 

Imagine you have a five-year device refresh schedule in an organization of 2,500 users who are evenly spread across five user profiles. Each year, your IT team selects five device models suited to those profiles, placing an order for 100 of each model. That means you have 25 device models deployed at any given time – but, realistically, it’s 30, if a handful of six-year-old devices are still deployed for various reasons.

 

A shorter, three-year device refresh schedule would have 15 instead of 30 device models to test with every quality or feature update to the operating system. If your organization has 200 apps, and each app takes somewhere between one and 16 hours to test on the platform on each device model, you can see how halving the number of device models could significantly decrease IT bandwidth required to update. That’s particularly true of the older device models, which are least likely to support new features of the platform.

 

On the security front, risks of keeping older assets can be more dire. Every month using an unpatched system is an extra month for malicious actors to identify and exploit vulnerabilities. Imagine one of the five-year-old device models can’t take a monthly quality update because the touchpad driver for the device keeps crashing, and the small ISV that wrote the touchpad driver no longer supports the driver. If you can no longer deploy quality updates to this part of your estate, these devices are locked in a permanent state of vulnerability and must be managed differently.

 

Tough choices for IT

Treating technology as overhead year after year invariably pushes IT organizations to do more with less, forcing impossible decisions that merely defer, transfer, and compound the costs of staying current. Meanwhile, the resulting compromises begin to atrophy user experience – or even user productivity.

 

When corporate policy mandates devices stay in production far beyond their peak functional value, do you deploy limited IT bandwidth on hundreds or thousands of hours researching, testing, and deploying updates? Not if you don’t have the personnel, or the budget to outsource. The pragmatic and quite common approach is to wait a year or two for app publishers to deliver new versions that are compatible with the platform updates.

 

Or, what if your commonly-used in-house application doesn’t support the new platform, and updates are not on your development team’s roadmap for another 24 months? Your only option is to stop updating the platform software – at least for devices that require that application – and hope for the best.

 

But those decisions affect the rest of the organization in ways that may not be intuitive for a business analyst to correlate on a balance sheet.

 

Performance

Enterprise platform software licensing typically includes a regular pace of updates over the contract duration. Windows releases monthly quality updates that address bugs and vulnerabilities, and feature updates twice a year that add new functionality and help improve things like CPU performance and battery life.

 

Those updates reflect a part of your contract fees. By failing to install the updates you’ve paid for, you’re leaving money on the table – along with the significant value they can provide. If new productivity and collaboration tools accelerate your throughput, turnaround times, or client responsiveness, everybody wins.

 

Agility

A regular pace of updates delivers change in manageable doses. If you defer feature updates for 18 or 24 months, you’re queuing up a lot of changes to the look, feel, and functionality of the platform and the user experience. That can be disorienting enough to require costly, time-consuming change management initiatives and training to help your people adapt. The planning alone can sap bandwidth from enterprise leadership in the months prior to a major update.

 

Once you fall behind on updates, it’s increasingly difficult to move the entire environment forward in tandem, causing a downward spiral: the more heterogeneous the device configurations, the longer it takes to move everything forward.

 

Meanwhile, as devices age, device performance becomes less stable: third party vendors start to lose support for the operating system, and fixes start being bolted on to fill the cracks. The PC you end up running after a time can become a fragile concoction of compromises, increasingly vulnerable to a high-severity security breach. Complex, legacy environments can quickly paralyze an IT organization that’s perennially tasked to achieve more despite budget and headcount reductions.

 

It’s worth noting that Microsoft Managed Desktop is already upgrading customers from the Windows 10, version 1903 feature release to Windows 10, version 1909, which was released in November. Due to the platform innovations, architecture of the Microsoft Managed Desktop environment, and unflinching focus on keeping customers up to date, this Windows feature update takes a mere two-and-a-half minutes to install on most user devices.

 

Market perception

Outdated tools can make your organization look like a troglodyte to potential employees and clients who want modern productivity and collaboration in their workplace culture.

 

And, quite frankly, if you’re bogging your IT organization down with the menial, exponentially spiraling work of device maintenance, you’re not deploying your tech-savviest people to innovate technology solutions to your core business problems and thereby help lift revenues.

 

Time for a modern mindset

If your organization views technology as overhead, you are probably experiencing some of these symptoms of a complex, legacy environment. The good news is, Microsoft Managed Desktop offers an accelerated path out of the traditional device management quagmire, and into the reference implementation of a modern workplace based on the Microsoft platform.

 

Best of all, new data from our early adopters has shown extraordinary impact on key business enablement metrics, which we’ll share in a forthcoming post. Please be sure to subscribe and check back for more news and insights on how our approach fuels core business innovation and contact us to see if Microsoft Managed Desktop is right for your organization.

 

How does “cost center” thinking affect your IT management? Share your comments below.