Setting Standards for End-User Technology
To each his own, except when it comes to business technology. While end-user technology standards may not always be popular, organizations that adopt, and adhere, to an appropriate set of technology standards can reap the rewards, saving time, money and effort.
Depending upon the size and complexity of your technical environment, and the needs of your business, end-user technology standards can provide welcome relief to a harried IT staff and a frustrated end-user community. Standards can be used to set a practical framework for the selection, acquisition and implementation of end-user technology. Usually relating to desktop hardware, software and peripherals, end-user technology standards can govern any or all of the following:
Standards that specify the types of products that can be used (according to manufacturer, version, platform or other defining characteristics), as well as the process by which the products are acquired.
Standards that specify the way selected hardware and software products are installed and configured.
Standards that specify the applicability of a given technology product (or set of products) to a demonstrated, stated business need. i.e... "if you need to do this, we recommend that....."
In effect, when you set end-user technology standards, you will set limits and boundaries on the specific types of hardware and software products used within your company. As can be expected, these restrictions may be met with a good deal of resistance from your end-users. To respond, IT must be able to justify standards decisions and enforcement actions, and that justification begins with one question - Are standards worth the effort?
Experience has shown that good things happen when the right set of end-user technology standards are appropriately applied and managed. Tangible benefits can be realized across a broad spectrum, ranging from improved IT service quality, to lowered technology management costs:
1. By limiting the variety of hardware and software products in use, IT staffers can develop specific, in-depth product expertise, thereby improving the quality and responsiveness of essential technical support services.
2. By limiting the variety of products in use, IT can better test and manage product compatibility, thereby reducing the number of platform conflict problems.
3. Standardization can lower technology acquisition costs as volume purchasing usually brings discounted pricing, as well as negotiation leverage in maintenance and training contracts.
4. With a focus on a specific set of technology products, end-users can develop sufficient expertise to enhance productivity and maximize technology utilization.
5. Standardization can minimize the risks associated with an uncontrolled technology portfolio, facilitating disaster recovery planning, software licensing management, and security management.
This list is impressive, but by no means guaranteed. Standardization is not the answer to every problem, and the best standards will amount to little more than "controls" if not properly designed and implemented. Under certain circumstances, standards can also backfire, creating more problems than they solve. When standards are created simply for power and control, lacking sufficient flexibility, and without full consideration of business needs, in all likelihood, they will be bypassed ... creating both political and technical conflicts.
Steps to set technology standards (with end-user buy-in)
Step 1: Identify primary goals and objectives. What are your current needs and how will standards help you meet your goals and objectives? This analysis will form the basis for your standards justification needed to convince skeptical end-users and ambivalent managers.
Step 2: Identify requirements. To what type of technologies should your end-user standards apply (desktop hardware, desktop software, wireless devices, peripherals, etc.)?
Step 3: One Size Probably Does Not Fit All. Make sure you provide sufficient alternatives within any hardware or software product set, to accommodate different needs and preferences.
Step 4: Consider remote locations. Small satellite offices may have unique needs to which established standards may not apply. You may need to create new standards for remote sites or carve out appropriate exemptions.
Step 5: Be flexible. Create standards with sufficient flexibility, providing for a "waiver" process so that "non-standard" products can be utilized whenever needed.
Step 6: Involve end-users in the standards process. Establish a workable process for standards development and approval, which involves the end-user community.
Step 7: Communicate. Keep end-users sufficiently informed about all elements of the standards process. You will need to let end-users know how standards are selected, what the current standards are, how to request a waiver, and how to submit a desired product for standards review. You can do this through a newsletter, policy manual, new employee orientation, training session, or through any other marketing method available to you.
Step 8: Ask for feedback. Provide an open, publicized mechanism for feedback on your standards selections and related processes. The more buy-in and participation you get the better. At least people will be talking about the process, even if the standards themselves are in dispute.
Step 9: Enforce standards consistently. Standards will be meaningless if your end-users know that the route to unquestioned non-standards approval runs right "over your head". If standards are have the desired effect, you must have sufficient management support to enforce related policies and procedures. This level of management support will be easier to come by if you maintain open communications with your end-users, and if you are prepared to justify standards decisions with "facts and figures".
Step 10: Backup standards with procedures. Standards will be easier to control and maintain when they are supported by relevant purchasing procedures. If IT is responsible for technology acquisition, standards can be more readily enforced. However, depending upon organizational needs and considerations, it is not always feasible for IT to carry the burden of order processing. In these cases, you might ask your purchasing department to forward non-standard purchase requests to IT for review. Make sure that any purchase requisition forms ask end-users to specify whether the products being requested are "standard" or "non-standard".
Step 11: Don’t abdicate IT responsibility. If you set your standards, and then respond to non-standard requests with an ultimatum, (i.e. "if you make that purchase, we won’t support you"), you will just end up with a fair number of unsupported products and a whole lot of finger pointing. It is better to get involved in the process, and if all else fails, just bring the product into the fold. You won't gain any benefits by just walking away.