When companies grow and mature, they usually to a degree standardize their processes and policies. In IT, standardization is often incomplete. While a software product or a set of software tools may be commonly used across a business, you may still find various versions of client software on individual computers. When it comes to hardware, practices diverge widely. Companies may use servers, laptops, and desktops from one provider, but have multiple models and generations within product categories. Purchase decisions regarding such lower-visibility items as networking switches or storage equipment are often left up to IT team members, who may decide and choose based on their individual expertise.
The Penalties of Lacking Standardization
Many organizations standardize in certain areas of technology and let others lapse. Even when processes like user provisioning or setting up a branch office with computing resources are largely templated, companies’ standards often deteriorate if they need to act quickly. When decision-makers feel they don’t have the time for thoughtful technology planning, they often allow too many exceptions.
Businesses pay a high price for not standardizing. Take the following scenarios as examples:
- Many IT administration tasks can turn into costly, one-time assignments, creating expertise that may never be needed again.
- Almost each time a device fails, somebody has to research the causes and possible remedies, including getting information or quotes from vendors, before making a decision and taking the next step.
- Support costs and the time it takes to resolve issues increase dramatically, offsetting the savings from when companies made ad-hoc purchases of inexpensive hardware.
- When unexpected crashes, viruses, malware, phishing attempts, or other digital threats occur, it can take longer to restore users’ data and applications.
- Without streamlined, standardized technology purchasing, users may be temporarily stuck with a failing computer or a low-grade temporary replacement, which can degrade their productivity.
Streamlined, Template-based Approach to Standardizing Technology
When we discuss technology standardization with our clients, we emphasize that it’s most effective as a sustained, evolving effort that reaches across hardware, software, and policies. Standardization doesn’t mean that your technology and practices freeze – a common misconception – but it provides you with operation-wide consistency.
Let’s take a closer look at how we help companies standardize their IT.
- At the beginning of a standardization initiative, we interview your IT managers and business stakeholders to learn about your challenges and goals.
- Then we take an inventory of all software, equipment, computers, policies, and practices at all of your business locations.
- We document the versions and implementation details of server software, operating systems, client software, systems integrations, and specialized line-of-business software.
- We list all hardware items including desktops, servers, laptops, tablets, networking equipment, data storage, firewalls, wireless access points, with their vendors and warranty status.
- We also capture your practices of, for instance, onboarding and provisioning users, identity and password management, mobility management, data management and protection, and backup and recovery.
- After that, we can recommend meaningful standardizations that can reduce your cost and management complexity.
Standardizing on the most current software versions is often relatively straight-forward and can already make a big difference in user productivity. We use hardware templates to standardize servers, PCs, and other equipment in the most effective and robust configurations. Process templates come into play when we help you streamline network administration, implement sound data protection practices, or manage identities, passwords, mobility, and appropriate-use policies.
The templates reflect our technology and business expertise, and we adjust them to the specifics of your operation. By using a templated, best practice-based approach, we can typically provide a baseline of roughly 60 percent of what typical IT standardization requires. The remaining 40 percent is organization-specific; we add it to our baseline templates at the beginning of an engagement.
Measuring the Outcomes of Standardization Initiatives
How can you prove that your standardization makes good business sense?
- In our client engagements, we generally assess the initial differences in employee productivity, system uptime, and the number and type of service tickets.
- Companies also see reductions in the costs of support and technology purchasing.
- Tangible differences in the quality of the user experience or the impact on customers may be harder to quantify, but are common.
One outcome we aim for is that IT runs like a utility – always on, reliable, and transparent. When standardization helps a company reach that point, it becomes easier to adjust technology to organizational change and new business requirements.
Today, the usage scenarios for corporate technology are moving outside of traditional business environments to anytime, anywhere productivity enablement. Users often clamor for this. It can be a challenge for IT’s management of identities, applications, and data protection, but effective standards give you a solid foundation to evolve the company’s technology environment in that direction.
If you’re interested in discussing standardization or other managed service offerings, please send me a note at Ryan.Overtoom@sikich.com.