When it comes to management, less is more
I was at an industry conference recently, standing in the booth of a large PC maker while being indoctrinated with the latest word: "You can manage it with existing tools!" – a marketing director beamed, as he waved a new Windows 8 tablet under my nose. He seemed so happy I thought for a second he might grab my hand and drag me skipping through the tradeshow floor followed by a troupe of merry singing penguins, like a sort of demented convention center edition of Mary Poppins.
"Oh, you mean I can manage it with an MDM tool!" I offered just to see how far he'd take his line of thinking. He looked at me as if I was recovering from brain reduction surgery. "No no no…you can manage it with SCCM!"
Never content to just to let something slide, I said, "Oh, now I get it! You mean with that big client management system and the army of people companies already have to run it. That means they can patch these new tablets every week from a dozen patch sources, maintain a big image and profile library, package software with 20 different tools, run antivirus, DLP, implement a power management tool, and run software license compliance scans!" I could see the flowers popping up in his pupils, reassured that perhaps the surgeons hadn't gotten ALL of my brain. "That's Right!" Then I popped the question: "Well, why would I want to have to do all of that?" The flowers wilted.
Illumination emerges from the dark ages
James Michener said: "An age is called dark, not because the light fails to shine, but because people refuse to see it." What's happening right now in IT departments all over the world is a new illumination. Last week I had an inquiry call with a CIO enraptured by the possibilities that a simpler device like an iPad could have for his business, and enraged that by his calculations he currently spends $2,200 to manage each and every PC in his estate through its life cycle. Admittedly, that's higher than the average of $1,763 but either way it's a lot of money, and it's not sustainable in a world of increasingly viable alternatives.
With every passing quarter of skyrocketing iOS and Android device sales coinciding with rapid adoption in enterprises, the missives from the Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt crowd about these devices not being "enterprise ready" lose their credibility. What is enterprise ready anyway? Does it have to have an enterprise license agreement? Be complex? Hard to manage? Sold only through an enterprise sales rep? Heavily regulated?
My hypothesis 
Complexity and disruption through management are the biggest risks to the PC's future in the enterprise. Microsoft has a real dilemma on its hands: Change the Windows OS too fast and they alienate enterprise customers with massive installed bases of Windows and billions invested in application development for the Windows desktop. Change it too slowly and they lose mindshare from individuals (notice I didn't call them "users" or "consumers") who see faster, easier ways to get things done and new devices that they use in ever more advanced ways. Microsoft continues to bet heavily on the enterprise, but they run a serious risk of alienating individuals who have a job to do if they continue to cede control over the user experience to others. The more their enterprise customers feel forced to engage in locking down their PC estates to protect themselves from malware and reduce support calls, the more disenchanted employees may become.
iOS and Android management in the enterprise becomes more established every day
In the background, there is a subtle shift happening beneath the surface. Enterprise IT is figuring out that managing an iOS or Android device through its life cycle is a simpler, less costly problem for them to solve. Support and troubleshooting of the device is within the skill set of a wider range of employees, making self-management a realistic scenario. At the moment, it's typically an additive cost, but they can establish confidence in the device with relatively few controls in place, and they can be outside the firewall yet highly functional. iPads and Android tablets aren't PC replacements for most workers yet, but we continue to see rapid growth eating away at the margins.
What it means for I&O professionals
The shift toward a multi-device, multi-OS world will put severe downward pressure on traditional Windows PC management costs over the next 3-5 years, as firms embrace new devices, OSes, and support models. Expect Microsoft to continue to innovate in meaningful ways to make managing PCs easier, and move more management functionality to the cloud. That makes your path forward as an I&O professional for the next 24 months clearer:
Top priority: Get PC management costs under control
Engage in a relentless pursuit of automation
The automation level for most firms stops at weekly patch cycles, software packaging, and deployment, but going a step further to build more intelligence into lifecycle process automation can transform agility. For example, a global airline automates the PC provisioning process dynamically. Regardless of a new PC’s location, role, or manufacturer, it automatically receives the correct image, software, and settings profile within moments of first power-up anywhere on the network. The management system receives the new PC’s fingerprint ensuring ongoing configuration compliance, and the software license management system ensures license compliance – all with no manual intervention.
Upgrade your PC management infrastructure and thoroughly evaluate appliance and cloud-based management tools
For mid-sized companies (up to 10,000 PCs), Dell's KACE is an excellent appliance-based solution that performed well alongside traditional on-premises solutions in the Forrester Wave: Enterprise Client Management Suites, Q2 2012, and offers better Mac support and easier deployment than traditional on-premises tools. Microsoft's Windows Intune is also a superb SaaS-based tool. We recommend firms start with a pilot group to prove the model, and gradually shift more PCs to Intune as its capability and scale grows. Kaseya is also worth a look – they are the pioneers of hybrid cloud/on-premises management tools.
For large enterprises, stick with whatever PC management tool you have, as long as it supports advanced automation and workflow, application virtualization, and better yet – support for VDI environments. If your firm is using Microsoft's System Center Configuration Manager 2007, get to version 2012 as fast as you can. Focus on the employee self-service part of the upgrade program, using third-party add-ons if necessary.
Industrialize and virtualize
Employee self-service including app stores and self-management tools are wise investments, as are application and client virtualization when carefully matched to employee needs. Microsoft's latest release of App-V is a winner, and there are plenty of ways to deliver access to applications and systems of record securely, while letting willing and skilled employees look after their own PCs and Macs. Citrix's XenApp is my go-to choice for giving employees access to systems of record on demand from any device.
What do you think? How do you see the enterprise readiness of iOS and Android tablets in relation to Windows 8? Will non-Windows tablets forever disrupt Windows' stronghold in the enterprise?