3 SMBs Illustrate The Different Approaches To Windows 7 -- And Other Top Tech Issues - InformationWeek

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12/19/2009
07:41 PM
Fredric Paul
Fredric Paul
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3 SMBs Illustrate The Different Approaches To Windows 7 -- And Other Top Tech Issues

IT folks from three very different small-to-midsize organizations talk about their plans for migrating to Windows 7, plus how they're dealing with the economy, mobility, and tech support.

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Insights Into The Economy, Mobility, And Tech Support

Windows 7 looms as a big issue for many small and midsize shops, but it's far from the only concern. Even larger than technical issues, the Great Recession is affecting everything SMBs do. Or is it?

Economic Concerns Vary Wildly
"We don't actually have a budget!" said Blake at the Benchmark Group. "I try to tell the comptroller every year what I think I'll spend, and I usually exceed that..."

"We are overhead. We know that, Blake added. The IT department tries "to be proactive... in the most responsible manner possible" by becoming a business partner to the company.

The company's PC refresh cycle remains at three years, "but we sometimes extend that and use a 3-year-old machine on admin desks," Blake says. Most importantly, the economy hasn't yet affected the IT team too badly. "We're growing," Blake said. "I added three people this year!"

Similarly, "the economy hasn't changed that much" in terms of purchasing for Academy District 20, marveled Battin. "I'm surprised we've been allowed to keep replacing computers -- our refresh cycle is still five years."

On the other hand, long-standing budget pressures force the district to put out an RFP for new computers every year, Battin said, and cost is the "only" consideration. In the past three years, the district has bought Dell, then HP, and then Dell again. "It's a nightmare for support," he said.

And there are some economic effects. "The computers aren't suffering," Battin said, "but the people are. We lost some IT folks, and they were not replaced."

At VNUS, the recession even has some positive effects, Miller said, driving down recurring costs and maintenance. The company is maintaining its two-year refresh cycle for laptops, which get a lot of wear and tear, and three years for desktops and workstations.

To maintain his budgets, Miller tries to focus the budget on key IT projects that align with corporate goals and executive bonuses.


Don't Miss: How Long Should Your Business Keep Its Computers


Carriers Trump Hardware
When it comes to mobility, I was a bit surprised to learn that carriers trump handsets almost every time.

"We have a Sprint deal," said Academy District 20's Battin, so the district is currently using five 5 distinct BlackBerries, including the Storm. It's also rolling out the Palm Pre, which is available only on Sprint.

At the Benchmark Group, a problematic relationship with its AT&T rep led the company to Verizon. Blake said that company has handed out Windows Mobile devices -- "not because they're pretty or fun, they're horrible devices" -- but because they work perfectly with Microsoft Exchange. He continues to support employees who use their personal iPhones, but offers no BlackBerry support.

For VNUS, the company's new corporate owner is dictating a move from iPhones to BlackBerries, even though it's staying with AT&T. According to Miller, the key for mobile choices are "cost, functionality, supportability, and manageability."

Fighting To Break Free Of "Break-Fix"
The one thing all three organizations share is an aversion to tech support.

"We're not there to fix the printer. Our role is to pick the best printer so it doesn't break," explained the Benchmark Group's Blake.

That seemed to be everyone's goal. "We have a rule, if you spend more than one hour on a machine, it's re-imaged," said Miller at VNUS. "We don't want to get caught up in break fix" with repetitive ongoing issues. "That cost my predecessor his job," so we try to train staff to recognize problems and fix them the first time. That saves money and satisfies the user.

That may sound extreme, but working in an education environment, Battin takes it even further. In high-school environments where students tend beat on the machines, he explained, the rule is "after 15 minutes working on a machine, re-image it!"


Don't Miss: More Mid-Market Heroes


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