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The Changing Cubicle

October 11, 2010

Occasionally I like to peruse the business whitepapers to see how business views the world of technology.  I have a rule that I teach (one, that I’ll happily admit that Lynn conceptualized first) that says: If the industry is writing whitepapers about it, then you’re too late to win in transition.  Sometimes, though, you have to see what they’re actually writing.  Witness the Register today.  They have a free whitepaper out about the changing face of branch offices.

All consolidation initiatives start off with the goal of saving money, and whilst few organisations possess accurate figures on the true cost of supporting IT operations in remote locations, many are aware there are real savings to be made. A primary indicator of this is that today, few remote offices / branch offices contain skilled IT support staff on site. With no-one available to help users locally or to carry out routine maintenance procedures, the onus has shifted attention to remote management of systems. And as everyone knows, it is usually the systems operated by end users that require most hands-on support, namely desktops and laptops.

In the “old” days, the broken PC was always fixed by a roving IT person.  Or better, it was fixed by the local expert.  I was one of two for a few years, since I was the software demo guy and I knew the OS and apps inside-out.  All I had to do was figure out where IT kept the software on the network, and we had most problems fixed before we needed to call.  The claim is that these days you can fix all these problems remotely, but there’s still usually a call for a local “PC shamen” to fix problems. (Remind me to talk to you about my shamen theory of technology some day… too long right now.)

Today with the mobile workforce, many people can’t get to a local expert to physically fix the system.  The general solution in the case of smaller devices (i.e. smartphones) is to kill the device and have them go get a new one.  When you get to a more costly PC, I’ve actually seen our IT department overnight a laptop out to a remote location and have the person do a hard drive swap.  This works to a varying degree of success, the variance mostly being whether the person can actually locate the disk, unscrew the cover, and not break anything in the transfer.

This, if anything, makes me worry a bit for the future of the PC.  If there’s a continued need to do major repairs on occasion, but no “mechanic” to do the job, then the IT roads could have an awful lot of dead PC’s on the side.  That would push prices down significantly, and likely makes the PC compete with the cell phone head-to-head.  I still have faith that most of these problems can be fixed, but it’s certainly something I expect to see as a focus by many companies in the near future.

In the mean time, I can still occasionally cage a beer off of some friends when their PC is down for the count.  At least for some of us, that makes for a good result.

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