Last week, PC
giant Dell signed a massive four-year contract
with UBS to replace and manage its desktop and laptop
computers. That adds up to installation, helpdesk, hardware support, and asset
management for 30,000 machines around the world. UBS is also using the deal to
migrate to the Microsoft Windows XP operating system. The operation will be
complete in a few months. “Dell won the contract because of the global
availability of its products, the exceptional price/performance ratio, and its
managed-services offerings,” explained Scott Abbey, chief technology
officer at UBS. “By standardizing the PC infrastructure worldwide, we can
achieve a substantial cost reduction.” So it seems like a good time to
assess what can be gained from the well-managed desktop.

Outsourcing desktop
management is not new in financial services, and global deals like that between
UBS and Dell are signs of a mature marketplace. However, the drivers behind
desktop management have ramped up in recent years, particularly given the
plethora of mobile computers and devices with which the IT department now has
to cope.

The task is simple
enough: to know what PCs are where and
to manage them effectively and efficiently. But a simple task rapidly becomes
intractable when it scales to tens of thousands of items. Perhaps this is why
Dell is replacing UBS’s desktop computers wholesale: It is the only way of
getting to grips with the problem.

What tends to happen is that the IT department
loses control of the desktop. If, in days gone by, tight control could be kept
on inventory by centralizing the purchasing of PCs, this has tended to
fragment. PCs have dropped in price, moving them into the price range in which
departments can authorize their purchase independently. Also, many companies do
not track assets worth less than £1000 (approximately $1,800)—an oversight for
so key an asset. And as firms undergo rounds of mergers and acquisitions, the
desktop becomes a heterogeneous mix of hardware manufacturers and software

Bad desktop management: Where does the money go?

Generally speaking,
the mess becomes an issue not in an effort to tidy up inventory
in itself, but because the insurance, disaster recovery, license liabilities,
and upgrade costs of managing such a complex desktop infrastructure frightens
senior management. And these costs are serious. Research routinely shows that a
PC can cost up to 25 times its purchasing price over a five-year period,
particularly when calls to help desks escalate due to bad desktop management.
An average call querying the desktop lasts 17 minutes, of which nine are spent
simply identifying hardware and software.

Also adding to the
potential expense of bad desktop management, software vendors have moved onto
the warpath in recent months in terms of enforcing compliance when it comes to licenses;
substantial fines have even been levied. Disaster recovery is also an issue,
particularly when a functioning army of laptops is central to business
continuity plans.

The worst thing is
when users have free
reign over what they do with their PCs
. Extra-curricula software
installations can be ruinous to system upgrades, as well as leading to
additional training and support. It may also render any leases void, as it counts
as tampering with an asset the company does not own. Centrally-managed file
protection systems help lock PCs down—as well as prevent the erroneous deletion
of files—and reinstall files automatically when problems occur, which reduces
help desk calls.

Desktop management
have greatly improved the ease with which large numbers of corporate
machines can be managed. However, the last piece to consider is the users of
the desktop itself. People become very attached to their machines and their bad
habits. Which perhaps suggests another reason why Dell is replacing UBS’s PCs:
giving the people a new gizmo may be the only way of weaning them off bad