IT managers fall into one of two camps: those who have solid PC standards, which can be applied consistently for all new computer acquisitions, and those who don’t. If you’re endeavoring to promote global standards across your enterprise, but have lacked the time or organization to formalize your needs with respect to PC standards, this article will help you simplify the standardization process.

Why standardize?
In a nutshell, the overall purpose of PC standardization is to save money and improve services to clients. But just exactly how will standardizing PCs achieve these two objectives? Let’s examine these two goals individually.

Cost savings
Saving money, via PC standardization, can be realized in the following ways:

  • Reduced complexity: Having few system types to manage can greatly simplify one’s PC environment. When a problem is encountered or resolved with one PC type, the lessons learned and knowledge gained are easily transferred to other similar systems. When an organization has too many PC types, the lessons learned on one platform may not be transferable to another. By having fewer desktop and laptop models, problem-solving successes can be repeated throughout the organization.
  • Reduced testing: As operating systems and applications are deployed, such as Windows XP and Office XP, having fewer PC models translates into fewer drivers to test and fewer systems to “certify” corporately.
  • Reduced imaging: For organizations that prefer to deploy operating systems and applications automatically, such as through SMS or ZENworks, having fewer PC types directly correlates to having fewer PC images to manage. Over time, as service packs are released, having fewer images to update and manage can save a significant amount of time and effort.
  • Better budgeting: Once a small list of PC standards is defined, priced, and multiplied by the number of clients that would qualify for each type of PC, organizations have a much more accurate capital budget. This simplifies the budgeting exercise for yearly and project-based budgets. By having a more accurate budget, funds can be (re)prioritized accordingly, which may ultimately result in moneys being available for more discretionary purchases.
  • Economies of scale: Through volume purchases either for entire systems or for sub-components, you can derive better pricing for the entire organization. For example, if you managed to select one desktop for all clients, and third-party RAM prices were cheaper than those of the manufacturer, it would make sense to bulk-purchase all the necessary RAM at one time and negotiate better pricing.

Improved customer service
Saving money isn’t the only benefit of PC standardization. Improved service is more of an intangible, but definitely worth noting.

  • Demystified procurement: When purchasing PCs, having a short list of computers to choose from, combined with simple criteria for matching PCs to clients, can go a long way to streamlining the procurement process. Some organizations may even elect to have clients match their own computing profiles to available PC choices and operate in a relatively self-service environment. Regardless of the method, both clients and IT staff will find it much quicker when there are fewer options to have to choose from.
  • Improved turnaround: When an individual requests a new computer, if you have a certified PC systems list and the associated costs for each system type already calculated, the time required to order and obtain product(s) can be significantly reduced.
  • Improved professionalism: I’ve often wondered why so much effort is expended every time a “standard” PC is purchased. By adopting and adhering to formal standards, you can present a more professional image to clients. It also frees up IT staff from doing mundane things, and allows them to focus on value-add services to the organization.

How to standardize
Standardization is most effective when PCs can be configured according to specific criteria and clients, categorized according to stated criteria. I’m a firm believer in simplicity. For desktops and laptops, it makes sense to split each platform into two categories: base and enhanced. If you don’t like labels, choose something more appropriate for your organization. Table A shows an example of what I mean.

Table A
  Enhanced Basic
Desktop Option A       Option B
Laptop Option A       Option B
Ultra-portable      Option C        

With these two categories in mind, develop specifications for each platform. Two factors that should be considered relate to mobility and modularity.

  • Mobility: Most, if not all, mobile clients will have only a laptop to service their mobile and stationary (office) needs. This means that the laptop needs to be of sufficient horsepower for daily use, and should be, ideally, the same processing power as a regular desktop computer.
  • Modularity: Give thought as to how parts can be swapped between systems for performance and service requirements. For example, by choosing PCs for both enhanced and base levels that have the same bus speed, memory sticks or other components may be interchanged as needed.

When evaluating processors for desktops and laptops, given the anticipated life of each PC, I recommend only Pentium 4 class processors be purchased, unless an exception is made for a specific reason.

When deciding between the various models offered, focus on the model lines that are business-oriented verses consumer-oriented. Dell, HP, and IBM all offer business lines that are better certified for the Windows operating system. Also, they change less frequently (18 months vs. 6 months) and “imaging” options are available as well, which could streamline PC deployments.