User management view
From a user management perspective an IT initiative to implement
thin clients in your area is a threat, but it's usually smarter to respond to
this positively in hopes of pushing IT in the smart display direction
than to fight it. There are two main reasons for this:
- If this is being done for SOX compliance or other reasons, like cash savings in IT (typically supported
by Finance), you're likely to lose and whether that happens in the first go-round or the
twenty-third doesn't matter: you don't want to be pigeon holed as the loser who opposed change; and,
- if you welcome the change, you get to build working relationships
with the people involved and thus gain at least the opportunity to both direct the process
and start the control shift heading your way instead of IT's way.
What you need to remember throughout all this is first that smart display is not about technology, it's about
who controls the technology and how that control is expressed - and second that working through the
process of explaining benefits to your subordinates is the best way to ensure that you
develop a deep understanding of what the benefits can be and how to realize them.
Start with one certainty:
there are real benefits to thin clients, and the stronger your
working relationships with IT, the better positioned you'll be to realize
on those benefit opportunities - there are situations, in other words, in
which you should initiate thin client discussions with your IT group.
Once serious discussions have started you will almost always, however, become the subject
of a counter campaign by PC people in your own organization who fancy themselves technology
experts and act as focal points and spokespeople for dissatisfaction. What they'll do more
than anything else is spread disinformation to colleagues who have every reason to believe
them and no independent sources of information.
I don't know what the right answer is or even if one exists, but three clear steps in the right
- set up, as early as possible in the process and preferably before
news of the initiative leaks out, a small Sun Ray server system with one screen
on your desk and several others in highly accessible places where people
can see and try them.
In your employee briefing on what's going on provide several anonymous accounts for
people to try the Sun Rays and provide frequent, public, updates on the state
of the process so no one is surprised as changes happen.
- have someone come in, preferably from outside your own organization and IT, to
provide both a demonstration and a discussion using your organization's mission critical
software - and then make the discussion materials available to your employees.
- Ensure that IT, with input from your people, creates and maintains a metrics website
with actual, current or very close to it, performance information; room for untraced
comment; and a request management area.
In particular you will want to make it clear to users that:
- the myths are myths: a Sun Ray is not a 327X terminal; access is not dead slow;
IT will not be monitoring every keystroke; the driver here is efficiency and software
access, not cost; they won't be doing Unix command line programming; departmental applications
like spreadsheets or Access databases will continue to work; a Sun Ray System is more
resilient than an MS client-server system; company policies on things like e-mail
monitoring will not change; whatever home or laptop use is currently supported will
continue (subject to security and data control issues); and so on.
- there are benefits in cost, reliability, data security; and freedom from
viruses and other attacks. In particular:
- optical networking (if applicable to you) protects against both random electrical fields (i.e. in
a steel plant) and purposefully generated electrical fields (i.e. for denial of service
or data theft purposes);
- spyware, viruses, and simple client software failures, simply go away as issues;
- server based files are almost always fully recoverable even if trashed by the software - meaning
that data or text re-entry due to PC hardware or software failure essentially goes away as an issue;
- server room backup power and related emergency systems and procedures are more effective
and designed to last longer than those used on the desktop. As a result minor outages
or brownouts will no longer produce the risk of work or data loss and users can rely on
the existence and execution of appropriate daily and weekly back-up procedures.
- "security" in the SOX sense becomes easier in that server based computing is easy to audit, subject to easily
defined and managed controls, and not at all subject to accidental data exposure
of the kind associated with laptop loss or theft.
Less obvious, but equally important, mid management drivers arise from cost and presence issues. Making things
easier and cheaper for users is important to user management, but the structure has
to make it clear that user management, not IT, is in charge of what the system does, for whom, and
when. This subsection, therefore, will look at the usual user management concerns and discuss
inteligent responses including:
- consider asking IT to site the servers in your area - at least during the transition- so people don't
lose the feeling of comfort that goes with having physical control of the processors;
- building internal support, but ensuring that it is relationship based - meaning that IT/Finance
cannot easily change the rules under which the service is delivered;
- in the (unlikely) event that one of the internal PC experts is open minded enough and capable enough
to support the role, start building a counter-balancing expertise inside your own group (otherwise, consider
biting the bullet and shifting the person, or persons, responsibility - potentially right out of the
organization - and bringing someone else in);
- if you use an enterprise wide application suite, like an ERP/SCP combination, start getting key users
into a position where they can be formally recognized as education team leaders - i.e. find a way to
pay them a bit more, send them to user conferences, ask them to set up advanced usage seminars for
co-workers, etc. Basically: build toward the replacement of the PC help desk with formal peer support.
Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration.
Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related