Softchoice study finds major flaws in PC maintenance

One of Canada’s largest resellers has spent the last two years studying its customers’ PC environment, only to discover that more than half of them violate their own OS deployment policies.

The results of the survey, which Toronto-based Softchoice Corp. conducted with 200 organizations across Canada and the United States, showed major problems around security, asset management and product lifecycles. Almost a quarter of the participating customers had not deployed major operating system service packs, 49 per cent had moderate to severe malware infestations and one in 16 were missing anti-virus software entirely.

Dean Williams, the services consultant who authored a report on the Softchoice data, said the statistics indicated a major gap between what enterprises said they are doing to manage their PCs and what actually goes on.

“The breakdown isn’t in creating a policy or communicating its importance, but the focus isn’t there on making sure that people are adhering to it,” he said. “In a sense, it is a resource issue in that the resources that would carry out governance are being diverted elsewhere.”

Williams said a major part of the security problems could be traced to a tendency among customers to hang onto their hardware as long as possible. Although 63 per cent of those studied said they had set up a lifecycle for PCs – where desktops would be replaced, say, every four years – 39 per cent of the hardware assets inventoried were past their intended “retirement” date.

“It’s very much a forest-for-the-trees issue. It is cheaper to keep a PC longer and get more life out of it,” Williams explained. “That approach becomes fairly short-sighted when you realize that the cost of supporting and maintaining these systems starts to increase after 42 months. The value of the capital had depreciated, but it ended up costing more to secure and manage them.”

Softchoice services group manager Edwin Jansen said the company conducted its research through consultation with individual customers about their policies, then analyzed each firm’s inventory data to compare it with those policies.

“We often found it was a surprise to customers to learn how many of their PCs were older than they thought,” he said. “They were not tracking that. It becomes especially hairy when you have PCs on lease and they have to be returned on an exact date set out in a contract or face a penalty.”

Williams said asset management tends to be a cyclical issue in IT departments, and that the forthcoming launch of Windows Vista may encourage corporations to examine their inventory more closely.

“Organizations tend to implement (asset management) at a unilateral level, but the best advice is to make a big effort in deciding what really requires management,” he said. “They should highlight where people are falling down.”

Softchoice said the customers included in the study had an average of 460 PCs and were based in a range of vertical markets, including health care, insurance and manufacturing.

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