Does every midmarket staff member need a PC?

One of the unspoken assumptions I see played out again and again when working with midmarket companies is that each and every staff member needs his/her own PC to access business, personal productivity and Web-based applications. So, regardless of the staff member's role or need for local computing capabilities, the person is supplied a PC. Is this really a requirement in today's market? The quick answer is no.

Let's look at different approaches midmarket companies could use to provide staff members with computing services. The first step is considering what tools each class of staff member really needs to do his or her job. Only a few really need a traditional PC. The classes we'll examine are developer, knowledge worker and task-oriented worker. While these categories are very broad, they can be useful for a quick evaluation of need. Let's look at each category and their requirements.

Developer

The developer category includes a number of different disciplines including business and IT analysts; staff that develop computer code; staff that tests systems to make sure that they meet business requirements; and some technical writers. This category of staff:

  • Gathers information about business requirements
  • Matches the capabilities and features of available, off-the-shelf technology to those requirements
  • Determines if something must be developed to address the organization's business needs
  • Develops custom code to address those requirements
  • Tests the systems to make sure that they work as expected and if they will integrate will with currently running systems
  • Documents how the new code works
  • Develops training so that other staff members can use newly developed tools

Some of these functions require the highest performance systems currently available — the needs of this group is best served by providing them with PCs. Others, such as those documenting the newly created tools and training others, could be well served using other approaches to accessing computing tools. We'll consider those people along with others in the knowledge worker category.

Knowledge Worker

This category, as with the developer category, includes a number of different disciplines. The only common factor is that all of them understand how to use computers and use that knowledge to gather business information, analyze that information, present their analysis to others and take part in the decision-making process. They need access to computing solutions, but may not actually require a high performance system sitting on their desk.

Another common factor is that staff in this category often have to travel to other departments, other facilities or to customers' sites as part of their work. In the past, this meant taking along powerful, high performance portable computers.

This category typically includes managers, skilled professionals (Doctors, Attorneys, and the like), and others who need access to a great deal of data, have the need to sift through that data and turn it into useful information and then either use that data to help customers or define processes for others to follow to help those customers.

Task Oriented Worker

The task oriented worker is responsible for specific tasks. These individuals often find computing systems to be a needed, but disliked burden. While they use data and systems developed for them, they're more interested in getting their work done than examining how the computer works or how it helps them accomplish their goals.

Making the right choice

Each of the staff members in these categories have differing needs for system performance, ability to manage their own systems, and custom productivity applications that help them accomplish their goals. Depending upon the regulations in place for the market their company serves, there may be other requirements for security, data protection, data access, etc. that would help define the best approach for them.

Let's examine the current computing choices:

Those needing their own PC

Those needing the highest computational performance, the fastest graphics processing, and what they do requires access to medium to large amounts of personal storage are likely to be best served by having their own system. Their needs may even extend to needing more than one system or one system supporting several virtual desktops.

Those needing access to computing, but not their own PC

There are several approaches to providing computing to those who just need access to computing, but don't need the power, the performance or the ability to customize their own computing environment for maximum levels of productivity. Their needs can be addressed by accessing systems running in the data center or out in the clouds.

How to decide

Midmarket decision makers are now facing a number of different approaches to providing staff members with the computing tools needed. This includes giving them PCs, giving them thin client systems to access computing in the data center, giving them lightly configured PCs to access Web-based and cloud computing applications or giving them devices such as netbooks or tablets. This revertible smorgasbord can be too challenging for some busy decision makers. After all, all of these approaches work for some staff members, some of the time. None of them is obviously a bad choice.

If a decision maker is confused, it would be wise to seek out the help and support of partners or suppliers. With their help, it should be possible to select the right tools for the right people at the right time. It also means spending only as much as actually needed for each class of staff members. Remember one size clearly doesn't fit all.

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This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.


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