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.
Written by Paul Murphy, Contributor

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 direction are:


  • 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.

[Editor's note: Although Paul Murphy is offline until August 7, he filed a series of chapter summaries for a book in progress on Sun Rays and the Smart Display Architecture.]

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