Three ways the public sector can minimize remote workforce PC refresh headaches
As the COVID-19 pandemic appears likely to stretch well into 2021, IT departments across the public sector are facing a new challenge: how to manage PC/OS upgrades and migrations for remote employees. With a remarkable 74% of public sector employees working remotely – and a majority of them hoping it will stay that way – IT departments will need to manage complex hybrid workplaces in order for employees to remain productive.
In a hybrid workplace model, employees need a consistent computing experience regardless of where they are logging in from. For IT teams responsible for providing the PCs and applications that government employees need to do their jobs, the likely long-term shift to remote or telework on a large scale presents some unique challenges.
In this more complex environment, IT departments will have significantly more employee workspaces to set up, more or less equally divided between remote and office locations. For organizations with two- or three-year lease cycles on computing devices, a 2x increase in the number of upgrades is likely to consume many cycles. To reduce the number of PCs, organizations may opt to outfit their employees with mobile PCs. These require more up-front investment and shorter refresh cycles compared to desktop PCs but may be a more cost-effective option in the long run.
Compounding the problem is the fact that many application and data migrations are performed manually, a very time intensive process. And complex migrations from one device to the next involve much more than just copying files to cloud storage or external hard drives and dragging them over to a new machine. There are many specialized applications and PC settings crucial to an employee’s role that need attention. In some cases, an IT professional may need to coordinate with the employee to gain access to their system, change and update passwords, and resolve any issues that may have arisen. The cost is more than just the hours invested by the IT staff – end user downtime may be the costliest factor of all.
For many larger public sector organizations, the go-to tool for setting up remote workers and handling hardware replacements from lease rotations has been Microsoft’s User State Migration Tool (USMT). However, it depends heavily on custom XML scripts that must be developed and maintained and falls well short in certain functionality that is critical for remote migration scenarios. As one global professional and financial services firm discovered, USMT fails to deliver the quick and easy experience needed to support thousands upon thousands of migrations. In this case, the firm developed an internal tool customized to fit its processes based on USMT. While this tool allowed users to complete migrations, the process itself was long and tedious, taking at least 20 minutes of set-up before the process could even begin. They found the end result also lacked the accuracy needed, having missed important elements of the PC that needed to be transferred, and they eventually abandoned USMT altogether.
Similarly, a local government agency in Australia found USMT to be highly technical and time consuming for its IT staff to manage and maintain. Migrations involved a labor-intensive process of customizing scripts, building PCs and migrating user information, data and applications. A recent move to Windows 10 was a particular challenge, consuming 25% of IT staff’s weekly time for an extended period.
USMT falls short in part because the list of what it does not migrate is nearly as long as what it does. A particular stumbling point is the complete lack of support for the migration of applications themselves, even though it sometimes migrates application settings for certain apps. A variety of settings such as printers, hardware settings, and permissions also are not supported. It also lacks support for migration between different language versions of Windows. Overall, the USMT process also does not translate well into a remote migration scenario.
A new approach to managing PC migrations is needed in the remote work era. Remote employees need simple migration steps and the process should be as automated as possible – even to the point of zero touch. In this scenario, an employee kicks off a migration to a new or replacement PC with a few simple clicks and the rest of the process is automated with minimal oversight by an also remote IT department. A simple and streamlined process like this reduces the need for employees to call into a help desk or submit a support ticket to IT. To move in this direction, IT teams require more automation and control over the migration process than what USMT provides and excluding labor-intensive scripting and testing.
Here are three recommendations for IT teams to consider when deploying automated solutions for remote PC/OS migrations.
- Look for an automated tool that can move everything: applications, data, and settings, including user accounts, application environments, application add-ons, background pictures, favorites, and more.
- Each PC and user is different and requires different migration procedures. To accommodate these variations, IT departments must have enough flexibility in their PC migration tool to support a wide range of unique use cases.
- Implement a policy-based tool that allows IT administrators to pre-check a variety of choices within the program to create a predefined experience that can be executed by an end-user or an IT administrator with minimal interaction. The “experienced” user might require a full range of options, but most users are better off with a no-touch or light-touch migration to drive down human error. A policy-based approach reduces complexity compared to developing intricate custom XML scripts, while providing the necessary flexibility.
It seems likely that remote work is not only here to stay across the public sector but will likely introduce the concept of much more complex hybrid workspaces, even after the COVID-19 pandemic is finally in the rear-view mirror. To successfully support this model, public sector IT organizations must find ways and tools to automate and streamline processes while minimizing hands-on IT involvement in setting up and migrating PCs.
Thomas Koll is CEO of Laplink Software, the global leader in PC migration and creator of PCmover, the only software of its kind recommended by Microsoft, Intel and all major PC manufacturers. He can be reached at [email protected].