The Virtuous CIO  

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February 14, 2010 — I Really Want to Like Windows 7

Microsoft is in a bind. The biggest threat to their operating system monopoly is Windows XP. While the company struggled to attain critical mass with Windows Vista, it had to contend with an organized protest to its efforts to retire Windows XP. They were faced with marketing an underwhelming Windows release to a market which had determined Windows XP was good enough.

While Microsoft would never admit to delivering a less than stellar product, their actions in fixing the major complaints about Windows Vista, while baking enhanced reliability, performance and general user-friendliness into Windows 7 shows they got the message. They had a good launch and the uptake in the consumer market was very good. Much of the trade press has given positive reviews, along with plaudits and gushing from people who were conspicuously silent about Vista. Everyone is now watching to see if the business market will begin rapidly adopting Windows 7.

As I have mentioned previously, we have begun our upgrade cycle by setting up a team to begin assembling the pieces of a Windows 7 / Office 2010 migration. Migration may understate the magnitude of the task awaiting us. We will be rolling out a desktop and office suite environment fundamentally different from the Windows XP / Office XP our users are familiar with. We are trying to gauge what the exact impact will be.

Being the clever, leading edge thinker of a CIO that I am (please recognize the irony), I took delivery of a Dell Adamo notebook from our service desk. This is a very nice notebook, by the way. It has Windows 7 (64-bit) and Office 2007 installed. After spending time fighting with the notebook – I don’t like touchpads - I solved my ergonomic problems by using Remote Desktop to work with the machine. We could go on about what things don’t work in 64-bit Windows. Generally, though, I was able to gain some familiarity with the unfamiliar.

A few days ago, I created a 32-bit instance of Windows 7 in a VMWare Virtual Machine. This gave me a stable Windows 7 environment and I was able to return the notebook to the Service Desk for use by someone more able to appreciate it. Doing the installation myself gave me a better working knowledge of the OS and also encouraged me to tweak it to suit my working needs better – which is where we find the rub.

When Windows XP arrived upon the scene ten years ago, we tried it and pronounced it… not bad. I concluded Microsoft had finally delivered a desktop operating system with the stability to allow me to finally abandon OS/2 on my home machine (but that’s another story). I immediately configured the XP desktop to make it look as much like Windows NT as possible. Now Microsoft has introduced a new desktop with no capability to switch to what is lovingly known as Classic Mode. And with XP, I am stuck using a UI which dates back to 1995.

I have spent a couple of weeks of head-banging as I have explored the new OS and tried to find replacement ways to perform my normal tasks. I know I will ultimately have to go cold turkey and retire my very nice XP machine if I have any hope of learning this stuff. Okay, so my problem is not me – I’ll get through this somehow. But what about 2,000 employees, a majority of whom will face the same problem?

There is a simple answer, although a lot of hard work lies ahead. I have an IT Training Department in my organization. They will be tasked with getting our users over the hump and able to use the new software effectively. Several of my peers in the local CIO community have looked askance at my investment of people and dollars in a training group. This surprises me, based upon the results I have seen. Consider some of the value provided by this group:

1. Training reduces pressure on the Service Desk. We try to track the types of requests we get at the Service Desk and tailor the training sessions to attack the high volume service suckers. Over several years the costs of the training group have been more than offset by reduced costs at the service desk.

2. Training enhances employee productivity. If you just plop the new software on the desk of the users, they will figure out some way to get their job done. Usually a power user in a given department will devote a significant portion of the work day supporting the local users. This is a hidden cost, and corporate management is not really aware of it. Basic training in Windows and Office allows employees can do their jobs more easily and quickly when they are familiar and comfortable with the tools.

3. Training is an investment in employee development. Businesses which make this investment are absolutely casting their bread upon the water. It pays benefits in reduced turnover.

Don’t neglect training, either of the IT employees, or the rest of the workforce. This is where you earn your spurs as a CIO. This is one of the areas IT provides real value to the organization.