When considering desktop outsourcing options, think about the future

* Would desktop outsourcing work if you've outsourced your data center?

IBM Global Services signed another customer to its "Workplace On Demand" service this month, but enterprises should ask themselves some hard questions before they catch the wave of desktop administration outsourcing.

Mobile communications giant Nokia this month signed an IT services agreement under which IBM Global Services will run its IT help desk operations as well as manage and develop Nokia's desktop IT environment to implement next-generation technologies. 

The IT services agreement is valued at approximately 200 million Euros over a five-year period. As part of the agreement, IBM Global Services will absorb some 430 Nokia IT staffers in 36 countries. The services under the agreement will be delivered in 57 countries.

Nokia is one of several large companies that have signed on to IBM's Workplace On Demand service, which enables companies to outsource the administration of local systems, including PCs, printers, and even copiers and fax machines. IBM says that it can cut enterprise maintenance costs by as much as 30% by handling the acquisition, deployment and management of desktop systems for its customers. And because users of Workplace On Demand pay only for the services they use each month, the IBM service might be less expensive than previous desktop outsourcing offerings, IBM suggests.

As Nokia discovered, the notion of outsourcing local office systems - the things that every employee needs but none has the time or training needed to repair - is highly alluring. Each month, corporations lose hundreds of hours of productivity to PCs that won't boot, fax machines that won't send, and copiers that won't copy. Such systems would seem to be peripheral to most enterprises' core objectives and competencies, and excellent candidates for outsourcing.

Before making the leap to Workplace On Demand or other desktop outsourcing options, however, IT organizations should give some serious thought to their future plans and strategies. Desktop administration is at the core of several key IT trends and emerging technologies that may play a central role in future enterprise management architectures.

User identity management is a prime example. As enterprise directory technology evolves, it is clear that many organizations are looking for a common method to store data about users and the IT assets they employ. In the future, enterprises will increasingly use directories to store and share information about users' responsibilities and privileges, assets, and online behavior. This data will be part of a broader enterprise asset management strategy that includes desktop systems, servers and other infrastructure. If the enterprise is moving in this direction, it may want to think twice before it outsources the desktop administration function.

Similarly, there is an emerging movement toward "enterprise provisioning" that will also encompass desktop administration. In the future, many enterprises will automate the process of deploying IT technology to end users, enabling users to quickly gain access to all the assets and data they need. But provisioning will require knowledge about users' assets and behavior - and that knowledge may be difficult to acquire if it is collected and stored by a third-party outsourcing firm.

The availability of new outsourcing services is good news for desktop administrators, particularly in companies that have no strong enterprise management architecture in place. For enterprises that are considering broader, more comprehensive IT management strategies, however, desktop outsourcing could present problems. At the very least, all enterprises should ensure that their desktop outsourcing providers can easily integrate their systems with those of the data center - otherwise, they could end up with two sets of management problems, instead of just one.

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