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Desktops, devices, and why you can't always get what you want

An IT drop-in session where a Lords was having a problem with his mobile device

The way we use computers has changed a lot over the last twelve years. Before smartphones and tablets, my team would have been called 'the desktop team' or 'desktop services'.

We'd have helped to choose the black boxes (or beige if you're old enough to remember) that sat under the monitor on your desk, where the spreadsheets and emails happened. We'd have got Windows or Mac software onto the computer, updated it, put security patches on it, and got your applications onto it.

Now, we’re called the device management team which is a fairly new one in Parliament. Our remit is to manage your work devices, whether they're desktops (still going strong), laptops, mobiles, or tablets. There's room for plenty more, but let's talk about that another time.

Supporting everyone from kitchen staff to doorkeepers

We lead on choosing this kit and configuring the operating systems on them. We're serving around 10,000 people across Parliament and in offices beyond Westminster. We try to accommodate most people's needs. Whether they work in the kitchens, as doorkeepers, as architects on the restoration and renewal programme, design teams, or clerks in the lobbies - we support everyone.

On top of this, we're responsible for almost all the applications staff use as they're installed and updated by us. If anything goes wrong in these processes, the device management team will fix it. So we're pretty busy.

The sheer number of great devices available has launched a phenomenon that the IT world calls 'Bring Your Own Device' (BYOD). Or as I fondly call it, 'Dear IT department, I want to use an iPad at work, and I'm an important manager, so make it happen. By Monday.'

So 'desktop' turned into 'devices', and the way IT departments had to manage these devices changed:

  • old world - we made all the decisions on your behalf, based on security and ease of maintenance
  • new world - we had to adapt to the fact that increasingly, our customers were telling us how they needed to work differently, and how the devices, and the stuff on these devices needed to help them do this.

“I can just go to PC World”

One of the questions I get asked a lot is:

Why are your computers so expensive when I can get a laptop from PC World for half the price?

The answer to this is around what we do with your machines. We wipe out the version of software it came with and put Parliament's licensed and modified version on. It's what we call ‘a build’. We do this to secure the device, make it legal, and optimise it for what we do here.

This process requires drivers, (software that translates requests to hardware) to be predictable. If a bit of hardware changes (the network card, for example), the drivers change, and our build will fail. Therefore, we need the hardware to remain exactly the same from day one of a device's life to its last day.

The machine from PC World won't have that as the manufacturer will swap components out when they get cheaper or more expensive. Enterprise hardware guarantees consistency, and this costs money.

On top of this, the devices you use at Parliament are likely to have better quality components than budget, consumer versions, and will often have security components that home devices lack. Add in the warranty that you probably don't buy at home, and this pushes the prices up. To offset this, we buy in volume so we get good discounts from our manufacturers. You wouldn't be able to buy the machines you get at work for the prices we get them for.

We want to speak to our users

Value for money is important in our device choices, as is making sure we meet as many of our users' requirements as possible. We offer standard and high specification versions of most of our kit, to support users that have a clear need for something more powerful.

We recognise that we need to do a better job of understanding what our users need, and where our offering falls short. We have plans to get out of PDS and talk to as many people from as wide selection of roles as possible.

As part of this work, please leave a comment below if you have any feedback for us, or let us know if you have any questions about what the device management team can do for you.

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