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Doing Windows differently

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Photo of the letters O and S to suggest operating system
Licence: Creative Commons Attribution Claudio Schwartz

My name is Craig Birtles and I am the Windows Lifecycle Coordinator at Parliament. Essentially, my role is to design the user experience of our Windows laptops and desktops with a view to making technology as easy to use at work as it is at home. 

My team, Device Management, is responsible for looking after devices such as desktops, laptops, mobiles, and tablets. We support around 10,000 users at Westminster and in MPs’ constituencies. 

We also manage the operating systems (OS) that control interactions with these devices. These systems carry out everything essential to make your computer work, from the display, mouse and keyboards, to loading software and controlling hard drives. As Parliament largely works on PCs, most of us use Windows.

What do we do that’s different?

Since 2015 Microsoft has changed the way Windows is updated and improved. They’ve fallen into line with Apple and other manufacturers to release smaller changes every six months rather than one huge update every four or five years.

This new approach is called 'Windows as a service'. Where they used to release a version of Windows every few years with a name, such as XP, Vista, 8.1, now the idea is that Windows 10 is the last major version of Windows, with minor updates twice a year.

Challenges with updating operating systems 

In the past, updating an operating system for an organisation the size of ours would demand a large scale project and substantial team to minimise disruption.

Things can break when you update to a new OS. Software may no longer be compatible. Computers may be too old to handle the latest software.

In Parliament we have many bespoke applications, which have been developed to support our work, some of which can be niche. This includes software to help tally the vote count and record and publish the business of both Houses.

We also have a wide variety of hardware devices from different manufacturers. Devices tend to vary in how they need to be updated, which can lead to a complicated situation to manage.

Now all our users are going to get Windows updates more often. We feel confident that having a more secure, up-to-date version of Windows that has faster access to new features will outweigh the inconvenience of running an upgrade during lunch hour once a year.

Why have we committed to this approach? 

There are many excellent reasons to keep in step with Microsoft for these updates:

  • Newer features sooner: Each version of Windows contains new developments to help people work more efficiently. Recent developments include optimisations for speed and battery life and the ability to copy multiple items to the clipboard at once.
  • Security: The longer an OS is in use the more time that hackers have to discover its weaknesses. Keeping up to date with feature and security updates means that we help keep safe the valuable data held by Parliament.
  • Keeping in line with the industry: Eventually all PC users will have to keep in step with this model. It means that we’ll be exposed to less risk in terms of legacy applications falling out of support, as companies recognise the need to build and update applications to fit Windows as a service.
  • Keeping our devices up to date so they can handle business critical work: We are aiming for a four to five-year lifecycle on all equipment throughout Parliament to ensure that all our devices are recent enough to take the latest OS.

Managing change   

We’ve just finished a massive project to get every user on to Windows 10. From now on we’ll be managing this with a Lifecycle Coordinator embedded into each of the operational teams which manage the hardware, applications and devices we use. 

Coordinators will work cross-functionally, employing a mix of technical knowledge with project and communications approaches to manage the change across Parliament. 

We’ll also be working extensively with Microsoft and their new App Assure policy. Microsoft has pledged to help all organisations fix any issues with software, macros and drivers which may crop up as a result of updating Windows 10.

Like to know more?  

More information on Windows as a service.

If you’d like to know more about the way we’re managing Windows lifecycle here in PDS then please email us.

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