Exit from Windows opens up new Vista

Exit from Windows opens up new Vista

A software revamp meant choosing between the familiar and the uncharted.

When Komatsu's general manager of information technology, Ian Harvison, first joined the industrial vehicle manufacturer in December 2005, it would be fair to say he found a few problems that needed solving. "One thing that came out quite early was that the company didn't have a standard operating environment [SOE], and the computer fleet actually wasn't locked down as such," he recalls.

The lack of a standardised desktop fleet (which most large organisations have) meant staff were able to install their own software on their machines as they wished, leading to conflicts with the specialised business applications that Komatsu uses.

It was obvious to Harvison that the solution was to implement a standardised environment across Komatsu's roughly 1200 personal computers (of which about 65 per cent were laptops). Not only would this allow his technology support team to more rigorously control the company's assets, it would also stabilise the machines so that users would suffer fewer issues.

There was only one decision to be made, but it was a big one: which of Microsoft's operating systems to choose for the new environment?

In one corner was the safe option: Windows XP, Microsoft's stable system, first released in 2001 and tweaked extensively since. It could be rolled out with the familiar Office 2003 suite and everyone would feel right at home. XP is the system most Australian businesses use.

On the other hand, Microsoft had just taken the wrapping off Windows Vista and its companion, Office 2007. But both were still relative unknowns, thus far shunned by corporate Australia; and Office 2007 in particular was bound to confuse users with its radical new look. On the other hand, rolling out Vista would mean future-proofing Komatsu's investment.

Harvison eventually went against conventional wisdom and opted for Vista and Office 2007. The reason? In a nutshell: convenience and taking the medium-term view.

"If we went with XP, we knew that within a three-year window we would have to go back to the business and revisit the whole SOE and lock it down again," he says, pointing out that XP would be obsolete within a few years.

Moving to Vista also offered benefits for Komatsu that XP couldn't, he says. Vista's offline folder synchronisation capabilities were particularly desirable, as they would allow staff documents to be more easily backed up and restored if their laptops were lost or stolen.

Komatsu is midway through its Vista migration. Harvison says that in line with the "PRINCE2" project management methodology, the firm has appointed a project board to oversee the initiative. The company has undergone an extensive testing process to identify the applications that will have issues with Vista.

For the moment, Komatsu is sticking with the original version of Vista, though Microsoft has already released its first major update (dubbed a "service pack").

Harvison says Service Pack 1 won't become standard at Komatsu until it's been tested extensively, as demanded by the company's use of Information Technology Infrastructure Library, a technology management methodology.

Some software, mainly applications built by Komatsu for use with its vehicles, won't play nicely with Vista, so the company plans to segregate those into virtual environments to keep them running safely.

Harvison's team has rolled out Vista to a pilot group of about 70 employees and is evaluating their experiences before wider deployment.

When asked what advice he would pass on to other IT managers and chief information officers conducting similar Vista migrations, Harvison says it is critically important to get the partners on board with the project from the start, and make sure they have the capacity to deliver their promises.

In Komatsu's case, this meant involving and engaging Microsoft in the process "from day one". "We've been pleased with the resourcing that has been put into it from a partnering perspective," he says.

Another key player was Dell, as Harvison had decided to refresh the PC and laptop hardware in its fleet to coincide with the SOE rollout.

Vista does require a higher level of computer power than XP; but Harvison says the replacement program, under which Komatsu is leasing all its hardware from Dell, was also planned to make the Vista rollout easier.

After working with Komatsu and Microsoft to generate a standard installation, Dell simply installs Komatsu's SOE onto PCs after it makes them in its factory in Penang, Malaysia. When the machines arrive at Komatsu, the company can undertake any further software customisation needed before issuing them to staff.

"The whole idea of working with Dell is to reduce our lead time for providing the equipment to the business, but also moving to a standard image is improving the stability of the fleet," Harvison says. "We don't have to go to a site and worry about what model they have, what memory we might need to ship or what hard-drive capacity they have. Everything is standard across the organisation."

Komatsu uses only three of Dell's models, all geared to running Vista. Dell also provides service desk services to Komatsu.

One potential sleeper issue tackled head-on by Komatsu in the Vista rollout was training. Both Vista and Office 2007 look different to earlier versions of Microsoft's software. Harvison says Komatsu has bought a suite of web-based training services for its staff.

"As people are identified to receive their new Vista machine, they're sent a log-in for the training," he says.

Harvison suggests large organisations need to have a genuine reason to spend the money to move to Vista and Office 2007, not just a desire to get ahead of the curve.

"Organisations need a catalyst to actually make the change," he says. "For us it was the fact that we didn't have an SOE and we didn't have a more rigorous environment as far as the fleet was concerned."

Fairfax Business Media

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