By Mike Jager
June 30, 2011
Expenses associated with running hundreds or thousands of PCs in a business environment unfortunately do not stop after they are deployed. Not only does the hardware need to be maintained, but also the software running on the system needs to be regularly updated. Finding the time to install and upgrade individual applications on all existing PCs, especially in light of the release of Windows 7, may not be possible for many businesses. Following through with such a task may take up more time than a company’s IT Department has to offer. Adding to this challenge is the need to have different sets of applications for separate groups or departments. With this said, it becomes most effective to find a methodology for automated application deployment in a safe manner regardless of the number of PCs and supported applications.
Before coming up with a packaging methodology, you have to ask yourself a few important questions. How many applications does your IT department install either on a one-off basis or scheduled deployments/upgrades? Will your IT department be disciplined enough to ensure the staff assigned to packaging maintain that role full time indefinitely? Does your company have the manpower and resources to package these apps on its own? Once these questions have been answered, consider the following two options; building an internal packaging ninja team or working with a third party professional packaging organization. Before you make a decision as to which is best suited for your business, it is important to evaluate which option is more cost effective by knowing if your company will need more than one option, and if staff will be tasked with this role on a temporary or permanent basis. Typically speaking, partnering with an outsourced professional packaging organization will save you time and money while also reducing the inherent risks in the world of application packaging.
Application packaging is the bundling of installation media files into an industry standard MSI format deployable medium, which makes for an easy installation on any user’s PC. With application packaging, it becomes easy to improve consistency, and standardize deployment processes quicker than ever before. It is also important to note that while some applications do not lend themselves to being packaged the vast majority of today’s applications (both COTS & proprietary) can be packaged successfully.
One key benefit of outsourcing includes not adding the packaging process on the plate of existing IT staff, enabling them to maintain focus on current business. Another added benefit is not having the responsibility of covering internal costs, such as the expensive toolset, hardware requirements and significant startup training. That does not even include salaries and benefits of the dedicated packaging IT staff hired to carry out the process internally. With the ability to quickly install packaged applications on multiple PCs in multiple locations, businesses will also save on administration costs, as well as minimize the burden of support thanks to clean, safe, error-free packages.
As with all skills, those used on an infrequent basis are forgotten at an accelerated rate. This is typically the first and foremost pitfall for organizations that attempt to package applications internally. When packaging becomes a secondary activity for non-dedicated IT staff, human error will occur, especially without the proper toolsets. For best, and more importantly, safe packages, the resources selected within the department should be dedicated full time to the art of packaging. Yes, packaging is most certainly an art, as any successfully packager will agree. Consider this, if one bad package by an internal part-time packager is deployed to 1000 machines, it would potentially create 1000 new problems. When crunching numbers for the ROI of successful packaging, damage control costs for unsuccessful attempts must also be calculated.
A second common pitfall for organizations attempting to create a packaging process internally is the “One Man Army” approach. Typically speaking there needs to be a team of at least four FTEs for safe and successful packaging, with the first being the actual packager, clearly a given. Following the packager is a tester, a critical role that ensures there are no bad packages or conflicts. Next up on your team would be a quality assurance manager responsible for ensuring nothing was missed during testing and that the final packaged application meets the requirements set forth during initial discovery of “how should this package function.” Your final member would be the packaging team manager, whose obvious responsibility is to ensure the team’s creation and release management process is followed for all packages.
Alternatively, by utilizing an outsourced, full-time professional packaging organization, you are ensuring a higher first pass success rate and improved end-user experience due to guaranteed error-free clean packages created by subject matter experts. Along with reduced risk and costs, common IT tasks such as upgrading to a new operating system such as Windows 7 or simply upgrading applications can be done with minimal disruption to staff workloads, with a scalable resource model for large or small requirements.
It is not hard to see how partnering with an outside full-time packaging organization can not only improve a business’s practices but also realize a significant ROI in a much shorter timeframe compared with implementing an internal packaging team. While IT departments should be applauded for always first looking internally, at the end of the day if your company has discovered a way to implement an application packaging process that reduces its overall costs, provides a quick and secure way to upgrade critical systems and improves the end-user experience, then you have succeeded in making a positive difference toward improving its structure.
Mike Jager is the global technical services manager for Verismic. He manages technical deployment teams in four countries including the U.S., France, Germany and the U.K. He has 13 years of experience in delivering IT services to Fortune 500 clients. He can be reached at www.verismic.com.