Why Are Large Companies So Slow at Migrating to Windows 7? (Part One)

Why are large organizations so slow at moving to the latest Windows Operating System (OS)? Most did not move to Vista and many are still on XP as the Microsoft deadline to migrate, or face prohibitively expensive custom support agreement, is getting dangerously close. Windows 7 is widely believed to be a significant upgrade over XP and most users have experienced it at home, so why hasn't IT upgraded the organization to it already?

We, at 1E, believe there are five major factors which prevent IT from staying current in terms of the Operating System, and many other technologies. I discuss each factor in a two-part article series and suggest potential alternatives. Our understanding comes from the work we have done with more than 1500 organizations over the last 15 years.

The first three factors are perceived risk of automation, disruptive additional effort and disproportional cost versus benefit.

1. Perceived Risk of Automation
When an individual PC is migrated by hand the IT technician will generally first discuss priorities with the user, then migrate the PC at an agreed time, reinstall the applications and data and finally fix any issues. Senior IT managers often consider this a low risk option as it has always been done this way. The IT technician is present to ensure the user gets what they need and will be on hand to fix issues. However, there is a major problem with this approach. It is prohibitively time consuming both for IT and the user, each often wasting half to a whole day. For an organization with 10,000 users, 10,000 days or more may be spent migrating to the new OS. Automation provides an alternative, especially if it enables the user to self-serve the new OS and applications, and we will discuss this in more detail later in this article. The perceived risk of automation, though, can seem insurmountable. What if thousands of PCs were systematically rendered inoperable and basic organizational operations stop?

Automation risks are of course always present as a systematic error affects many or all machines. Consider though, this type of error and its prevention are a well understood science. Data from systems management solutions can be used to check the variances in configuration across the PC estate, simple logic can be built to check for known/unknown configurations, backups can be performed before changes implemented, least disruptive methods chosen, and remedial actions automated. This is all before a change management process is implemented to ensure the automation itself is tested and a rollout strategy is devised to minimize risk.

I contend that there is greater risk with manual migration, as each PC is in effect a custom job, where the idiosyncrasies of every technician result in different outcomes. The failure rate is high but distributed and varied, and it is particularly difficult to get a holistic view of the project or user satisfaction. The resultant Windows machine is not in a better position to be migrated again or rebuilt (for troubleshooting) and thus the cycle repeats itself.

2. Disruptive Additional Effort
Ask any IT team and they will tell you that they are maxed out with projects. A few years ago research published by MIT Sloan stated that an organization with 10,000 people has on average 300 concurrent IT projects at any given time. They certainly do not have time for a 10,000 day project.

There is also the matter of business priority. The business wants new IT systems which make it grow faster or reduce costs. Operating systems upgrades do not easily fit in either category, whatever Microsoft may tell you. Consequently, when IT has spare capacity, the project which wins is generally a business solution.

Our experience tells us that unless OS migration can be a Business As Usual (BAU) activity, it will generally be deprioritized and the organization will struggle to stay current. What is interesting about this issue is that many of the business solutions the organization is demanding will work better with the new OS, or may even be dependent on it.

3. Disproportional Cost versus Benefit
As mentioned above the perceived benefits of a new OS are generally obvious only to IT teams. So how much is an organization prepared to pay for something it does not consider hugely beneficial? Worse still, what if the project cost is significantly higher than most other IT projects? This happens especially because of proliferating complexity (discussed in next section).

To resolve this cost versus benefit issue and get approval to migrate, IT should consider two reinforcing tactics: reduce costs and learn to justify projects financially. The rest of this article is primarily focused reducing costs but let's spend a moment on finance. While we see many IT teams getting better at financial analysis and justification, many still struggle. A while back we decided to help a few of our clients and realized why. It is really hard for IT folks! So we did the obvious: we built a new business analysis team from the best experts around and tasked them with helping our clients. What I found especially interesting was how specialist these skills are. I would not even know where to begin with the analysis they produce. IT teams would do well by paying attention to these skills, whether internally or externally sourced.

Look for Part II of this article series where I discuss the remaining two reasons large organizations are slow to migrate to Windows 7 and the goals such businesses should look to achieve during such a complex migration project.