When Microsoft released Windows 10 on July 29, 2015, there were 5 supported versions of Windows on the market (Windows 10, 8.1, 8, 7 and Vista); that’s a lot for any organization to manage. Believe it or not, the operative word in the previous sentence is actually “supported,” because, as I’m sure we all know, you don’t need a particular product to be supported in order to use it. For example, I know many organizations are still using Windows XP, though it is no longer officially supported by Microsoft. The difference is that they are relying on their internal support teams to solve issues that arise. Conversely, the general user wouldn’t have a support go-to, and therefore, may upgrade to the next version for compliance reasons alone. While the versions will scale depending on the number of people in your organization, the usage and expectations on each of the platforms will be difficult, if not impossible, to manage. At the core for any organization, these are critical governance issues that must be identified and addressed before the organization can move forward together.
The governance equation as it relates to operating systems is important. This is larger than just who is using what; it extends deep into the organization and unfortunately includes such topics as validity and authenticity of software. These are the areas of governance that can be difficult to plan for and try to correct effectively. Regardless of the reasons why invalid versions of Windows are being used in your company, as part of a governance plan, you should replace them with authentic versions so they become compliant with your internal policies; getting the required security updates and aren’t unnecessarily vulnerable on your corporate network.
There are two categories of discussion within the context of an operating system governance plan; the strategy of the deployment before being released to your users, and the security, maintenance and long-term alignment to corporate expectations. Though governance is widely known in collaboration and enterprise system implementations, fewer people consider governance of their operating systems. The reality is that the operating system is equally important to govern. Companies must understand which versions of Windows their employees and contractors are using, the access levels of each user, group policy assignments and, of course, ensure that the usage overall aligns to the corporate strategy.
Your corporate IT strategy has hopefully been created to account for perspectives across your organization, such as specific technologies that enable collaboration, and ensuring that the needs of the business are supported long-term. Your strategy will also include critical criteria that will impact and drive other decisions; such as how long a desktop version of Windows will be supported. For example, when Microsoft ended support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014, companies had to adapt by upgrading to another version of Windows and consequently do the same for some of their custom and third-party applications. Be sure to review the published end-of-life support dates indicated in figure 1.
Figure 1: Microsoft extended support cut-off dates for versions of Windows.
For deployment, since your starting point may be variable, meaning dependent on the operating system versions currently on your machines, begin with an assessment to understand the versions you are working with. In many cases, this can be done from a quick script, such as:
Get-ADComputer -Filter * -Property * | Format-Table Name,OperatingSystem,OperatingSystemServicePack,OperatingSystemVersion -Wrap –Auto
Now that you have your starting point, you need to identify a unified version to move the organization towards. A unified platform promotes idea sharing, cooperative training and empowerment for users. The popular choice today will obviously be Windows 10; however, this move can have significant implications from both business and financial perspectives if your users are on a system prior to Windows 7, or if they are not using authentic copies of Windows. Your IT department should consider the planning, building, validation and deployment of your desktop environment. Figure 2 provides an overview of the steps that should be taken within each category. When working on the plan itself, be sure to include a cross-functional team representing the needs of the various business units within your organization. Regardless of how governance will be seen or delivered within the rollout, their input and commitment is invaluable to the project overall.
Figure 2: Steps for creating your OS governance plan.
With your upgrade or deployment planned out, be sure to communicate your plans to the organization. Remember that the first step to governance is always telling your users what is expected of them. As you socialize the message, encourage your users to use the system and provide feedback on what works well and what support needs they may have. This feedback is not only a critical step to empowering your users, but also acts to ensure that users don’t feel remorse when moving to a new operating system, so be sure to review the comments and considerations that come in.