E-Handbook: Effective end-user management helps fuel productivity Article 2 of 2

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Conquer the end-user productivity balancing act

Keeping users productive is one of the most critical jobs IT pros have. But there are some hurdles to jump, including understanding the risks with collaboration tools.

End-user productivity can make or break an organization, so IT should not take it lightly.

If users have the tools they need to get their work done quickly and effectively, an organization can expect to thrive. If users are constantly hindered by roadblocks, such as overly tight security or email bombardments, then productivity can suffer and an organization can fall apart.

Ultimately, end-user productivity is a careful balance between the advantages a tool or deployment model can deliver and the drawbacks it presents.

The security conundrum

Maximizing end-user productivity while maintaining security is harder than ever in today's enterprise full of tablets, smartphones, laptops and personal devices. It's no secret that better security helps executives and IT pros sleep at night, but it can also be a nuisance to users and hurt productivity.

Antivirus updates and operating system and application patches, for instance, force users to reboot their computers, causing delays and reduced end-user productivity. When users have to take time out of their days to go through IT training on guarding against phishing and other threats, there is additional loss of short-term productivity. In the long run however, this training can enhance productivity because users will be better equipped to avoid security issues that could prevent them from doing their work.  

Perhaps no area better captures the security-productivity conundrum than password policies. IT should enforce certain standards, such as forcing users to change their passwords every so often. Frequent password changes, however, mean users must come up with some kind of system so they can remember their passwords -- whether by using variations of the same password over and over or through other methods. These are usually sequences that are easy for hackers to guess.

Perhaps no area better captures the security-productivity conundrum than password policies.

Users then have to sync the password change to their other devices, such as tablets and smartphones, which takes up time where they could be working. The complexity of changing passwords on these devices can lead to errors, which can make it fairly easy for a user to get locked out of his email on his phone, for example, which prevents him from working. Plus, forgetful users are common enough that most large organizations have tools that allow users to retrieve and change lost passwords themselves to prevent calls to the help desk.

IT can consider using biometric authentication, which can allow users to log in with a physical characteristic, such as a fingerprint or facial recognition, instead of a password. The catch here is that the devices must include a fingerprint reader or a specific type of camera in the case of facial recognition. 

The double-edged sword of email

There are many end-user productivity tools available to users today, but email is still the most common. In addition to providing simple, nearly instant communication, email is also effective for record keeping. Users can save critical information, such as follow-up data from a phone conversation, or send themselves an email with important material. They can then file those email messages away and retrieve that information later with a simple search. Email has become a handy ad hoc database as its search features and storage capacity have improved.

On the other hand, email can be a real productivity suck. Users can easily lose hours answering email, and after they take vacations, it's common to have hundreds of email messages clogging their mailboxes. At the end of the day, a good share of email is filled with phishing messages, malware content and plain old junk. 

IT pros can advise users on how to combat these drawbacks in several ways. They can limit the time that users can access email. Some companies do this effectively, but IT should consider factors including the user's role, which can require more email access, and the size of the company. IT can also encourage users to set aside time at the beginning or end of each day to address email or instruct them to only open their email apps when they have time to read through their inboxes. Users can sort through the clutter by keeping junk mail filters up to date and creating custom filters based on keywords to file and organize incoming email messages.

The potential of virtual desktop infrastructure

If users are mobile or want the flexibility of using various devices, then virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) can increase end-user productivity in several ways. VDI gives users the same desktop experience on any device at home or on the road as they get in the office, as long as IT picks the right implementation and service provider and installs the correct applications to meet business needs. IT can also update every virtual desktop at one time rather than going from device to device. This keeps everyone on the same page and minimizes downtime.

VDI is not perfect, however. It's only truly effective when IT applies it to the right scenarios. IT should consider worker type and location when considering VDI. Power users, who work with graphics-intensive apps, might not be the best fit for VDI because delivering all the resources they need can be challenging.

Collaboration tools ease communication with some risk

Organizations are cutting their phone lines and turning to collaboration tools such as Skype for Business and Cisco WebEx to provide voice over IP phone services, audio and video conferencing, and chat tools. This approach is more efficient for users because they no longer require a phone card or have to worry about calling internationally or keeping track of conference line numbers. 

These tools also make it easy to record meetings and conversations, which can come in handy for users. IT pros must remember that recording conversations is subject to regulatory laws. As a result, some companies do not allow recording in these tools to prevent legal issues down the road.

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