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The decision to standardize the desktop environment at Chester Willcox and Saxbe seemed relatively painless. After all, the benefits were compelling: streamlined hardware and software installations; reduced licensing costs; more efficient patch management and version control; enhanced security; adherence to zero-administration objectives; effective asset management; reduced training costs; a common operating environment for users; and lower total cost of ownership. Committing to such a uniform approach was the easy part. Making it happen, and maintaining it going forward, required some pretty cool tools and techniques. Chester Willcox is a Columbus, Ohio-based, multipractice firm consisting of 30 attorneys and as many as 70 total users. The goal of our information systems department is to “provide leading-edge and easy-to-use technology that adds value by providing a secure, robust and stable operating environment that requires minimal administrative overhead.” In terms of existing technology, we employ a client-server network with Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional on the front end, and Windows 2000 Server in the back. We use Microsoft Office 2000, with content managed by Hummingbird’s DocsOpen platform. A Microsoft Office enhancement pack, called the BEC LegalBar, extends the power and collaboration of the native Office tools. Accounting and time billing is handled by an SQL-powered version of Juris and Juris Timesheets. Additional Microsoft enterprise applications round out the back-end mix, including IIS Server for Intranet, Exchange 2000 Server for messaging and ISA Server for Web proxy. On the equipment side, we are primarily a Hewlett Packard Compaq shop, with Compaq Proliant servers, Compaq Deskpro and EVO desktops and notebooks, and HP printers and scanners. The firm’s existing hardware and software infrastructure dates back just more than two years, when we undertook an end-to-end system upgrade. It was then that the initial commitment to a standardized desktop (hardware and software) environment began to materialize. CONSISTENT HARDWARE As much as possible, we try to maintain consistency in the make and model of computers and printers deployed. This serves our zero administration objectives by simplifying maintenance, warranty support and asset management. A good example is a recent memory upgrade. As all of the PCs were similar, we were only required to test and configure things once. For page-weary HP printers, we are able to purchase maintenance kits (pads, fusers, rollers, etc.) for a limited number of models. This makes life simple, and simplicity can only lead to greater efficiency. Troubleshooting problems with fewer variables at play reduces the complexity, and allows for speedier resolution. UNIFORM DESKTOP ENVIRONMENT By imaging each client computer in service, we are able to maintain a consistent and uniform software environment. The tool of choice is Symantec Ghost, which allows us to pull down, or “ghost” a hard drive image from the network. As operating system or application updates come online, the master image is updated as necessary. Although other ghosting products have entered the market, such as DriveCopy from PowerQuest, Symantec Ghost was one of the first, and still gets the job done for us. To maintain desktop consistency beyond the initial imaging process, usage policies prohibit attorneys and staff from installing any software on firm computers. The standard hard drive image for our desktops contains all of the core applications mentioned above. Yet each practice area and administrative department requires specific programs and tools, such as Summation for the litigation group, or payroll software for the accounting department. We handle this by installing such nonstandard applications manually on top of the standard client image. If we were a slightly larger firm, then it might make sense to create hard-drive images for each major practice area and department. The distinction between standard and nonstandard software also helps us to deal with some of the other variances that can throw the whole ideal of consistency for a loop. An important lesson we have learned is that standardizing desktop computers is practically essential if you plan to use an automated or script-based process for keeping them up-to-date. Our current system for managing the client environment uses both Windows 2000 group policies and a desktop administration utility called ScriptLogic. ScriptLogic, a robust tool for creating and distributing login/logoff scripts, is simply the greatest thing since sliced bagels. The control it provides over connected clients is truly amazing. We use it to do such things as audit client configurations, add printers, tweak the registry, create Outlook profiles on the fly, install OS security patches, update virus signatures and set a host of common Microsoft Office settings. A recently added component of ScriptLogic, called Desktop Authority, provides for even more robust remote control and configuration, although currently we use Funk Proxy for remote desktop assistance. Although there was some overlap in what ScriptLogic and group policies could do, we quickly settled on a nice mix based on their respective strengths. Microsoft’s enterprise-level configuration tool, Systems Management Server, was deemed overkill for a network our size, and its lesser sibling, Software Update Services, doesn’t come close to ScriptLogic’s rich feature set. Acknowledging that no standard desktop could meet all of the needs of users all of the time, we made available what we call “Project PCs” to fill in the gaps. These walk-up stations have attached scanners, color printers, CD burners, ZIP and Compact Flash drives, and a host of software packages for desktop publishing, OCR, photo editing, PDF processing and so forth. Without an in-house word processing or document center, we try to make access to special project tools as convenient as possible, and save money by only paying for the software we need. Although there are many challenges to making standardization work, the payoff is well worth it. Starting from a point of uniformity, and then dealing with issues as they surface, has definitely been a winning game plan. Smith, a member of the Law Technology News editorial advisory board, a sister publication of the Law Journal, is manager of information systems at Chester Willcox and Saxbe of Columbus, Ohio.

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