An employee requests a new app, a new device, or a quick configuration change to help them complete certain tasks or projects. Maybe they want a Mac even though all employees have Windows machines. Hoping to keep the employee happy, IT comes to the rescue.

These “snowflake” configurations that deviate from the norm might seem minor on the surface. However, they introduce complexity to the IT environment that increases security risks, especially when you consider that such changes are rarely communicated to admins and users who could be affected.

One-off configurations and settings involving operating systems, applications, devices and services often make your network more vulnerable to attack. It’s just another variable that needs to be documented, patched and maintained when IT staff and budget dollars are already stretched thin. This also creates a pothole effect, disrupting workflows and productivity when changes are discovered. From a personnel standpoint, these types of “favors” can cause conflict in the workplace when you feed the perception that the same rules don’t apply to everyone.

While IT should always be looking for ways to help employees do their jobs better, the standardization of IT environments, with a limited number of systems, devices, applications and configurations, is critical to effective IT operations.

For small to midsize businesses struggling to keep up with a constantly evolving threat landscape, IT standardization can simplify security by simplifying the environment that needs to be protected. Systems are easier to monitor, suspicious activity and security incidents are easier to detect and investigate, and issues are easier to resolve. Overall, standardization translates to consistency and predictability in terms of infrastructure and budget forecasts, which allows you to make security management more efficient.

Beyond security, IT standardization makes it easier and less expensive to train users, provide support, maintain infrastructure, and track IT assets. You’ll have fewer compatibility issues, and you won’t have to manage and troubleshoot specific technology and services. IT standardization can also increase your purchasing power, giving you leverage when negotiating prices with vendors.

Although the benefits to IT standardization are clear, you need to take a strategic approach to realize those benefits. Which areas of your organization and IT environment should be standardized? Some areas require more flexibility than others.

What technology and services are satisfying the needs of users, and which ones are falling short? What technology and services would they like to have and why? Be sure to listen to users instead of assuming you know what they need.

When you’ve designated areas for standardization, make sure you include individuals from each of those departments in the evaluation of new solutions. Give them a voice to minimize resistance and confusion. Document your technology requirements in each area of your business and use this information to determine whether a vendor’s solution does what you need it to do. Finally, make sure you have a realistic timetable and budget that will allow you to implement your standardization strategy effectively.

It can be tempting to cater to the whims of individual users in the name of maintaining harmony in the workplace, but the risks and costs aren’t worth it. Let us help you develop an IT standardization plan that helps you simplify security and operate more efficiently while satisfying the needs of your employees.