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Software that automates the management of personal computers can make tech-support considerably more efficient and, ideally, reduce the likelihood that a machine will end up dead in the water.

Desktop-management software covers three functional areas: Software distribution, which refers to delivering applications to a PC over a network and installing them; information-technology asset management, the cataloguing of corporate software and hardware; and configuration management, allowing administrators to modify settings and set policies to dictate what employees may—and may not—do with their computers.

The rationale for buying these products usually centers on avoiding costs: Relieve technology personnel of time spent on routine maintenance, and increase the amount of time computers are able to be used—presumably improving employee productivity. Research firm Gartner Inc. has found desktop-management software can help cut the costs of operating PCs by 37% per year over a three-year period.

Many customers believe putting precise numbers on such savings is difficult. “You’re not going to see a lot of hard-dollar benefits from desktop-management software, other than staff reduction, which is not something I.T. people want to talk about,” says Christopher Nelson, director of global technical services at H.B. Fuller, an adhesives maker that uses Novell’s ZENworks software.

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