Mar 07 2024

Early Bird Agencies Have Begun Deploying Windows 11

OPM is among those sharing advice for other agencies still preparing to upgrade to the new operating system.

Better to be an early adopter than one scrambling to do everything at the last minute. That’s how Joe Powers sees it.

As associate CIO for enterprise infrastructure solutions at the Office of Personnel Management, Powers is leading the agency’s rollout of Microsoft Windows 11.

The new operating system replaces Windows 10, which will reach end of life in October 2025. OPM started the upgrade process in summer 2022, three full years ahead of the deadline.

“We wanted to get the deployment going early to minimize the potential challenges,” Powers says. They hope to have Windows 11 on OPM’s entire computer inventory by the end of 2024.

Toward that end, the agency is now focused on everything from educating employees who are scheduled to upgrade about the value of managing their work in the cloud to replacing older laptops that don’t meet the system requirements of the new OS.

“There’s a lot of work — prep work, especially — that goes into doing a migration like this,” Powers notes.

Click the banner to learn more about Windows 11 assistance.

OPM, Navy and Coast Guard Lead the Way

OPM is among a growing number of federal agencies starting the early transition to Windows 11.

At the Department of the Navy, a July 2022 memorandum from then-CTO Jane Rathbun, now CIO, directed Navy organizations to “begin planning now” for Windows migration.

Organizations using Windows 10, Rathbun wrote, should develop cost estimates for the upgrade and consider using technologies such as endpoint virtualization “for systems that have hardware/software compatibility issues” with the new OS.

Similarly, the Coast Guard’s C5I Service Center and Cyber Command announced in June 2023 that all workstations at the military branch would be automatically updated to Windows 11 within six weeks.

Other agencies are also looking ahead to the still-distant upgrade deadline, but most have yet to pull the trigger on widespread deployment. At both NASA and the National Institutes of Health, for example, agency equipment acquisition programs have begun offering devices with Windows 11 already installed.

At the Department of Education, CIO Luis Lopez says the agency hasn’t established a timeline for implementation, “but it is on the radar, and we’re looking at it very closely.”

And at the General Services Administration, the agency’s director of infrastructure integration reports they’re “actively working on” the OS transition and are about to stand up a Windows 11 test lab.

Testing, explains Sid Sripada, who works in the agency’s Office of Digital Infrastructure Technologies, will allow GSA to ensure the new system meets its security and infrastructure management requirements.

Once that’s confirmed, they’ll turn the labs over to their application development teams for testing, validation and certification of agency applications on the OS. From there, Sripada says, the agency should have everything it needs to “create a strategic implementation plan.”

Joe Powers
There’s a lot of work — prep work, especially — that goes into doing a migration like this.”

Joe Powers Associate CIO for Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions, OPM

Bring Workers On Board for a Smooth Windows Transition

User acceptance testing was critical for OPM as it prepared to shift to Windows 11, Powers says.

Select staff from agency departments, or “champions,” were asked to try out the new operating system and provide feedback about their experience to engineers. That information was then used to create training materials for the launch and to shape the way Powers and his colleagues communicate with the OPM workforce about the deployment.

Beyond that, Powers points to a host of measures the agency has put in place to streamline the transition as much as possible. To ensure employee laptops are relatively clean before Windows 11 is loaded, for example, workers have been asked to adopt cloud-based solutions such as Microsoft OneDrive and Office 365.

When staff members keep their work in the cloud, he explains, “that’s a lot better than the alternative, where they’re storing things in multiple places and we’re worried about what’s on their hard drive.”

READ MORE: How can application rationalization tools ease your journey to the cloud?

Once a computer is ready for the upgrade — most OPM employees use HP laptops — the user can schedule the lengthy job for a time that’s convenient for them, Powers says. Remote deployments are also offered, but for security reasons, the device must be in a government building when the upgrade takes place.

His team has expanded service hours so technicians are available early mornings and late evenings, and they’ve assembled a fleet of loaner laptops that employees can use while theirs are in the shop.

“We’ve done everything we can to minimize turnaround time,” Powers says. He explains that his team, through automation, can typically handle about 40 laptops at once. “You drop your device off and go have breakfast or lunch and we can usually have it ready soon after you get back.”

El Punto


Powers wasn’t with OPM for its migration to Windows 10 from Windows 7, but he was briefed by some of those who were about what did and didn’t work that time around. One key lesson they’ve applied to the current deployment: the importance of having enough technicians onsite to provide assistance to every employee who needs it.

“We rewrote our help desk support contract to include surge capability,” Powers says. Now, he notes, they can “quickly ramp up or down” to meet customer demand.

This has proved critical for the day-to-day work of upgrading individual devices, but it’s also been helpful as they provide employees with post-migration support.

EXPLORE: A roadmap to a seamless Windows 11 integration.

“That’s the last thing that I’d say is really important to this process,” he says. “You have to be available after you do the update to help people optimize the new system.”

He estimates that about 25 percent of OPM’s laptop inventory was running on Windows 11 as of late 2023. Another 65 percent were older devices that will have to be replaced because they can’t be upgraded to the new OS, while the remaining 10 percent were in the queue for updating over the coming months.

“We’re chipping away at it,” Powers says. “The good news is, we’re making progress, and everything has gone smoothly so far.”

Getty Images: Tim Macpherson, GeorgePeters, wacomka, taviphoto

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