Company-Issued Devices

I bet you get where I’m going with this already… But before I go into a massive rant that leaves you nodding your head saying “Yeah, but so what? Nothing’s gonna change it”, let me first warn you that a lot of this post will be just that. BUT – I am hopeful that sprinkled in here somewhere are some decent thoughts and ideas of measures we can all take to fight back against the system.

Now that I’ve got all that out of the way (phew!) let me say that I think the way companies typically approach issuing devices is a complete joke. I’ll try to limit this post to laptops and phones, but the extent of this widespread indifference obviously reaches much further beyond this. Speaking of phones – remind me to opine someday on the joys (read: agony) of corporate mobile plans and procurement. They single-handedly have taken two years off my life*.

I’ll start with laptops. I totally understand that it’s a numbers game and that most major corporations have to employ cost control measures in order to ensure they are not giving away the warchest every time Pete, the VP of accounts, decides to fumble his new laptop down a flight of concrete stairs. I get that the easiest way to have a front-line hardware support provider for onsite helpdesks is to align yourself with another big shop that specializes in specific brands and detailed troubleshooting procedures. I know that these partnerships with companies like Lenovo allow for us to obtain crazy good deals on laptops. Side note – I saw my EXACT laptop on yesterday for $350. $350! Felt like I was stabbed in the heart. Actually – I rescind that comment – the one on the site had more RAM… And, believe me, I get that aligning ourselves with “proven” software like Microsoft/Windows allows us to engage in a lot of critical processes like remote device wiping, quickly replacing or deploying system images, and controlling privacy and security.

All that being said though – these devices suck. I know no other “intelligent” or politically correct way to say it. Yes, it’s childish of me to put it in that sort of tone. But tell me you didn’t nod your head. You did! I saw it! They are too slow, they don’t have enough memory, can’t support multi-tasking (e-mail and Powerpoint at the same time doesn’t count), have horrendous batteries, and are generally reluctant to see two New Year’s Eves without at least one (or ten) blue screens of death.

To those forward-thinking companies who decide to issue better equipment (Macs, etc), I commend you. You are recouping your investment not only by having to replace devices less frequently, you are also reaping the rewards in terms of your personnel productivity (one time it took me 3 reboots and 2.5 hours just to fill out a timesheet – seriously). To the rest of you though, I highly recommend sitting in a focus group with your front line to hear the horror stories. I do focus groups all the time, and I promise they work. You just have to listen.

Moving on to phones – it’s more of the same. My old boss still has a Blackberry. RIM has already scheduled their own funeral, and our mobile plan is still providing Blackberries. Now the fact that my colleague hasn’t moved on yet is largely their fault (get on with the times, I’m sorry for your loss), but it’s still ridiculous that the carriers are providing these low cost devices and, furthermore, that my company is actually promoting us using them. I, personally, have moved up in the game. I am now the proud owner of an iPhone 3gs That’s right – not the 3g – the 3gs. I can think of a few things the ‘s’ stands for. I’m sure you can too. The bigger picture here? i need a reliable phone to do my job. I can’t have a phone that freezes or requires reboots every couple hours, or one that loses battery after 30 minutes of light use. The ability to make and receive calls from my clients and colleagues is probably of second importance only to my ability to read e-mail (see above – this is not always a given either). Figure out a way to get our carrier to give us serviceable options for decent prices. I know how much we pay for the plan – I promise there is someone in a procurement or supply chain department who has to have taken Negotiating 101.

So what? This is the part where I ditch the soapbox and try to get back to reality, offering my insights and opinions on what we can all do to help fix the problem:

  • SPEAK UP – Be it employee opinion surveys, focus groups, town halls, at the bar – wherever – let your leadership know. If they only hear the complaints from Richard (nobody likes Richard anyway), they’ll assume it’s not that big of a deal. When 80% of the front-line screams loud enough, though, results will happen.
  • Have an honest dialogue about BYOD (no, not bring your own beer – although that could help in worst cases I suppose?) – Bring Your Own Device is something that is a bit of a compromise and, when administered correctly (i.e. subsidizing employees for buying devices, having approved device lists that you will support for placement on internal networks, etc), can be a huge win for both the employees and the company. It is not a silver bullet though as there are many formalities to be worked through and I am not sure anyone has physically validated the business case yet, although I imagine 3 or 5 year success stories should be hitting just about any day now.
  • Rig your own device regardless – I’m probably a huge liability for saying this, but it’s really not that difficult to add your own device to a network. For instance, my company has an Apple exchange server in the UK which is extremely easy to configure and allows me to do the majority of my work tasks through my own device and ditch the company-issued for most other tasks. Let’s be honest, it is so rare for most of us to work on something that is so secret that there are massive data integrity/security implications that it really shouldn’t be a big deal to have external devices pinging a company-hosted server presuming you are appropriately obtaining credentials. Pretty sure my own Corporate Security department has probably already red-flagged me just for typing this. Oops.
  • Help someone in supply chain or procurement read the Cliff’s Notes on Negotiating 101 – Remember me stating above that it isn’t rocket science? Well, it isn’t. It’s also no cakewalk though. So volunteer to help them with some of the research or due diligence on new providers, new devices, typical market prices, and ways to investigate feasibility of wholesaling or obtaining seasonal/promotional pricing on devices. If you are able to do something, anything, for the greater good – not only will you help yourself, you will be a knight in shining armor for all your colleagues.
  • Stop multitasking – Listen, I’m the worst about this one; I need to look myself in the mirror and repeat this 10 times. If we know our devices have deficiencies, sometimes we just have to let them play to their (incredibly) limited strengths. Do I really need to have email open while editing PPT, on a webex, running scripts on a Remote Desktop, blogging on our own site, drawing critical path in Visio, updating Sharepoint with the latest status, etc? In some cases, maybe. In most cases, I can probably sequence my work so that I only have to do a few things at once. And, truth be told, my computer and phone can generally handle a few (2-3, let’s be realistic) things at once.

Another time, I promise to revisit BYOD in more detail (I’m honestly not a huge proponent – but the pros and cons are absolutely there) and more on this subject. But I just had to get this out there while on my flight out seeing as my laptop died (battery life = 46 minutes on a good day) and I had nothing better to do than break out another (more reliable) device to pass the time.

So – what do you think about company-issued devices? Feel free to sound off or offer your own suggestions/best practices for staying sane in the company device game.

Til Next Time,

*by conservative estimates (my doctor who is actually medically-licensed to make these statements may cite the number as higher)

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