Laptops

IT consultants, stop taking laptops to client sites

Erik Eckel advocates that IT consultants refrain from carrying laptops when completing day-to-day operations on client sites. Here's why.

After years of real-world field experience, I feel confident advocating that IT consultants refrain from carrying laptops when completing day-to-day operations on client sites. Here's why.

1: Laptops are heavy

Yes, I know that only wimps complain about carrying a four to six pound laptop, so let's get the jokes out of the way now.

The reality is the advent of secure cloud computing and incredibly powerful and highly portable tablet devices and smartphones mean consultants no longer need to lug heavy and larger laptops, as well as power cords, everywhere they go. Some road warrior consultants visit four to six clients a day, which means you're getting in and out of the car 12 to 16 times a day (if you calculate entering and exiting the car when starting and ending your day).

Smart engineers can instead tap Apple's iPad or even capable smartphones to securely access cloud-based documentation, field billing, and invoicing applications and even email, contacts, and calendar information.

2: Laptops are slow

I recently received a call from a client who required immediate termination of a sensitive user account. I pulled my car over and safely parked, pulled out an iPad, remotely accessed the server, and disabled the user account in question. I completed this task faster than it would have taken me to boot up a Windows laptop (however, I admit quad-core laptops boot fast).

When I multiply the number of times I'm asked to perform similar actions throughout the course of an entire year, the time saved adds up fast. Only consulting novices would belittle the significance of saving time.

3. Laptops are insecure

IT consultants frequently make the mistake of carrying client data, migrated email, and other information (including network information, license keys, server logins, usernames, etc.) on their computers and thumb drives. This is a dangerous practice that should be avoided. The engineers in our office only need five minutes to access password-protected Windows systems for which we don't know the password.

Imagine if an IT consultant's laptop that contained sensitive information for even one client was lost or stolen -- that would be a difficult conversation to have with a client, explaining that their network, systems, or data could be at risk.

This scenario is easy to avoid: don't carry a laptop that contains sensitive data in the field. Instead, iPads and smartphones present an opportunity to leverage client devices that don't store locally the data they access.

Exceptions

There are exceptions to every rule. It occasionally makes sense for IT consultants to carry laptops. For instance, if you must deploy and configure multiple routers at multiple sites each day, you'll need to carry a laptop. But most IT consultants who frequently visit client sites will find themselves better served by switching from laptops to highly capable, readily portable, and more secure devices.

Weigh in on this topic

I know that some TechRepublic readers will debate my view that IT consultants don't need to carry laptops to client sites, and I look forward to your feedback. Do you still take laptops to client sites, or have you started carrying an iPad or a smartphone instead? Share your thoughts in the discussion.

About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

77 comments
husseinesco
husseinesco

man i downloaded avira antivirus and whenever i swich on the lap top the display is faint and u can't read anything what do i do?

jfreedle2
jfreedle2

I would not use an Apple iPad if you paid me to use that most horrible device. Of course the other "tablet" devices run just as horrible software on it, so that would be out of the question. People need to release the at the "cloud" breaks down when you do not have network access. Only a newbie would think that you have 100% wireless coverage.

jeremial-21966916363912016372987921703527
jeremial-21966916363912016372987921703527

that Mr. Eckel is a bit out of touch. I think the responses agree that his article is backwards; he IS the exception, not the rule. If you can get by with just an iPad, and your customers are happy (or not UNhappy yet - big difference), then good for you. The rest of us will stick with what works.

JET-AGE
JET-AGE

You're right. I consume less bandwidth than I should have used if I use my Laptops and the speed is encouraging. Imagine submitting a proposal while on transit. I use Nokia N72, could u please recommend some phones.

TNT
TNT

One of my clients is a healthcare provider and they specifically asked me to not bring my laptop with me. Due to their security requirements they need me to use their equipment only. I don't know if this is a trend or not. So I started leaving my netbook in the car when I vist clients now. It's there when I need it, but honestly most everything I need to do can be done or accessed from the users equipment or my smartphone. For those few times I can't the netbook is waiting for me in the glove compartment. In my case, clients seem to appreciate a tech that walks in without the usual accoutrements. It presents a professional appearance, that you're willing to see what tools you need before you bring in the entire tool box.

Gerbilferrit
Gerbilferrit

Was this article just an advert for iPad?

gparry1
gparry1

I agree, changing simple task of userID with smartphones are ok, as stated. But when you need to configure network Apps the laptop is needed..

bhicks11
bhicks11

Yes, laptops can be cumbersome, but no, I won't give it up. Have it along just in case. . .

joe_ramos
joe_ramos

Partially agree, but still use the laptop for 70% of client needs still. Looking for better hybrid tablet ... And the search continues.

Daniel Breslauer
Daniel Breslauer

Make sure your security is all set (use BitLocker - while I'm sure the NSA can break it, I assume most thieves can't), use a big strong battery and use "sleep" mode (or hibernate for longer periods) instead of shutting it off. There go your 2 big points. Then the advantages of a real keyboard and real applications will easily outweigh the disadvantage of the weight (especially if it's a thin-and-light). I usually care two laptops - one 14" HP EliteBook 6930p (work) and one 10" MSI Wind U100+ netbook (private) just about everywhere I go, even on vacation, and it never bothered me...

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I don't know from day to day (or even hour-to-hour) whether I'll need it or not for my next call. I can go for days without needing it for anything other than administrative tasks (call management, email, time accounting, etc.), but then I'll have that day where I am flashing a scale, updating an access point, and replacing a defective CSU/DSU. If I don't need to carry it inside, I don't. But I often don't know whether I'll need it until I finish the initial troubleshooting.

mark-linn
mark-linn

Erik, hopefully none of your clients in Kentucky access this website. Obviously security is not a priority in Kentucky if you think accessing sensitive information over a wireless connection is the way to go. You may want to get some newer certifications. NT 4.0 is pretty much dead and gone and it has been over 10 years since Windows 2000 was released.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

That includes me, and every consultant who does software development. Until they make a tablet/phone that can run all of my development tools and virtual machines, I'm taking my notebook.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

And give the details of what you have and exactly what is happening. ;) Col

hal
hal

...perhaps he is just a bit too far ahead of the curve. I mean, most of the posts here just say they need a keyboard (I need a workhorse laptop with computer power). Perhaps a Bluetooth or detachable keyboard with an iPad will do the trick for others? Anyway, if he can get true IT consulting work done with just an iPad, then, as you say, more power to him.

dayen
dayen

They are worried about security so you can't use laptop but they let you use a smartphone?? are these the security people from bugger King

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

attitude, you'd have to very ignorant to let anyone plug in a foreign device inside your security perimiter. Nothing to do with using a smartphone instead, that's no different to them having a public wifi point. If they are such muppets you can "plug in" to their systems and roam about at will, all security points are moot.

jfuller05
jfuller05

For some trips, I may not need my laptop, but usually I don't know until I'm there at the scene of the "disaster." So, a laptop needs to go with me just in case.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

If not wireless, what do you use when you are on the road? Do you pop into the nearest building and ask if you can plug up to their network? Yeah, right, like that will happen! Of course, he did say "smart engineers", didn't he...

rarsa
rarsa

I know that many contractors call themselves consultants because... I don't know why, really. If you will be sitting at a single office developing an application under contract, then the advise does not apply to you. If you are a consultant meeting clients (probably more than one in a day), listening to them and providing advice, then usually the laptop is a distraction. These days, With Virtualization, VPNs, NoMachine NX and other tools, accessing your "workhorse" on the background may be more efficient.

hal
hal

Visiting 3-4 sites a day??? Not THIS road warrior! I do like the dream of being able to embrace the cloud, but my laptop has 3 compilers/GUIs, 2 databases, and a number of client apps that I use to develop code and diagnose client-site problems. Maybe I can be enticed when all my clients (and routes in between) have gigabit-wireless speeds. Until then, I'm tethered to my trusty ThinkPad.

Justin James
Justin James

... you might as well have a netbook or a small laptop. Or something like the "Origami" concepts (which later became the UMPC's). J.Ja

kevaburg
kevaburg

I have had clients in the past that have let employees use their own laptops for work in order that they save money buying company laptops. I don't need to tell you what a catastrophe that was. My point is that there are too many SMEs that don't have the financial backing to support an IT department and they cut corners where they shouldn't and allowing foreign devices is vry often overlooked. I see that a really big organisation can afford this rule of only using company kit, but for small shops it isn't practical. Very few have the tools I have and I can only be 100% sure that the hardware and software will suffice when I use my own. So although I agree in priciple with the concept of not allowing foreign devices to plug into the corporate network, sometimes it really isn't possible to enforce.

TNT
TNT

At the healthcare clients, it wasn't that I was bringing a laptop and plugging into their network; I would mostly use my laptop for the tools that are on it and for my work email. But having it on me at all was problematic for some of their security types. They simply want me to show up and use their equipment and tools. At some of my smaller clients I have set up their networks and security, so my equipment on their network is no big deal.

mark-linn
mark-linn

Nick, if you read the title you will see the blog is discussing not taking laptops to client sites not working on the road. If someone is using an ipad it does not matter if they are on the road or at a client site they will still be using a wireless connection to access potentially sensitive information. Since one of the authors points was about security I thought I would mention the fact that wireless is not very secure. If you were a "smart tech" you would learn to read before posting genius

Justin James
Justin James

Hey, if you want to write code with the iPad's touchscreen, be my guest. I don't! In fact, there is very little real work that can be done without a keyboard in the world of IT. A smartphone or iPad may be great in a pinch, and I won't say "don't carry it"... but give me a shred of a break please. Don't tell me you go day to day without a keyboard. The only people I know who can do that successfully are ringing up burgers at McD's. J.Ja

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

not something I'd want to carry in my pocket! ;)

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

If they were all the same, how wouild vendors make that extra bit of money off them and the add-ons etc? Still doesn't solve the orginal issue, whether you can dock it or not, it's still plugging in foreign kit. Hmm maybe the docking station should be a hardware firewall as well....

Justin James
Justin James

Tony - I'm always envisioned the idea as using universal docking stations, so you don't have to cart it around, just plug into what is available. :) J.Ja

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

If they would only perfect POW (Power over Wireless)... ;)

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

You'd have your powerbox, a featureless sealed unit containing a high-powered computer and a big-ass powercell. It has to be small enough to keep with one at all times, which shouldn't be a big problem - although it might make the male hand-bag a more common sight ;) Then you have your wireless screen (which is a tablet, it has it's small-ish CPU, and a long battery life). Finally you have your controller box, which flips open into a full-width wireless keyboard with customizable buttons. And you'd never have to dock them (although it might be neat to be able to dock them to recharge all batteries from a single plug), the tablet would be able to seamlessly tap into the additional processing power of the powerbox. This is all doable right now, right? It would add a high degree of modularity and customizability to the whole thing, and you'd still be able to do all the tablet/smartphone things without the extra boxes.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

One day someone will figure out how to replace the keyboard and monitor with something functional that can be projected (for lack of a better term) from a phone. Add enough horsepower and storage, and then I'll believe that a phone can be my computer.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

That carting around a docking station and a couple of 19" flatscreens is a solution. :D

Justin James
Justin James

Cell phones now have dual core CPUs. Aside from someone like me or you, for whom "consulting" requires enough local horsepower for something like compilers, test VMs, etc., a smartphone with a docking station that provides wired network, monitor, KB, and mouse is an ideal solution, and a modern smartphone is *almost* powerful enough to make it work. The real issue is the OS and apps. The OS and apps need to be able to dynamically readjust their UIs to match the capabilities when docked. Apps should go from touchscreen style controls to desktop style controls, get things like toolbars, menu bars, etc., be more willing to scroll long items, and so on. I've seen early prototypes of this. It's not "just around the corner", but I would not be shocked if, in 5 - 10 years, the majority of people could be as productive on a docked smartphone as they are today with a laptop. J.Ja

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I need some pretty exceptional horsepower as well to run compilers, etc. within virtual machines. I have no illusions about the longevity of the notebook -- it's days are numbered. But I'm not so certain that pads and phones will be its replacement.

kevaburg
kevaburg

Haven't that word in a long time! :) Point taken though.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

:D My point was more in context of Mr Eckel's drivel. If for whet ever reason you let a foreign device connect inside your perimeter, you have no security, so there's naff all point in worrying about whther owner of said device copies all your stuff to their hard drive on the spot.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

that it matches the "screw-driver" access level... which is way above root :)

TNT
TNT

Perhaps I'm not being clear, they asked me not to bring in a laptop but cell phones are permitted (I have to be reachable by my firm). But the phone isn't connected to their network, and even if it were it isn't a Windows device so the possibility of a virus infection is minimal. I'll I was trying to say is that not bringing a laptop into any client workspace until you have the need is a good idea. That's it.

SerrJ215
SerrJ215

When I walk into a client most of the time I have no idea what they have set up already. We are the consultants, and alot of my clients are small and don't have anything like an IT staff. They just need something done, they expect me to do it. So the tools come with me. Even if I had a client that wanted me to use there own equipment. After I was done there I would be going to another, so who knows...

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Data theft, packet sniffing, spoofing... At your smaller clients, you probably have deity level access anyway, so what piece of kit you use is irrelevant. That one is simply trust, that last nights browsing activities aren't going to drop a virus on them for instance.

Justin James
Justin James

Their complaint isn't that you are using a laptop. It's that you are using equipment they don't control. By using your smartphone instead of their equipment, you are going against their wishes. I hope for the sake of your contract that they aren't reading this... J.Ja

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Your OP strongly implied wireless was totally unsecure and not suitable for business use. It didn't specify a location. [i]Obviously security is not a priority in Kentucky if you think accessing sensitive information over a wireless connection is the way to go. [/i] Erik specifically addressed being on the road when he wrote [i]"I pulled my car over and safely parked, pulled out an iPad, remotely accessed the server, and disabled the user account in question."[/i] And you need a comma between 'posting' and 'genius'. If you're going to attempt snark, at least be grammatically correct.

dayen
dayen

try trouble shooting a touch screen without a keyboard I work with around 10 of them it why I have to carry 2 keyboards spend some time with a touch screen and you will keep a keyboard handy

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

I did hear something like that, maybe he got food poisoning at McD's...

kevaburg
kevaburg

You are just sooooooo behind the times! Did you not know that there are now occasions whereby covering the keyboard is OK? I heard the German representative say it himself!

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

the pope won't like that! But I think the joke is now veering into dangerous territories ;)

kevaburg
kevaburg

The solutions are there!

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

disinfects easier. Keyboards are just plain unsanitary... Imagine, when they use their computers to calculate how many buns are needed to make so and so many McFeasts - mid-fry. The "meat" and grease traces get in between the keys, and that's just plain nasty... ;)

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

How is a touchscreen different from a keyboard? ?:|