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.
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.
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 of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.