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When PCs went mobile

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Workshop Do you remember the first time you saw a laptop? Shiny bright LED screen, pixels individually visible, about the size of a breeze block. Portability probably didn’t concern the IT department because nobody in their right mind would try to carry one out of the office. But they did.

Quite quickly, laptops became smaller and smaller and no number of Kensington locks (or those huge docking station things) would keep them nice and safe inside the office environment any more. The trend continues – today’s netbooks, at 200 pounds a pop, are a fair indicator of how far things have come.

For at least a decade there has been ongoing debate about how IT directors and their teams should manage their mobile computing estates. Half the advice has been to ‘tighten up’: standardise devices, say no to execs who want high powered machines they don’t need, tell middle managers they can’t have one to show off down the pub with, and implement idiot-proof security mechanisms. The other half recommended that IT leadership ‘loosen up’ and respect the personal domain, embrace the uplift in productivity enabled by mobile computing and other portable devices such as PDAs and mobile phones, and to implement ‘bring your own’ policies to free the creativity of staff, or even pay a capital sum and invite employees to sort themselves out.

To this day it’s probably fair to say the ‘tighten up’ brigade has had the upper hand (do let us know if you think different). However, in line with the growth of social media and other types of easily accessible – albeit unofficial – services, this position is now being eroded. Whether it’s the latest versions of the ‘bring your own’ ideas, execs demanding shiny Macs or the proliferation of netbooks, all such pressures could be responsible for putting a lot more on the plates of the help desk, administration and operational support than was expected, or deemed acceptable than in the past.

However, none of this ‘how we got here’ stuff may matter to you if you work in, or ever have worked in IT support. Supporting multiple mobile devices of varying quality and complexity is a day to day reality, where users find ever more amusing/disgusting things to do to their kit and where the future can only involve lots more of them to deal with.

Maybe it’s a bit strong to suggest that the notebook changed the face of desktop support. But not having all your PCs in one place certainly caused a few headaches, especially where cost comes in, when they finally did become small enough to carry home. Today then, what challenges does the management of mobile computers cause your department, and how do they translate into financial terms? More importantly perhaps, what are you doing about them?

As usual we’re keen to hear all about it from you - let us know your thoughts.

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