When I first started working with Bluefin in late 2003, pretty much the first thing that I worked on was internal IT policy, with founder Mike Curl. They had been buying equipment here and there at the lowest price, and it felt very much like the acquisition policy of a small company.
We had aspirations of being a serious Enterprise player and there was a decision to try to act like one. We shifted to a policy of purchasing standard equipment – the then excellent Dell D600 laptop – and built a standard laptop image that was tailored to the modern consultant.
In the 8 intervening years not much has changed – the laptop image from early 2004 was still in use until recently – and we progressed through the Dell laptops available at that time – D610, D620, D630 and lately the E6410. This standardised on laptop docks and brought benefits of a lowered cost of support and a professional look and feel.
There are some major downsides to this approach though – mostly that the mainstream laptop that these models represent is jack of all trades and master of none. The more technical people would prefer a bigger screen and more power, and those who travel a lot – particularly women – would prefer something lighter.
These days I’m much more a consumer of IT policy within Bluefin rather than a setter, but it strikes me that we may have come to a point of inflection. There are a few of us, for example, that use MacBooks, and others who have a larger screened laptop as a special order.
There are some other trends which are important – Windows 7 is so much more reliable and laptops needs fixing less often, and support costs are much lower than they were. In addition, whilst Bluefin’s roots were in technical SAP consultancy (needing developer tools) and we have now got a growing number of less technical consultants, who only need a small number of tools.
There is some precedent here for us, because in 2008 we started to move those phone users who have large usage over to a corporate contract: there are major tax savings to be had. Most people chose an iPhone but we aren’t prescriptive and some have Windows Phones or Blackberries.
To add to this, Dell have just released a new range – the Dell Latitude E5420m, and it is divisive. It doesn’t look too professional and it has a smaller screen, whilst is no lighter. And this appears to be making our IT department wonder if we should stick with Dell.
But more to the point: is it still relevant to tell people what laptop they should have? Should people just get a budget to spend and buy what they want? And how does this balance against the need to keep IT support costs down? In any case, keeping employees happy and feeling valued is really important, and making sure that they have the right tools to do their job should be at the top of the agenda.
I suspect the answer is to give people a choice of systems – and to allow them to make an informed decision about their choice. But will everyone choose the MacBook anyway and then become a support overhead because the stuff they need doesn’t run on it? Perhaps there has to be some governance around that to make sure that the right people get the right machine.
However it turns out – it seems that we need more choice around equipment purchase – but without losing the governance for procurement. It will be interesting to see if we can keep the balance and make people happier by providing them with better tools to do their job.