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Published in IT World
January 17, 2006

Laptop Service Providers

Time is money. Given the unassailable truth of this in the business world, it is nothing short of incredible how much time business users spend fighting with their information technology. From printing problems to PDA synchronization, hour upon hour of potentially billable time gets sucked into the vortex of complexity created by information technology.

I spend my fair share of time fighting technology myself. I justify the time I spend in a number of ways:

- I need to utilize all this stuff to stay in business

- If I don't make this complicated stuff work, who will do it for me?

Normally, when these two things come together, somebody, somewhere creates a value proposition. 'Why not let us handle all that complexity for you?', the timeless pitch goes, 'your time is too valuable to be knee deep in that sort of specialist complexity. We will do it for you for a fixed fee.'

This outsourcing of non-core-competence complexity has been a mainstay of business since the dawn of time. Everything from watering the horses to mailing out the Christmas cards to filing the tax returns has been outsourced...and yet here we are, in the twenty first century, with senior VPs in fortune 500 companies Googling for device drivers to install to get their printers to work...Hmmmm.

Somehow, I got through my Twenties thinking this was fine. Perhaps I was young. Perhaps the technology was young. Perhaps both. Somehow, I got through my Thirties still thinking it was fine. 'Perhaps the complexity will settle down as the industry matures', I thought. As I enter my Forties, I'm having my doubts. There is no sign of the complexity decreasing. No sign of life getting any easier and I sure am not getting any younger. Enthusiasm for hunting down device drivers and debugging network connections eventually wears off.

It is as if the time spent (time lost?) by business folk juggling IT has been factored into the equation under the 'cost of doing business' category. It has taken its place alongside commuting and water coolers as a fact of business life. Should it really be that way?

For now, I see no alternative but I can at least imagine one. It goes like this. Imagine a world in which laptops are like cars. They come in standard configurations and unless you have a specialist interest in them, you stick to a standard configuration. You get to pick the color and one or two other items but from a strictly limited set of options. To use your laptop, you just switch it on and work. The detachable hard disk holds all your data and application. This disk is completely separate from the disk that has the operating system for the laptop.

From time to time you will need your machine 'serviced'. New device drivers, new security patches and so on. To have your machine serviced you either drop it into the laptop servicing shop or you connect to the service shop on-line. Before doing so, you take out your hard disk. After all, the service shop has no business looking at your data/applications.

Road warriors make use of time in airports and in hotel rooms to keep their laptops 'serviced' using the broadband connections provided. If the laptop stops functioning for whatever reason, you just drop it into the service shop and pick up another one of the same model. It's all part of the fixed price you pay to your LSP (Laptop Service Provider)...

Crazy? Probably.