My generation remembers life before computers, laptops, and the internet. My kids have no clue that we are still in the infancy of the internet. This past week my twelve-year old daughter found a typewriter up in our attic and asked where the screen was.
Pietro Savo Tradition Books Publication © 2008
Today my work travels take me from coast to coast. I am what you can call a perpetual road warrior. In the early days of the road warrior the payphone or hotel phone was the only way to connect with office and family while traveling to the client. Following commercialization and introduction of privately run Internet Service Providers in the 1980s, and its expansion into mass popular use in the 1990s; the Internet has had a drastic impact on culture and commerce. E-mail was a rumor that slowly evolved into reality with the magic of America Online, then others followed and dials up was king, becoming a true magical adventure. Slow, difficult, but it worked, the only challenge was finding a phone jack and toll free number to dial in from. The dare became trying to stay wired and connected while I traveled. The other argument was work travel was less stressful in those simple internet days, or was it? My generation remembers life before computers, laptops, and the internet. My kids have no clue that we are still in the infancy of the internet. This past week my twelve year old daughter found a typewriter up in our attic and asked where the screen was. Wi-Fi technologies have gone through several generations since their inception in 1998. Today being connected is seamless and the road warrior’s productivity has improved by 1000 percent.
Challenges and obstacles
The definition of road warrior is just that “road warrior”. Too often the environments that we must bridge are different; my consulting travels in any given year can span 30 different companies, 50 different hotels, and countless airports coast to coast throughout North America. While writing this article it occurred to me that in 2008 I will average over 200 hotel night stays, most likely achieving 250 hotel night stays. The travel diversity challenges, or what I call obstacles, are often many, created and governed by shear luck. If my laptop can successfully circumvent that overwhelming diversity destined for connectivity failure, the ultimate goal of connectivity success is less of a challenge today then it was few short years ago.
Climate for laptop computing adaptability is complex enough, compound this with the human factor and what it becomes is greatly more complicated, and inflexibility can becomes your reality. My or should I say the human part of road warrior is when we become distracted, we tend to tinker. Tinkering is an American past-time. You may have heard the expression, “if it isn’t broken don’t fix it”. Unfortunately that does not apply to the road warriors, with distraction comes an endless source of opportunity to obtain stuff off the internet. This stuff comes in the form of down-loadable programs and files from the internet that we have no business tinkering with. This stuff comes with some risk to our laptop’s integrity that is seldom thought about while we are distracted. Thank God smarter people than we have set up countermeasures for our tinkering called firewalls, virus protection, and administrative privileges, that minimize our ability to really screw up our laptop traveling companion.
Modern day horror stories, you can’t make this stuff up, not all modern day IT administrators get it or are created equal. Consultants are a breed of nomads or hired guns that have a level of loyalty that can be measured in being busy. Our environment is feast or famine and we generally move about a lot or what some call The Jumping Ship Syndrome (TJSS). Now don’t stop reading this article to Google TJSS because I just invented it, however look for this article in the near future. A consulting firm I’m familiar with has a part-time IT Administrator who only works late nights after hours and occasional weekend. The firm’s only option with connecting with him is by e-mail. Consultants in this firm travel is about 150% and the odds of them being anywhere near the firm’s office is slim to none, and is “not going to happen”. To make matters worse this IT Administrator is not a road warrior and he decides what you will need on your laptop, he decides what administrative privileges you will have which is 100% not at all. The company issued laptop is so locked up you can’t add a printer. Imagine having 50 different clients per year and when you need to print a document the only solution is transfer the document to a USB memory stick? That was the good news, occasionally software becomes corrupted, the laptop hiccups, for reasons that the laptop gods only know. The consultants in this firm bring their backup laptop with them because the confidence level is so low for their company issued laptop; dead in the water with no solutions is not an option. Without administrative rights dead in the water becomes a laptop nightmare. The road warrior’s solution was carrying two laptops through airport security, what a pain in the gluteus maximus that is. Three out of eight of this firm’s employee’s use their own laptops so that don’t have to deal with the IT administrators and this number is going to hit four very soon. You would think the firm could save lots of money on laptops by knowing this.
Just recently an e-mail attachment contained a very aggressive Trojan Virus, my virus software caught it and promptly deleted it and any file associated with it, the only damage was to my TCP/IP Registry. I completely lost access to get on the Internet. No big deal because I have administrative privilege on my laptop. I downloaded the replacement file from Microsoft using my pocket PC and transfered the file to my windows systems directory. Within half an hour I was back online and business as usual. When this attack and fix occurred I was in Fargo North Dakota the first day of a five day engagement. If this had been that firm’s company issued laptop, the only recourse would have been ship the laptop back to office and wait. I know I may sound like I’m whining, and for all defensive purposes I am. Being in control or having some sense of control is therapy for a road warrior. Compound this by the fact that most consultants are expensive head, any consultant down time costs the firm money, and they don’t make money unless the road warrior is productive. Correctly configured equipment is a key component to productivity. It comes down to trust, you can’t make this stuff up. The stories I have been told led me to write this article and develop the “Road Warrior’s laptop software standard top ten”. What I have discovered that every user has special needs. Mine are different than yours; we are all different and have different software needs to be productive. Our differences contribute to our creative productivity and the uniqueness that brings value to our consulting clients.
The solutions to creating road warrior perfection begin with a Laptop Software Standard Top Ten:
1) Office 2003 or 2007 – Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Project, Access, Publisher, Outlook; Any of the Microsoft Office packages, in my world represent the standard from which the world process document, data and the world would be lost without them. The Bill Gates haters will disagree. Lets put it another way, today’s word processing standard, Microsoft Office is the one that is copied, mimicked, and copycatting is the next best thing to being there.
2) WinZip; The standard has been clear for over ten years, managing directories, shrinking files, and directories to ease attaching to an e-mail. WinZip is the easiest and best supported where data quality counts. Second best or hoping for the best results is never an option. WinZip invented the standard…
3) Acrobat 8 Professional; You must be noticing a trend here, why screw with document quality, so I tend to go with the products that have been the leaders since day one. Acrobat’s PDF producer works, easy to use, and is the standard for PDF creation. The entire planet revolves around Acrobat.
4) AOL Instant Messenger (Any version that is compatible with Windows XP) Today with communication ease being the norm, we are always within Internet reach, my staff, my children, communicate seamlessly using AOL IM, it works, is totally reliable and communication is in real-time. IM is available, it works and infinite people world-wide are using it right now as I write this article.
5) WhiteSmoke – Business Writing Version 2010
6) StyleWriter – Style and Usage checker Version 3.93.08 or greater; Today’s society, or may I say the powers at “B” demand document quality in the sense of grammar and spelling. We are judged and prejudged on it and I’m concerned that it may be actually slowing down communication. We spend so much time trying to perfect the message; we forget what the message was. I know many brilliant and wise people that struggle with this. So I only wonder what great things are missed because we are obsessed with grammar and spelling perfection. Thank God for companies like WhiteSmoke and StyleWriter whose products allow people to focus on the value added creativity and not the non-value added grammar and spell checking.
7) Carbonite, secure online backup (Software Version: 3.0.194); Backup and data recovery can determine life or death. Equipment breaks, hard-drives fail, laptops get dropped or melted during the airport x-ray. Twice the harmless airport security x-ray system damaged or corrupted my laptop data. Risks like failure are not an option, you need to be ready and running when you arrive to your destination. Carbonite is idiot proof, I can log onto my account from any internet ready workstation. Download the files I need to execute in minutes. Only $50 per year for a seamless peace of mind.
8) Boingo – Road Warrior Internet access; An internet access on the road is still a commodity and not always free and open. Most hotels, I’d guess about 95% provide the service for free. Then you have the nickel and dime approach that charge you for very every little thing while you stay there. Airports are running about 50% nationwide that provide internet access for free to their travelers. For about $20.00 per month Boingo provides and I partnered nationwide to provide discount internet access that works fairly reliably. In our world communication is not an option. Boingo is one of many that provide this service, it works, it’s cheap, and I have never come across a non- free internet environment that did not honor its service there.
9) BitDefender 2010; combines reactive virus, spy-ware and ad-ware protection
Every IT manager will argue this recommendation and I am fine with any suggestion they may have that is better. Equipment security depends on it. Monthly software reviewers bless the next and greatest virus protection you can’t live without. My philosophy is simple, start with BitDefender and go one or two levels above that and you can’t go wrong. Disaster avoidance is common sense and comes with a price somewhere between $39.99 and $99.99 is about right. Pay them now or pay them later. Short cuts, free stuff, or outdated stuff may appear to work… just remember “pay them now or pay them later!”
10) VPN – Virtual Private Network; In today’s world of company private data, e-mails, text messages, and all forms of electronic communications in general, one must have a secure communication path. VPN provides remote secure access to your organization’s network from an un-secure internet or public telecommunication infrastructure.
Always ask the user if she or he has any special needs?
Here is an area where IT Administrators or IT Leads fall short and create the greatest frustration. They always assume they know best and for all defensible purposes they may be almost correct. When you have a one-size that works well, what I mean by this statement is the complaint count stabilizes or goes down measurably. The assumption is all is well one size fits all and they have found the magic equipment configuration formula or bullet. Wrong, they can’t be further from the truth. The truth only happens if you are constantly asking the questions. The needs of the road warrior is constantly evolving. What I recommend to all IT professionals is set up your Outlook calendar to remind you to ask your road warriors if there is anything else that may need and anything exciting they may have encountered on the road of interest. Watch what happens, amazing road warrior learning happens, amazing “you can’t make this stuff up” stories happen and you become part of the team.