Why no growing business should consider consumer-grade laptops

Any business that spends a chunk of its time maintaining its laptops needs to take a hard look at itself. A good use of your time? I think not. But, like so many businesses that grow organically, that’s exactly the situation faced by Millpool Community Centre – the Cornwall-based organisation I’m helping, with the happy assistance of HP when it comes to kit supplies, to transform its operations.

Why no growing business should consider consumer-grade laptops

The prime symptom here may sound familiar to you: an ad-hoc collection of consumer-grade laptops, with no easy way to manage updates, backups or security. These laptops are the heart of Millpool’s service delivery to the community, so keeping them safe and spry are key to the community centre.

And each laptop has a lot of internal roles. There’s the simple business of surfing, with assistance if the user isn’t web-savvy. There’s support for visiting service professionals, such as lawyers or the bits of the NHS that don’t have their own permanent premises in the town, who expect to have access to their systems and web pages. There are training days, when disposable virtual machines would be by far the preferred option for Ross, the IT volunteer.

These eight low-cost laptops are supplemented by a further two with a very different brief: divided between management of the actual operation, and being taken out on trips into the field.

For example, Ross hopes to make use of Windows 8’s Hyper-V to allow students in his training days to make all the mistakes in disposable, snapshotted virtual machines. He wants to image the basic operating system itself back to the poorly-named HP MicroServer, which is not at all Micro when it comes to the number of complete machine backups it’s able to retain.

These eight low-cost laptops are supplemented by a further two with a very different brief: divided between management of the actual operation, and being taken out on trips into the field. Millpool has a lot of “field”, too. Nine parishes of current and potential customers is a lot of little twisty Cornish lanes to cover.

As ever, it isn’t all about hardware. Some of the next phase of the transformation requires a bit of midwifery from me, configuring the server and getting the right relationships in place between domain memberships, user logins and private stores for data.

Using the HP business laptops inside the centre is more about the IT equipment reflecting and fitting into the multi-role nature of the space, so their daily life is likely to prove my point from the last blog about the imperceptibility of these transformations. If all goes well then this great diverse bunch of users, of both the centre and the machines, won’t perceive much of a change in each individual job they use the machines for: the changes are coming for Ross, in terms of much-reduced turnaround times when it comes to the wildly different types of “laptop job” he’s faced with.

The more visible change in this phase will be the outreach work, for the smaller and more carryable machines – a role that Millpool hasn’t been able to fully pursue while its equipment stock has been largely reserved for internal, deskbound client activities that demand long reconfiguration or clean-up periods, tying Ross to the centre and the machines to Ross, because the older models were not so easy to re-purpose and protect. You can’t go and see a farmer with a machine that’s waiting for a recovery process to complete before it gets used again at the weekend for a silver surfer course.

This business transformation is easy to describe and more directly noticeable for the people of Looe and parishes. Speaking as part-time superhero midwife (both metaphors that the rest of the project team are quite happy to taunt me with) I think of this as being almost unremarkable, since the role for these laptops is pretty simple from a management perspective: I hand them out, people disappear with them and after a short delay I can hear typing. That’s my kind of transformation!

For more advice on transforming your business, visit HP BusinessNow

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