Information technology: how to protect your PC notebooks
It is not everyday that a machine makes front-page news, but a notebook computer stolen from the front seat of a car parked outside a car dealership did. It was during the Gulf War, and the machine in question contained top-secret details of the Allies' battle plans. It seemed to be a parable of everything not to do when buying and using mobile computers.
For example, why didn't the notebook computer, presumably portable, go with its owner or get locked away in the boot? Notebook PCs are much more expensive than a similarly powered desktop PC and are not usually handed out casually. Equally, they are generally used by field sales people or professional staff engaged in high-value activities. If they go missing, they can seriously inconvenience vital work. Lesson one: don't provide people with temptation. Put it in the boot of a car or carry it in a nondescript business case, rather than a bag with the PC manufacturer's name plastered all over it.
Few people carry cash to the value of a notebook PC (£1,000-£5,000) around with them, for fear of losing it or getting mugged. Mobile computers may be expensive but their cost often pales into insignificance when compared to the value of the data stored on them. Lesson two: separate key data from the device - this could be on floppy disks, removable hard drives, or remotely accessed on the company network - and then try to keep it in a different bag from the computer. That way, even if the notebook gets stolen, lost or broken, vital work can continue and confidentiality remains unbreached.
Organisations using notebooks extensively often buy an extra 'pool' notebook to cover them for damage or loss, or they arrange to rent one at short notice. Mobile computers are certainly more prone to need fixing than desktop PCs, although it is remarkable how much punishment they will take. Lesson three: treat it like china. If you carried around a bit of expensive Wedgwood, you'd be quite careful not to expose it to too much rough treatment.
Notebooks are a real boon - once you have one, it is hard to imagine how you coped before. Yet, due to their cost and vulnerability, they do need to be carefully justified. So, lesson four: employees provided with a notebook should also be given company policy on what's permitted and what's not. And lesson five: if employees are likely to be heavy users, don't skimp on the specification (especially on screen, battery life and storage) as it could prove more of a hindrance than a boon.
A final thought: when it comes to mobile computing, one size doesn't fit all. Many people are quite satisfied with personal electronic diary type devices, while others require something with bells on. Either way, be sensible and avoid Gulf War notebook disasters.
Rob Wirszcyz is director of communications and alliances at EDS UK.