White-Collar Road Warriors

These tech-savvy users want the latest, most efficient gadgets and seamless IT support.

If you don't spend a lot of time in hockey arenas, you might not know that a number of them have Wi-Fi hot spots. But to Tracy Scott Johnson, father of three hockey players and a partner at Ohio-based law firm Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP, this is not just a well-known fact -- it's a crucial one.

Armed with his BlackBerry 7000 and his wireless laptop, Johnson can travel to his sons' many tournaments knowing that he has everything he requires to respond to client needs -- whether it's an e-mail reply, a document review or even a court filing.

"It's very much expected in my realm that clients have instant access to their attorneys, even when they're on vacation, to get an issue dealt with immediately," says Johnson, who works in the intellectual property litigation office at Calfee, one of the largest law firms in Ohio. "The days of clients waiting 24 hours for a turnaround on a problem are gone. They want a response within five minutes if possible, and maybe they'll accept a half-hour." While recently on vacation in Madison, Wis., Johnson was even able to revise and file a PDF version of a document in a Chicago federal court's electronic filing system.

But Johnson's road warrior status doesn't come without a solid support structure behind it. Two and a half years ago, Calfee's IT department began an initiative to allow the firm's lawyers and paralegals to work as effectively on the road as they could in the office. That entailed thinking of all the different ways the lawyers needed to connect back to the office, whether they were carrying a cell phone, some sort of e-mail device, a laptop or all three.

Today, all of Calfee's lawyers are equipped with standardized IBM Lenovo ThinkPad T42s, and most carry BlackBerry 7000s. Web-based remote access tools enable them to use office applications such as e-mail, billing and document management systems from any PC. With a system from Adomo Inc. in Cupertino, Calif., they can access e-mail, calendars and contacts with a phone call. And via a network appliance from Array Networks Inc. in Milpitas, Calif., the lawyers can get a wireless or hard-wired broadband Internet connection to the firm's network from their laptops so they can natively run applications and access the firm's repository of 2 million documents no matter where they are.

"Whether through a DSL connection in my hotel room or from a wireless hot spot, I can connect into the firm's network just as though I was sitting at my desk," Johnson says.

It's that type of well-planned, robust architecture that's required to support white-collar road warriors today. "Any one of these tools on their own won't fully support the strategy," says Gary Osborne, director of IT at Calfee. And there's the behind-the-scenes work, such as maintaining the BlackBerry server, updating the software on the mobile devices and tending to hardware and software support issues.

A Self-perpetuating System

Mobile architectures are not set-it-up-and-forget-it systems. The more you equip executives to be mobile, the more they will grow to depend on this mode of work and the more functionality they will expect. The devices they want to use might look streamlined, but supporting them is anything but.

"The more you leverage the technology, the more you rely on it and the more critical it is," agrees Dan Szidon, an audit partner at Wipfli LLP, an accounting and business consulting firm in Appleton, Wis. Szidon more often than not works at client sites, armed with a "kit" consisting of a scanner, printer, wireless router, Dell laptop and Microsoft Mobile smart phone.

Indeed, even with everything Calfee has in place, Johnson can name some improvements he'd like to make to his mobile arsenal. He'd like a combination tablet PC/laptop for recording notes, and he'd like all paper-based files at the firm to be turned into PDFs and stored electronically.

Johnson also can't help but eye the wireless broadband access cards on the market, which would truly enable him to access the office network from anywhere, even without a hard-wired connection or a Wi-Fi hot spot.

IT managers have high expectations too. For example, Osborne is looking at extending the BlackBerry to enable lawyers to access Calfee's time and billing system from the device, as well as adding spell-check and print capabilities.

Offering sophisticated mobile tools is also fast becoming a prime way to attract the best employees in the job market. "The people we hire are college graduates predominantly, and to not have that type of environment puts you at a disadvantage," Szidon says. "It puts us on a higher scale."

There's Always Something

Jeff Gallino is another self-described road warrior who recently equipped his sales staff with BlackBerry devices because he couldn't stand the four- to-five-hour wait between sending an e-mail and getting a response.

"I promised myself I'd never have one, and now I'm addicted like everyone else," says Gallino, president of CallMiner Inc., a speech analytics software firm in Fort Myers, Fla. "To maintain the sanctity of my marriage, I turn the ringer off when I'm home and just set it to vibrate."

But as much as he embraces his mobile capabilities, he sees plenty of room for improvement. In addition to a BlackBerry 7100g and a Dell Axim x50v pocket PC, Gallino travels with a 2.5-lb. Toshiba Protege laptop and an add-on battery. He is satisfied with the weight and the added nine hours of battery life. But to get that, he compromised on the screen and the keyboard, which are both smaller than he would like. Gallino is also critical of the design of available power supplies, which he says are awkward to use and store. "I always feel like I'm damaging the wires when I wrap them up," he says.

Gallino says he loves his Verizon V620 broadband access card, which gives him cellular-based Internet access, no matter where he is, for $80 per month. "That's worth gold to me," he says. "I do two to three hours a week of office work in airports, and I don't want to pay $12 in roaming charges every time I open my laptop."

But as much as he relies on and appreciates his BlackBerry for its always- connected status and its calendar, contact management and push e-mail capabilities, Gallino is decidedly not in love with it. For one thing, although he uses it as a phone, he doesn't like the shape, calling it "the Model T of phones."

He also thinks the device is too large and should be designed with a hinge so you can fold it up when you're not using it. Without that, you have to clip it to your belt, "and then you get to show the whole world what a geek you are," Gallino says. He questions its ruggedness, since its keys are already breaking down after less than a year.

But until there's an affordable device that combines the pocket PC's capabilities with a good phone, contact database, push e-mail and persistent networking, Gallino will continue to use the BlackBerry. "There have been times when I'm literally in an investor meeting and I'm waiting to hear about a sales closure, and then it buzzes and I can see we've got the deal," he says.

Behind the scenes, supporting CallMiner's road warriors has created a whole new set of responsibilities for Felix Lipa, the company's network administrator. Four months ago, the company decided to install its own BlackBerry server rather than rely on a third-party provider, which meant migrating users one by one. "He worked us through every step of it," Gallino says.

It also meant providing e-mail connectivity from users' laptops as well as their BlackBerry devices and PDAs, supporting a voice-over-IP capability, maintaining the firm's virtual private network and other remote connectivity systems, and tending to laptop hardware and software issues. But the most important thing is to understand the devices you support "like the back of your hand," Lipa says. "You need to be able to guide the users over the phone through various menus and tell them what to look for without having to dig through dozens of pages of documentation." With the multitude and ever-increasing complexity of devices and services available to mobile users, this can be quite a challenge, he adds.

To lend some sanity to the job, the IT department has standardized on the BlackBerry 7100, although employees can choose their own PDAs, about a dozen of which Lipa now supports. He says his job would be a lot easier, though, if mobile device makers would establish more consistency across these devices. Too often, different terminologies are used for the same functionalities, not only across different manufacturers but also across devices by the same manufacturer, he says.

Less Than Perfect

Dealing with mobility's trade-offs and road warriors' desire for continual improvement has often led Justin Hectus to think about Voltaire's famous quote: "The perfect is the enemy of the good." In other words, "if you wait for the perfect mobile device, you'll never get started," says Hectus, director of information at Keesal, Young & Logan, a Long Beach, Calif.-based law firm with offices in Seattle, Hong Kong and Anchorage, Alaska.

Hectus supports 80 lawyers carrying five different mobile devices: the Palm Treo 600, 650 and 700; the Motorola Q smart phone; and the Good Technology GoodLink T100 data-only device. He has overlaid the devices with GoodLink software, which provides a rapid application development framework, simplifies remote management and gives all the devices a standard user interface.

Hectus has developed a time-capture application for billing, as well as the ability to file expense reports, access directions and check weather and flight times.

Where he sees weaknesses with mobile devices available today is mainly with the phone. "People want something less bulky that won't drop a call when they're getting e-mail," he says. In fact, a significant number of Keesal, Young employees would be happy carrying a solid e-mail-only device and a small flip phone rather than a converged device, says Hectus.

That's what Glen Piper, an associate lawyer at the firm, does. He's happy with the reliability of his GoodLink T100 device, except for the fact that it isn't able to open fax attachments. "I have to send it to my secretary and have her read it to me," he says.

Hectus would also like to see a better way of updating software on the various devices he supports. Manufacturers release patches for the devices at least every six months, explains Chris Almaraz, systems support coordinator at Keesal, Young. That requires him to download the update and spend 20 minutes installing it on each device at the user's convenience. He wishes manufacturers would send software updates via e-mail that he could then push out to the devices, or even enable the patches to be put on cards that could be inserted into the devices.

Mobile capabilities have become so ubiquitous that their cost can sometimes go unquestioned. "All it takes is one dire situation to pay for the entire program," Osborne says. "If a client misses a filing or a deal doesn't close, it could cost them millions of dollars." At Calfee, the lawyers' ThinkPads come out of the IT budget. The attorneys pay for their own e-mail or phone devices but can be reimbursed for monthly data service charges.

"We realize we can't put a price tag on client service," says Hectus, whose firm foots the bill for the lawyers' devices. "It's well worth the cost to keep the professionals in touch."

But there's no mistaking that purchasing mobile devices -- in addition to supporting them -- is expensive. And the benefits are difficult to put in dollar terms, adds Tom Lenz, IT director at Wipfli. "We support 600 to 700 of these devices at $300 to $500 each, plus $30 to $50 a month to keep active and online," he says. "So you've got very well-defined costs, but the benefits are very ill defined, which makes it difficult to justify to senior management."

Wipfli puts some of the cost burden on employees themselves, who pay for half of the cost of the devices but can expense the data and cell phone service portion of their monthly bills.

Even with the costs, support burdens and imperfections, there's no doubt that road warriors will grow more sophisticated. "In five years, we'll carry a device that deals with the network in our pockets, and we'll just carry a display that's lightweight and expandable," Gallino predicts. "We'll be always on and always connected."

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You Know You're a Road Warrior When . . .

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You know which sporting arenas have Wi-Fi hot spots.
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You're frustrated because your Palm Treo offers only patchy coverage on your Colorado ski vacation.
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You never have to hook up to the hotel's broadband Internet connection because your laptop has its own built-in broadband access card.
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You're frustrated that the scroll wheel on your BlackBerry is on the right-hand side because you can't shift gears in your car and dial a contact at the same time.
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The latest book you read was on a PDA.

— Mary Brandel

Brandel is a Computerworld contributing writer. Contact her at marybrandel@verizon.net.

Special Report

The Faces of Mobile IT

Different types of mobile workers, such as road warriors, telecommuters and blue-collar workers, need different forms of IT support.

Stories in this report:

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