Managing the white-collar road warrior

If you don’t spend a lot of time in hockey arenas, you might not know that a number of them have Wi-Fi hotspots.

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 two million documents no matter where they are.

“Whether through a DSL connection in my hotel room or from a wireless hotspot, 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 hotspot.

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 US$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.

Side bar

Ten tips for developing your company’s mobility policy

1 Develop classification criteria for different types of mobile workers and their unique network, device, application and support requirements

2 Determine the devices and services you will pay for, based on employee level, function and mobility patterns

3 Establish how ROI will be measured

4 Distinguish between broad, horizontal requirements and specific vertical needs

5 Develop a methodology for effectively communicating your expectations to service providers and vendors based on their specialties, as well as criteria for measuring and benchmarking them

6 Consider security requirements at the access and device level; mobile security should be integrated more effectively into the broader enterprise security framework

7 Determine how personal use of mobile devices and services will be handled

8 Develop rules for customer access to the mobile framework

9 Establish policies and a structure for help desk support of mobile employees, and determine whether this is handled internally or outsourced

10 Develop mobile policies as part of broader IT framework and vendor and partner relationships

Side bar

Tethered to Treo

How’s this for irony: the reason Chris Nimsky has become so attached to his Palm Treo smart phone is that his company encourages face-to-face communications.

“We try to emphasize that if you have something to talk about with someone, go to them instead of peppering them with e-mails all day,” says Nimsky, who is senior property director at, an online source for automotive information.

But between visiting people at their desks and attending meetings, Nimsky is away from his desk for hours at a time. So if he didn’t have an e-mail device with him at all times, he’d miss a lot of messages.

Nimsky recently upgraded from the Treo 600 to the Windows Mobile Treo smart phone from Verizon Wireless. The new version lets him separate his personal e-mail and calendaring functions from his work functions, which he couldn’t do on the old Treo. That meant carrying two devices. “How many things do you want in your pocket at one time?” he says.

On Nimsky’s wish list is an integrated Wi-Fi card on his Treo. “I’d never buy one, because they’re the size of a postage stamp and I’d lose it,” he says. But if it were part of the device, it would kick into Wi-Fi mode when there was no cell coverage. And that would mean he wouldn’t have to take his Wi-Fi-enabled laptop with him to continue getting e-mail on his next Colorado ski vacation.

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–Brandel is a Computerworld contributing writer. Contact her at [email protected].

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