There's an argument against the usage of USB sticks which has been discussed many times in this column: they're a potentially massive security risk. But there's another case you could make against having your business life stored in 4GB or so of flash memory — it's a total support nightmare.
I was reminded of this possibility during a presentation by Chris Wickham, customer services manager for Wellington City Council in New Zealand, at the recent ITSM conference on the Gold Coast.
While local councils in the Antipodes don't (to be brutally frank) enjoy a reputation as cutting-edge deployers of advanced technology, Wellington has been working hard to update its systems, and a shift towards more portable technology has been a key element in that strategy.
"There's a general trend of people having PDAs and memory sticks as replacements for laptops. Laptops are so 90s, aren't they?" he noted. The ability to store crucial business documents, and possibly even a log-in to replicate your main work environment, on a USB stick helps eliminate the "my fingers are too much like sausages to use this phone" argument that often gets wheeled out by sweaty executive types.
Wickham recognises the potential, but says there's been a considerable downside to the council's move to using a mixture of phones and USB sticks.
"It sounds so tempting: dump your notebook and just travel with a smartphone, possibly supplemented with a USB key ready to launch you onto your corporate desktop," Wickham said. "But what kind of nightmares does that create for the team in the back room? It's been difficult."
Some of those challenges are perhaps inevitable given a radical change in infrastructure. Others are exacerbated by the always-on nature that a phone-and-USB combo provides.
"We've had staff on holiday in London being rung up in the middle of the night about some minutiae at work," he said.
None of this is necessarily an argument against making the switch — after all, laptops have their own support issues too. But the assumption that the simplicity of operation that plugging in a USB stick provides can be replicated throughout IT is a dangerous one. Proceed with due caution to avoid a sticky ending.