Suitability to task beats 'cool' every time

Sometimes you need to give them what they need, not what they want.

At the end of last week I received a somewhat panicked call from a long time client. He had been tasked with replacing the notebook computers of his executive team and he was at a bit of a loss. The standards that they had in place weren’t going to apply, and his normal area of responsibility was maintaining the company’s web presence (the online business that generates over 50% of the company’s revenue). While the company generates a lot of revenue (about $25 million annually), they do so with a very small internal IT department of only two people, outsourcing many common IT tasks.

His panic was the result of the requirements that the new CEO was placing on this purchase. In a very common situation a non-technical executive was convinced that the latest and greatest hardware he was seeing ads for was the right solution, so he had decided that Ultrabooks were the way to go. He wanted light, fast, and great battery life. Sounds simple enough, right?  The only problem was that there a couple of “by the way“ requirements that made Ultrabooks acceptable only with quite a few compromises. And the CEO didn’t realize that the requirements that the notebooks needed to meet were going to define the most suitable portable computers for the task.

The primary requirements were this: the computer needed to run Windows 7 due to a business specific app that was not yet compatible with Windows 8, the computer must have an optical drive, and, lastly, the device needed to have easily swappable batteries as the users would be regularly travelling to Asia and 14 hours of battery life was the guideline to allow the device to be used for the entire trip. Almost all of these requirements ruled out the latest generation of Ultrabooks. Additionally they wanted fast processors, lots of storage, and, oh yes, due to budgetary concerns, the systems needed to be purchased right now.

The first issues to deal with were the batteries and the optical drives.  Part of what makes Ultrabooks slim is that they don’t have optical drives and the batteries are contained within the case and not easily removed. The optical drive issue could have been worked around by using inexpensive portable USB drives; the battery issue isn’t so easily solved. While there are external battery packs available for notebook computers they aren’t highly regarded, in general, and they offer a limited selection of connectors, almost none suitable for the latest generation of Ultrabooks.

The choice of operating system also proved to be a limiting factor. Many of the latest generation of lightweight computers are available with Windows 8 only and that wasn’t acceptable. So we found ourselves with a much narrowed field of candidates when I sat down with the CEO for a quick chat. After explaining the issues, and learning that he was concerned about screen size, wanting nothing larger than 14” 9their field sales force uses 17” screen desktop replacement notebooks and he didn’t want anything that large), I was able to convince him that while his requirements were ruling out Ultrabooks there were other potential candidates in the business-class 14” screen notebook market that would accurately fit his needs. 

When we prioritized the requirements the choice became much simpler. Battery life was the number one concern; his previous behavior was to carry multiple batteries to assure power on the regular travels to Asia. With this as the primary criteria, I took them on the path of reliability and suggested they go with fully tricked out Lenovo T430 ThinkPads with the additional 9 cell slice battery.  Lenovo claims up to 24 hours battery life with this configuration (internal and externally mounted 9 cell 94 wH batteries) which is more than enough for their trips, even if a generous estimate. Intel i7 CPU, 500 GB SATA II drives with a 16 GB SSD cache drive, HD+ display, DVD drive, and Windows 7 Professional met the actual needs of their executive team.

Only slightly heavier than an Ultrabook (without the slice battery attached) and with the proven reliability of the ThinkPad T4XX line, this notebook was the perfect solution to their actual needs.  It might lack the “gee whiz” coolness of the latest Ultrabook designs, but it will reliably do exactly what the customer needs for the foreseeable future.  And that’s what really matters