We often talk about excellence at the University, but this is normally restricted to research and teaching. To attain excellence, it is widely agreed that access to the best resources is key. There are many league tables devoted to showing who has the best of the best and why that is so. Other people discuss that in greater depth elsewhere.

We never really talk about excellence away from research and teaching. Why not also apply this to the central — so called “professional services” — departments: the registry, the library, the IT department and others.

In my line of work, we are required to support an ever growing list of devices, but with limited resource.

Sat on my desk at work, I have an ageing 2008 model white MacBook. When new, this was a very competent entry level machine, but things have moved on. Back at home, there is a brand spanking MacBook Pro with a solid state hard drive. It goes like stink.

The comparisons are startling. The work machine will boot a Windows XP image in 1 to 2 minutes if lucky — the home machine takes between 5 and 10 seconds. Let’s not compare booting a Windows 7 image, but just say that the difference is many times more embarrassing.


Which of these computers best provides me with a current and able development environment to best support my work building mobile applications for iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile (insert platform here) etc. ?

My home machine is by far the most productive machine. Probably allowing me to be an order of magnitude more productive when building code and testing it out on the various platforms. Why is that? Launching a Blackberry simulator on the work computer takes around 10 minutes. There are many Blackberry simulators though I don’t have time for more than three. That means that every time I make a change to code and it needs testing, which is many, many times daily, I have to wait 10 minutes+ per simulator to load and then test the new functionality out on the slow simulator. This is approximately half an hour per code change. For the iOS (iPhone platform) this is limited to around 5-10 minutes per test iteration.

Return on investment

Scale this up to just one week and it’s frightening how much time is spent waiting for the computer to respond. A slightly larger initial outlay probably pays itself back in a couple of weeks — I’ve not done the maths, but it’s likely in the correct ballpark. Subsequent time savings are of course achieved at no extra cost.

A faster machine would allow for more rapid development cycles and a truly agile development environment.

Bring your own computer

An increasing number of companies now run a “bring your own computer” (BYOC) scheme. The company subsidises the cost of the hardware, but it allows the employee to define the spec of the machine. This works for the benefit of the business in several ways…

  • The device becomes the responsibility of the employee, so there are saving in the cost of support
  • Asset management is redundant, so there’s a saving there.
  • Employees are more productive when allowed a machine that meets their requirement
  • Employees feel that the business is empowering them to work and so have a more positive attitude towards the business

Note, that in schemes ran by companies such as Microsoft, Citrix, Kraft and Intel, employees are normally required to purchase a 3 year support contract.

Of course it’s not all plain sailing, there are other factors which need careful thought. But if you want the best results from your employees and job satisfaction is on your radar, allowing them access to the best resources is a great place to start.

Further reading

The above post was written while working at the University of Nottingham. It was originally posted here.