I used to work for a consulting company with offices (and consultants) spread out all over the country. The company could never quite figure out what to do about issuing laptops to consultants. It would have been expensive to issue a laptop to every consultant, and wasteful since many had no use for one (the client made a computer available on site, they didn't need to work after hours, they didn't travel much, etc.) However, it was common for a consultant who ordinarily wouldn't need a laptop to get assigned to a gig where they did need a laptop, typically on short notice (24-48 hours). At least in the Seattle office, consultants were either stuck with using the one crufty 4 year old laptop in the office or supplying their own. Either way, this ususally ended up not looking very professional.
I was pondering this subject the other day and came up with a possible policy that a consulting company could use. This has no more value than that, it's just ramblings from my mind on a subject that caused me no small amount of grief at one point in time.
The company should spec out two types of laptops, the desktop replacement and the lightweight. These specs should be updated yearly, or when the currently spec'd laptop is no longer for sale, whichever comes first. In the interest of frugality, neither laptop would be the current top of the line, but in the interest of avoiding to have to respec more than once a year neither should be the bottom of the line either (since those are likely to be phased out more quickly).
Laptops should be replaced at the end of their useful life, probably somewhere in the neighborhood of three years. This avoids wasting everyone's time trying to string along a laptop with a dead battery, too little RAM, a small hard drive, etc.
Each laptop should be installed with a copy of Windows and a copy of Red Hat Linux. Each OS should have a set of the commonly used applications installed: Office, Visio for Windows; OpenOffice, nmap, tcpdump, minicom, etc. for Linux. Each laptop should have a set of rescue CDs which will easily restore the OS and applications to their default state.
Consultants will be provided with the root/administrator passwords to the installed operating systems and be given permission to install any applications necessary to do their job. The consultant currently in possession of the laptop is also responsible for keeping it patched, i.e. regularly using Windows Update or Red Hat Network depending on which OS they use.
Consultants may also install other OSs, wiping the disk in the process, etc. if necessary. However, they are expected to use the rescue CDs to restore the laptop to mint condition before returning it.
Some employees need laptops at all times (sales folks, consultants who travel frequently, etc.) These employees should be issued their choice of laptop (desktop replacement or lightweight).
Other employees only need laptops occasionally. To address this need, each office should have at least one laptop available for checkout. The office manager will determine how many and which types of laptops are needed for the office. Consultants who need a laptop can then just swing by their local office and check one out. The regional and national offices should also keep a few extras on hand to Fedex out when a local office has a sudden, unusual demand.