Technology: Don't Leave Home Without It

May 14, 2007
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Remember when getting away from it all, really meant getting away from it all? With advances in communications and computer technology, it’s nearly impossible to be away from the office and be unreachable. Consider this scenario.

It’s 10:30 a.m. and I receive a call from a client that I’m working with on a large commercial project. She wants me to revise my proposal to include some additional work that she just learned of, and she needs the updated proposal by 4 p.m. I know that I need to review my cost estimate spreadsheet, probably get some pricing from a couple of vendors, and consult with both my project manager and installation manager. I’m at the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) Conference and Indoor Air Expo in Walt Disney World, Florida, some 750 miles from my office in New Jersey. Ten years ago this would have been a problem, but not today.

In 1997 I was one of just a few employees in my company that had a cell phone. I didn’t give clients my cell phone number - the thinking was kind of backwards. Cell phone usage cost a lot and if you gave a client your cell phone number she might actually call you on it and run up your cell phone bill. No, back then, cell phones were for calling your wife to let her know you were on your way home after a long day at the office. The call from this client was handled much differently.

ANATOMY OF A CALL

My client’s call to my direct dial phone number at our office was answered by our Toshiba CS Viewpoint computer-based telephone system. Because I had set my status to “Out of the Office,” the system knew to route my calls based upon the routing list I had previously established.

As I had given this client a personal PIN number to dial when she reached my voice mail, her call was routed directly to my cell phone. She didn’t have to ask a client service representative how to get a hold of me; she reached me almost immediately. As long as I had cell service (which in most metropolitan areas of the United States is not an issue), she was able to get a hold of me.

Now, I had to get a hold of my staff at the office. Enter my Blackberry. My Blackberry is probably the one device that will have to be pried from my clenched fists when I die (apologies to Charlton Heston). It’s my phone, my appointment book, my Rolodex, my Web browser, and my e-mail device all in one. I have a Model 8703E and subscribe to the Sprint/Nextel network with Blackberry Enterprise Server installed on my office computer. This allows all of the entries that I make in Outlook (calendar, contacts, to-dos, memos) to wirelessly synchronize with my Blackberry and vice versa.

Using Blackberry Instant Messenger (not much different than AOL Instant Messenger - which based upon my 17-year-old son’s needs, it seems hard to understand how I grew up without it) I contact my assistant, my project manager, and my installation manager and notify them that we’re going to have a conference call regarding this project in 30 minutes.

11 a.m.: I call my assistant, Ginny, and she conferences the four of us together using the conference feature our phone system offers. Unlike the phone systems of just a few years ago, there is no drop in volume and we can all clearly hear each other. We discuss the work necessary to revise our proposal and I assign each team member a task.

11:30 a.m.: Kenny logs onto the @Road GPS tracking system we subscribe to and locates the technician closest to the project. He sends the technician a text message on his cell phone and directs him to the project to verify the field measurements needed to update our pricing.

Meanwhile, Ray, using Microsoft Project, updates the schedule and timeline for the project and e-mails me a copy for my review.

11:45 a.m.: I’ve opened up my laptop inside the ACCA Indoor Air Expo exhibit hall and using my Sprint Air Card (the air card was free and the monthly charge is $59 for unlimited access) I connect to the Internet at near-broadband speed and check my vendor pricing on a couple of items needed for the revision. (I could have also connected using my wireless adapter and the wireless broadband being broadcast through the convention center, but I avoid the hefty daily connection charge by using my Air Card).

11:50 a.m.: I log on to Carrier’s dealer-only Website and confirm the pricing of the unit that I need and verify that it is in stock. I save my inquiry so that when I need to order it later, I don’t have to re-enter the information.

12:10 p.m.: Next I log on to our local Johnstone Supply’s Website and confirm my custom pricing for some materials as well as their availability at one of their five New Jersey locations. This inquiry is also saved for future retrieval to place an order.

12:25 p.m.: I contact yet a third vendor who doesn’t yet have a Web-based order system, (he better get one soon if he wants to keep my business) and ask him to fax me pricing for some additional materials. I give him my E-Fax number and he agrees to fax his quote in the next 15 minutes. E-Fax receives faxes sent to your dedicated number and forwards them as Adobe PDF files.

Now I need to access the files on my desktop computer back in my office. Using Citrix Terminal Server and its remote connection service Citrix nFuse, I connect to my office network and my desktop appears on my laptop just as it looks back in my office.

I retrieve my pricing spreadsheet and update the new pricing for the equipment and materials that I just checked online.

Ray has e-mailed me the revised project timeline and I make some adjustments to it and send it back to him.

12:40 p.m.: I receive an e-mail from E-Fax containing the contents of the faxed quote sent from my not-so-Internet-friendly vendor. I update pricing in my spreadsheet and forward it to Ginny.

All I need now is that verification of some field measurements. I’m due to be in a workshop at 1 p.m., and I instant message (IM) Kenny to tell him to IM me when he has the information.

1:30 p.m.: I’m in another one of ACCA’s workshops learning how to make my business even more customer-focused when the gentle vibration of my Blackberry lets me know that I’ve just received an instant message.

I discreetly check the message and it’s Kenny letting me know that the field measurement has been verified and we can make the required adjustments with minimal bother.

Using Blackberry’s thumb-keyboard, I send an e-mail to Ginny and make her aware of the final changes that need to be made to the proposal and ask her to send a revised one to me within the hour.

2:25 p.m.: I’m between educational sessions sipping some coffee and pondering the consequences to my physique of having another doughnut. Sometimes my Blackberry reminds me of Batman’s utility belt as it silently alerts me of another incoming message.

Ginny has updated the proposal and has attached an MS-Word file for me to review. I open the file on my handheld device, make a few minor changes, and send it back to Ginny. Walking past the doughnut display, I tell her to forward a final copy to me and I head into another workshop. This one is on technology in the workplace. I want to go to see if there’s anything I need, and I won’t know if I need it until I see it.

3:15 p.m.: I receive Ginny’s final update to the proposal and it looks great. I’ve got another 15 minutes of the technology workshop and then a break. I’ll finish my business when the workshop is over.

3:30 p.m.: I e-mail our revised proposal and project timeline to my client and ask her to review it. I tell her I’m going to call her at 3:45 p.m. to review the proposal and address any concerns that she might have.

3:45 p.m.: My client informed me that the revised proposal looks great, and she expects it to be approved quickly. She apologizes for the short notice and expresses concern that the changes probably kept me stuck in the office all afternoon. I smile and tell her how much I appreciate her business.

3:55 p.m.: Now I’ve got five minutes to get to the “I’ve Got a Big Idea” presentation.

Later that night, before I head to bed, I log on one more time. Instead of giving my wife of 23 years a simple goodnight phone call, I connect to my mini Webcam and have a face-to-face good night conversation with her. I’m glad that getting away from it all isn’t like it used to be.

Publication date: 05/14/2007

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