Get Organized With PDAs

Douglas Carner Comments
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In the course of my business, I attend a lot of office and vendor meetings, during which the various attendees generally brandish their organizational "toys"--their PDAs, or personal data assistants. A few years ago, a PDA was little more than an electronic address book. Today, these battery-powered, pocket-sized computers connect us to the wireless Internet or our office files. We can use them to schedule appointments, answer e-mails and collaborate on projects, all while roaming about the nation. The PDA has become indispensable to the business executive.

The medical field has embraced PDAs as an effective method to research patient records and access reference libraries. Soon, emergency medical technicians will have instant access to your health records while en route to the hospital. Doctors will access patient information at the touch of a button, enter symptoms to update records, and retrieve a recommended diagnosis in minutes.

Soon, retail outlets will equip employees with PDAs so they may retrieve product specifications, check stock and even perform checkout without ever leaving a customer's side. Customers will be free of long register lines, and stores will gain valuable inventory space that was previously used for checkout stations.

Self-storage managers can take advantage of these same conveniences as they do rounds at their facilities. They will be able to answer questions, update records and process reservations via their PDAs and a cordless phone, allowing them to provide full service to prospective tenants without having to be in the office. When the PDA is later plugged into a computer, the records will be automatically transferred and updated. "District managers can use their PDAs to connect with others and share company information and task lists," says Jim Chiswell, president of Chiswell & Associates LLC. Chiswell recently introduced LockCheck, a PDA program managers use to verify unit status during their walk-arounds.

PDAs also make it easy for you to record the highlights of your business conversations. Just think how this can help you sort through the facts accumulated during your next industry tradeshow. You can instantly record the product specifications and pricing that appeals to you, schedule which seminars to attend, and track your travel expenses to ensure full credit on your income taxes.

Purchasing a PDA

If you don't already own a PDA, you now have several excellent models from which to choose. You can try hundreds of creative PDA developments at "Planet PDA," a new conference and exhibition focused on educating business owners about the productivity increase they can realize using handheld computers. The show is attended by MIS and executive decision-makers, operating-system developers and vendors, software suppliers, resellers, field sales and service personnel, handheld-computer users and others. For more information, visit www.tmcnet.com/planetpda.

The PDA market was defined in the mid-'90s by the Palm PilotTM, which evolves each year into a more powerful business tool. More than 100,000 developers have used the straightforward design of the Palm Pilot to create a dazzling array of applications. The full-featured Palm model is the M505. It sells for about $349 at most discount outlets. If you can live with a black and white screen, you can spend only $129 for the M105 model.

Handspring offers Palm power plus options for storage cards, wireless modems, cell phones, etc. Its Visor Prism model sports a colorful screen and plenty of memory--all for a street price of $249. Or, if you use AOL e-mail and require an always-on, portable Internet connection, I recommend the Blackberry 850 by Motion for $399.

Recently, Microsoft introduced a new solution: the Pocket PC platform. This is a scaled-down computer that includes thin versions of Microsoft Word, Excel and Internet Explorer, plus dozens of other Microsoft applications. Other industry players such as Casio, Compaq, HP and Toshiba also offer near-laptop-grade pocket PCs. I am particularly impressed with the $569 Toshiba Pocket PC E570. It has a large, colorful screen and an amazing level of computing power. This unit also includes an electronic-book reader, voice recorder and MP3 player. Equally impressive is the similarly priced Compaq iPAC 3870. It includes handwriting recognition and voice dictation.

However convenient, portability does require serious design compromises. For example, all of these units have front-lit displays. Front-lit screens are easy to read in sunlight and dark rooms, but readability suffers under normal indoor lighting.

I have listed only the highlights of a few select PDAs. No single unit will satisfy everyone's needs. As with any business tool, first decide what you want to accomplish, then buy the device that fulfills that need. Carry your PDA with you always. Use it at your next industry tradeshow. It has been said that time is money. If this is true, a good PDA provides a fantastic return on investment.

Doug Carner is the vice president of marketing for QuikStor Security & Software, a Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based company specializing in security, software and management for the self-storage industry. For more information, call 800.321.1987; e-mail doug@quikstor.com; visit www.quikstor.com.

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