The personal digital assistant (PDA) or smartphone has been the productivity lifeblood for many business owners, but for others, the PDA has become a technological battlefield saturated with tedious functions. The key to choosing the right PDA for your business lies in getting the right capabilities that is both reasonably priced and efficient to use. Contact management systems, security measures, and phone carriers, are also key features that shouldn’t be overlooked. So whether it’s a blackberry, a palm treo, or an iphone you’re after, it’s worth doing your research.
When we say PDA today, what we really mean is smartphone; simply because the market is saturated with PDAs that have phone access. But do you really want a PDA? And if so, what kind? The more traditional,purely electronic device to efficiently track your information? Or do you want all of the bells and whistles?
According to Rick Cooper, business coach and president of The PDA Pro, you can have all the fancy capabilities you want, as long as your PDA still has the fundamental four—calendar, contacts, memos and tasks. “These are the four basic functions of a PDA, and the things that will really allow a business person to be productive.”
Well, that sounds easy enough. But what else do SMEs have to keep in mind? “It’s really important to identify what the needs in your business are,” says Cooper. “If you don’t need GPS, then don’t get GPS—adding on just increases the price.”
Cooper also suggests buying a PDA that’s fast and easy to use. “If it’s cumbersome or tedious, which some of them are, then you’re far less likely to use it.”
Once you’ve got that settled, make sure the model you want will integrate with your contact management system. “What that means is you’ll need to look at your contact management software and find out what operating systems are compatible,” Cooper explains. “And it has to have good reliability and good sound quality.”
But what about finding all the right capabilities and still keeping the price down? Cooper’s first piece of advice is to contact your phone carrier. “Often you can upgrade within your current plan to another model and save on cost,” he explains. Also, it makes sense to standardise on a phone carrier to reduce your bills.
When investing in a PDA, keep future usage in mind too. If you’re buying a BlackBerry, then it’s easier to stick to the BlackBerry operating system, because constantly transferring data is nothing more than a hassle.
Find out about the returns policy as well. A PDA can be a pretty big outlay, especially when you find out you can’t actually use it. Ask to road test a PDA for 30 days, suggests Cooper.
And as clever as PDAs are, they do have a tendency to crash, despite improved reliability. “One of the most important things I recommend people do is synchronise their PDA with their computer, and then also back up their computer.”
Security measures for your PDA
There is more to protecting your records than just backing them up though, which is one downside to consider. In the era of the mobile workforce, with confidential information stored on PDAs that are usually connected to unsecured wireless networks, security measures are a must for many business owners.
“Most PDAs, they’re running 24/7. They’re a key area for threats now,” says Paul Lancaster, director of systems engineering at Symantec Software, Australia and New Zealand. “The mobile area is one that was very small back in 2004 and 2005, but our intelligence work now is showing that it’s basically doubling every six months and getting a lot of exposure to cyber criminals.”
A recent Symantec survey found 70 percent of businesses can’t survive without access to email for more than a day and, of those businesses, 72 percent use PDAs or mobile devices. But despite the large number of PDA users, more than 40 percent don’t have protection against threats like pranking for profit and Snoopware, with many not even blocking inappropriate emails—pretty risky business, considering the number of mobile viruses has also doubled every six months since 2004.
One option you can mull over is the Symantec Mobile Security Suite, says Lancaster. The suite provides tools around anti-virus, firewall and anti-SMS Spam—basically the security and data protection features that you’d have on your laptop or desktop. You can also consider encrypting the data on your PDA and the memory card, just in case they’re ever lost or stolen, says Lancaster.
Before making any decisions, remember that PDAs can ease communication and make running a business much smoother, but being switched on 24/7 may not be the work-life balance you’re after.
Case study: benefits of using a PDA
Name: Peter Harmer
Business: Beverly Hills Business Machines (www.bhbm.com), servicing office equipment
Reason for using a PDA: “It fills the void and is very functional for my application and need,” says Harmer. “Anyone who’s in service and is not using this kind of apparatus to get the job done is inefficient.”
Always on the run, Peter Harmer admits he’s a difficult one to catch, except when he’s driving and his Nokia E90 Communicator is sitting on its in-car Bluetooth cradle. “I can’t see any good reason why professionals wouldn’t use it,” he says, referring to the clarity and convenience.
The majority of Harmer’s customers contact him via an email, which comes straight to his pocket, and from there he can action the job. “It gives me access to customers 24/7,” he explains. “Communication is what it’s all about. They need to know that if they’re going to email me, I’m going to get it.” Harmer goes on to explain how using a PDA ensures he attends customer work sites within the same day, or within 24 hours at the absolute latest.
But for Harmer there are other benefits of using a PDA too. “I use it as a calendar, a reminder for maintenance, and obviously I use it as a phone.” And one of his favourite things about his Nokia model is the QWERTY keyboard: “Once you get used to it, it’s great for text messaging and answering customer emails.”
So what’s Harmer’s advice for choosing a PDA? “Look at the ease of operation, back-up service and how productive you’re going to be with any PDA,” he says. “My Nokia paid for itself in under six weeks,” he adds. “When we can respond to customer requests quickly and efficiently, even when we’re out of the office, we can service more machines and do better business.”
Case study : PDA benefits for a mobile business
Name: Ismail Akinci
Business: All Graduates (www.allgraduates.com.au), interpreting and translation service
Reason for using a PDA: “We’ve had a fantastic response from clients about our productivity improvements, which is helping us grow the business and giving us an unbeatable competitive advantage,” says Akinci, estimating the company’s efficiency has improved by 80 percent.
Receiving about 400 translation and interpreting requests a day, Ismail Akinci needed an effective way to communicate with his staff. His solution was to deploy a fleet of BlackBerrys across the All Graduates network, and he hasn’t looked back.
“Prior to switching to Vodafone and moving to Blackberry, a client would ring our call centre to book a job, then my staff would need to individually call each appropriate interpreter until the job was filled,” explains Akinci. “The whole process of finalising a job could take up to four hours.
“Now, as soon as a job request is received, the details are entered into the database. The system automatically sends an email to each appropriate interpreter with a BlackBerry.” After receiving an email, the interpreters can reply with the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ link. And once a job is filled, the system sends confirmation to the interpreter and logs the details in the client’s account.
But the new procedure wouldn’t have worked if All Graduates hadn’t already invested in an automated online booking system, says Akinci. Still, the benefits have been more than worth the cost. “My call centre operated seven full-time staff booking jobs. I’d say the BlackBerry is equivalent to two additional highly efficient senior staff, so the saving would be at least $100,000 a year, if not more,” explains Akinci. “In addition, Vodafone’s business plans come at a competitive rate, which gives us confidence that it will be feasible to continue rolling out BlackBerrys across our entire network.”
Which PDA is right for you
So you’ve decided to buy a PDA, but aren’t sure which one is for you. The best thing now is to sit down and work out the features you need, focusing on productivity rather than ‘wow’ factor, says Rick Cooper, president of The PDA Pro.
While different tastes and needs will lead to different choices, Cooper has listed a few that he finds pretty nifty, for those of you who need some extra help deciding.
* Apple iPhone
Yet to be launched in Australia, the iPhone is sleek, intuitive and easy to use—or so we’ve heard. And it has the benefit of an increasingly popular touchscreen. “It’s not a business productivity tool, but it’s fashionable and easy to use,” says Cooper. “As far as a straightforward communication device, the iPhone actually appeals to a lot of people.”
RRP: To be confirmed
*BlackBerry Curve 8310
Alongside its gunmetal grey finish, this smartphone also comes twith inbuilt GPS. But there’s more to it than that. “What I like about this one is that it has a full-size QWERTY keyboard,” says Cooper. “That’s one of the things you have to decide—do you want a bigger device with a full-size keyboard, or a small, thin device that has a more cramped keyboard?”
*Palm Treo 750
This little guy has mobile access to Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, and also allows you to synch your contacts and files. “I like the Palm operating system because it’s easier to use,” says Cooper. “It’s still very powerful, but it’s easier to navigate and a lot more intuitive for people who are not technology orientated.”
*HTC Touch Dual 850
Customised for the Telstra Next G Network, this compact device is connected to Telstra’s My Place portal, Sensis Search, Whereis Maps and Foxtel by mobile. “It has somewhat of the touchscreen like the Apple iPhone, and it’s currently available in Australia,” says Cooper. “A lot of people like the touch feature because it seems to be a bit more intuitive—you can just move your finger across the screen, rather than having to click buttons.”
*i-Mate Ultimate 8502
Solid but still slim, the i-Mate now comes with improved battery life as well. “It’s a bit on the heavy side, but it’s got a great screen and great options for connectivity,” says Cooper. “It’s just a good all-round model.”
For more handy hints on PDAs, visit www.thepdapro.com