What's new in office technology

What’s out there that can help your business run faster and smarter?

Ethan D’Onofrio, vice president of Northwest Computer, uses his Palm Treo 700w, which runs on the new Windows Mobile 5.0. D’Onofrio said Windows Mobile 5.0 is swiftly replacing Palm and Blackberry technology as the operating system of choice for tech-savvy businesspeople.

Heidi Schiller
   What’s hot now? Program integration and mobile commerce are the current buzzwords.
   New telecommunications technology is helping businesses streamline their phone systems. New laptop and mobile data device technologies are making mobile commerce easier and more accessible. They are allowing more and more businessmen and women to unchain themselves from office desks while still having access to all the comforts of office accoutrements in hand.
   Let’s take a look at some of these new technologies.

Voice over Internet Protocol
   Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, is one of the fastest growing trends in telecommunications, according to Ethan D’Onofrio, vice president of Northwest Computer.
   VoIP allows users to make telephone calls using a broadband Internet connection instead of a regular, or analog, phone line.
   There are two types of VoIP systems. The first connects internal company networks and integrates their phone system with a computer network, enabling the use of computer applications in conjunction with phones, D’Onofrio said.
   The second type of VoIP, represented by services such as Vonage and Skype, provides phone service using broadband Internet connections.
   An example of what the first type of VoIP can do is matching up phone systems with Outlook accounts, which allows a wide range of options. If you’re out of the office, for example, an Outlook account will communicate that to the phone system and reroute the call to a mobile phone or another line in the office.
   Andrea Ruback, account administrator for Birch Equipment, said the equipment-rental and sales company relies heavily on phone usage and last year decided to switch over from a regular phone system to a VoIP system, which connects Birch Equipment’s various interstate locations.
   Ruback said the integration of Outlook with the company’s phones has been helpful.
   With VoIP, she can look into her voice mail through her computer, and can forward e-mails with voice mail attachments that play just like a music file. She can use caller ID on her computer, and has the option to have that person’s Outlook file pop up on screen. She can see if the caller is dialing her number directly, or if it was rerouted from another one of Birch Equipment’s several Northwest locations. If she’s not in the office, she can have a call forwarded to her cell phone.
   “It has made us more efficient with routing of calls and call handling, and has allowed us the ability to grow,” she said.
   Birch Equipment has added new locations and hired new employees recently, and VoIP has helped the company communicate better among those new entities.
   “We never want a phone to go unanswered,” she said. With VoIP, if the Bellingham office is too busy to pick up a call, it is then routed to a different store location where the employees can see the call is being rerouted and can still help a customer with an order.
   The second type of VoIP, represented by phone services such as Vonage, which has connections all over the world, can make long distance calls less expensive.
   D’Onofrio warns that businesses should be thoughtful when considering which, and even if, VoIP would benefit their business.
   “Investing in a full VoIP phone system is not for everyone. A small office with only three people is not going to see a good return on a full system … how much management savings could there possibly be with three phones?” he said. “A true VoIP system implementation (like Birch Equipment’s) is going to be a better fit for larger businesses with at least 10 users,” he said.

Verified by Intel, or VBI
   VBI is an Intel program that standardizes laptop parts, such as keyboards, batteries and power adapters.
   Until now, laptops have not had standard parts between brands or within brands. For example, two different versions of Dell laptops could have entirely different parts that could not interchange, D’Onofrio said.
   With VBI, Intel is making standardized parts so that companies like Northwest Computer can build laptops with easily replaceable and upgradeable parts.
   Because the parts are standardized, they cost less and take less time to replace.
   For example, new replacement Dell keyboards can cost up to $100 and take a week to order, he said. VBI replacement keyboards cost about $20 and can be purchased in the store, on the spot.
   “No more grossly overpriced proprietary hardware from the big guys who have thrived on charging $200 for a replacement battery,” he said.
   VBI also allows for better ability to upgrade a laptop because the upgraded parts are standardized to fit a VBI laptop.
   Trans-Ocean Products, a seafood production company based in Bellingham, has more than a half-dozen sites around the U.S. where the company’s salesmen and managers regularly visit.
   For that reason, information technology manager Rick Lobb decided to purchase several VBI laptops recently from Northwest Computer. The company had been using Dell and IBM laptops, which weren’t standing up to the wear and tear of frequent travel and use, he said. After ordering a lemon from one of the companies, and having difficulty returning and getting a good new one, he went to Northwest Computer and they had a VBI laptop right there he could purchase and take home on the spot.
   “They’re working out great,” he said.
   Lobb hasn’t had to replace or upgrade any parts yet, but said that the easy ability to do so played a large role in deciding to buy them, and said the company will definitely buy more VBI laptops in the future.

Windows Mobile 5.0
   Windows Mobile 5.0 is the newest operating system for mobile data devices. It was released earlier this year but didn’t start gaining momentum until this past summer, and D’Onofrio predicted it will soon replace both Palm and Blackberry operating systems.
   Windows Mobile 5.0 supports what is called the .NET framework, which D’Onofrio said is rapidly becoming “the computer language of the Internet.”
   The best software developers in the world who do the highest-end programming are doing it on the .NET framework, he said. Both Palm and Blackberry only barely support the .NET framework and do not use it as their centerpiece, he said.
   “Windows Mobile can, and will, displace Palm and Blackberry very quickly,” D’Onofrio said.
   Software companies have written more than 20,000 applications for Windows Mobile 5.0, much more than Palm’s less than 5,000 applications. With all the new applications, combined with increasingly faster connection speeds — most carriers are offering over-the-air bandwidth speeds that rival DSL — D’Onofrio said he thinks Windows Mobile 5.0 will make competitors obsolete.
   At a Microsoft conference earlier this year D’Onofrio attended, the company handed out mobile data devices running the operating system during a golf tournament in order to illustrate their power.
   One program they used during the golf tournament involved GPS system software so players could locate other players on the green, as well as look at their up-to-the-second scores and order food from the clubhouse to be delivered right away.
   One of the most important aspects of Windows Mobile 5.0 is that it allows the user to connect directly to a Microsoft server in the office without any add-on software in a faster, easier, and less expensive way than older mobile data devices’ operating systems.
   “Buying a mobile data device today that doesn’t have Windows Mobile 5.0 on it would be like buying a huge plasma TV that doesn’t support high definition,” D’Onofrio said. “You might not put all the features to use today, or even utilize high definition, but you’re sure going to be glad they’re there when you want to use them.”
   Any type of service-dispatching business, especially, would benefit from this new operating system as they would be able to, for example, have a customer sign for their services and run a credit card through their mobile data device on the spot, which would then automatically and instantly route back to the office computer.
   “Look at it this way — Microsoft runs the world from a software standpoint, now they run mobile data devices,” D’Onofrio said.



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