Economy

Technology and the business traveller

SmartCompany /

Do entrepreneurs really need all those gadgets and a degree in ITC and web 2.0 to work remotely? By EMILY ROSS.

By Emily Ross

SmartCompany canvassed a range of business owners, both in Australia and offshore, and asked them about the technology they love when they are working remotely. What makes their life easier, what helps them keep in touch.

 

SMEs seem to break into two clear camps when it comes to high-tech tools. The first camp consists of those that are obsessed with the latest technology, and are excited about the new iPhone, the latest BlackBerry Pearl, wikis (collaborative websites) and new video conferencing services through the web.

 Then there is the other camp. These business owners are happy to travel the world without the latest gizmos. One award-winning Australian exporter with contracts in 30 countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Romania, says that while the application of its business services are cutting edge, its executives just don’t have time to worry about the latest gadgets. The company relies on wireless laptops and mobile phones with international roaming for its staff – no frills, but it works.

 When it comes to technology, Sydney-based social networks strategist and University of Sydney lecturer Laurel Papworth sums it up perfectly: “Some love; some hate.”

 Technology is a tool that appeals to some and not others. “We only use tools that we can apply to our own lives – so it’s a personal, individual response,” Papworth says. She teaches web marketing, web 2.0 and a “how to blog” course at the University of Sydney, and is also a regular at web 2.0 conferences presenting workshops on building online communities.

 Papworth keeps connected wherever she is through email and through websites such as Facebook and Twitter – a social networking site where people can text message what they are doing to the website which then posts the information online. Twitter allows people to keep in touch via the web even in places where the traveller cannot access email (only SMS services). Updates are displayed on the user’s Twitter page and sent to people signed up to receive them.

 The web continues to develop at an astonishing pace. Helloworld is a pioneer of video emails, webcasts and video conferencing for up to four people through broadband. Members pay monthly fees (around $US15) to access Helloworld services.

 Adelaide-based travel agent Max Najar is a huge fan of the Helloworld conferencing tools, which allow him to have a video conference anywhere in the world he can access the web (without the echo often found in Skype calls). The Helloworld site is also used to share photos and videos over the web, allowing members to store their images online and give access to nominated friends and family.

 The challenge is to find the technology for business travellers that actually pays for itself, makes life on the road easier and is easy to adopt. Editorial director and writer Tom Field is evangelical about his BlackBerry for wireless emails. “I cannot tell you how much time I save doing a quick email browse on a plane, waiting for baggage or in a cab. By the time I get to my final destination and log on, I’ve got most of the useless email dealt with, and I can focus on just the important messages,” he says. He does admit however that what he really loves is checking sports scores – certainly a good motivation to learn how to use the darn thing.

 When graphic designer Ross Floate, director of Floate Design Partners, jumps off an aeroplane anywhere in the world, he always knows the time, date, currency conversions and weather thanks to an application that can be download on to mobile devices. The WordMate localises appointment times and stores information on hotels, flights, car hire and other details of itineraries. Its latest version even notifies users if their plane is delayed. “It’s the best thing I ever had for a business trip,” he says.

 At the cutting edge of new technology are the technophiles queuing up for the latest gadget. iPhones might not be available in Australia until early 2008 but Dave King, general manager at digital agency Netx already has an 8GB iPhone in his Melbourne office. The iPhone is the latest Apple phenomenon. King is not the only one with an appetite for iPhones.  When Apple launched its iPhone in the US on 29 June 2007, it sold more than 500,000 phones in the first weekend, selling out in most stores and netting the company more than $US300 million. Clearly there is overwhelming consumer demand for new technology.

 King, who has been working in online media since 1996, is one of those people whose response to technology is to get in there first. He is using the iPhone to show clients what their brands look like on the iPhone and “show people where mobile is going”. The phone is svelte (115×61.11 millimetres) and incorporates a camera, phone, is wi-fi enabled, includes a multimedia player and web-browser with Google Maps, weather and other practical services such as Excel spreadsheet display. It is also heavily geared towards the iPod and YouTube fan.“It is much more about the user experience,” says King.

 Apple’s iPhone (available early 2008 in Australia and will cost around $1000) has certainly been a bestseller for Apple. But the company is now dealing with the fallout from hackers successfully unlocking the phone so that users can choose to operate the phone through their own preferred carriers rather than AT&T, which did have an exclusive deal with Apple.

 But there are more phones heading to Australian markets. Google is developing its own handset. Google’s phone is likely to be more about great new applications than the phone itself. Apple’s design should trump its competitors in the short term at least.

 Sony Ericsson’s offering is its K770i Slimline. At 14.5mm thick, with a 3.2 megapixel camera it is the next fancy phone to watch out for. And Nokia’s new suite of phones was announced last month. Its new range includes a gaming phone and an upgrade music phone.

 

 SmartCompany’s road warrior wishlist

  1. Cheaper phone rates for international roaming (rates are so bad, the European Union has just passed laws to limit fees phone companies can charge).

  2. More free wireless areas.

  3. More powerpoints at airports.

  4. Free mobile internet connectivity sometime before the end of the decade.

  5. A stash of mobile phone chargers at hotels for guests who left theirs at home.

 

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