The Future Is Here
The Future Is Here
Xoom. Galaxy. Slate. Iconia. iPad. Unless you’re a technology enthusiast, it’s likely you wouldn’t recognize the products these names refer to (except for perhaps the last one). They are all the latest and greatest tablet computers produced by the computing industry, and they offer a very simple, yet seductive advantage to the business community: mobility. For you, mobility translates into easier sales, quicker response times, more effective repairs, better marketing, streamlined manufacturing processes and, most importantly, more efficient communication and collaboration.
This emerging technology holds a great deal of promise, and while the tablets can’t beam you from one place to another (yet), their capabilities would make Captain Kirk and his Enterprise crew hang their heads in shame. Let’s take a look at how these lightweight devices are helping your peers do business easier, faster and with style.
Making the Sale
With the housing market the way it is, everyone is in sales. With a tablet computer in hand, you and your sales team can take them on the road to show photos of recent or relevant projects accomplished in the past, showcase how you approach their building design and framing plans, and even review truss design drawings.
“With my tablet in hand, I never feel unprepared during a sales call,” explained Josh Fitzgerald, a Midwestern sales representative for Simpson Strong-Tie. “I always have everything I need with me at my fingertips.” At a sales meeting, it’s hard to predict exactly what information you will need with you, but with a tablet computer, you can access your office computer remotely and pull up any document, photo or file as easily as if you were sitting at your desk and not theirs.
“You never know what topics will come up and what literature is going to be helpful during a sales call,” said Fitzgerald. “I used to carry around a huge binder of brochures that quickly could get outdated, now I just carry around my little tablet and I can even check immediately on price and see if it’s in stock.”
The tablet computer can also be indispensible to your sales force in between meetings. The calendar function on the tablet makes it easy to keep track of contacts and appointments, and instantly map travel routes in between meetings. As you expand the geography of your sales market, your sales personnel are likely going to be traveling to new and strange locations. Having access to the cellular 3G network ensures they can locate where they are and where they need to go.
Finally, the tablet allows the whole sales process to be paperless. No more scraps of paper with notes, names and figures jotted down only to be lost on the truck bed floor on the way back to the office. Most tablet computers have powerful note taking software that allows you to write directly on the screen with a stylus, which you can then immediately email to yourself and the home office. Orders can begin to be processed within minutes after a meeting concludes!
“Connectivity is the key,” shared Barry Dixon, CEO of TrueHouse. “Now your office can go anywhere. Your truck is your office. Your home is your office.”
Improving the Jobsite Visit
The tablet computer can be a very powerful tool at the jobsite as well. Need to look at a bracing detail? You can pull up the BCSI reference you need. Wondering about the placement of a fastener? You can pull up the building documents, and zoom in on the area you are working on. You can even pull up the CAD drawings, render them in 3D and rotate around a complicated connection to see it from all angles. You can’t do that with paper blueprints!
“It’s also very helpful for us with our building information modeling process,” explained Mike Kozlowski, President of Apex Technology. “We can walk through the jobsite with a complete set of construction documents on the tablet and note the type and location of every piece of hardware and note it immediately in the software. It has significantly increased the efficiency of our audits and helps ensure the optimizations in the plans are being followed.”
Again, the note- and photo-taking features of the tablet allow anyone to walk around the jobsite, take notes and pictures, and immediately email them to those who need it, whether it’s the truss technicians, the sales team, or management. With that kind of connectivity to the home office, complicated framing issues can be answered in a matter of minutes, possibly saving crucial hours or days of delay.
Take truss repairs, for example. “The ideal scenario is one where the damage is noted before the building inspector shows up,” said Dixon. “You can take a picture of the break, email it to the truss designer, he can consult the drawings, devise a fix and email it back to you.” The framers can then do the repair right then and there, avoiding costly delays associated with a failed inspection. Having this electronic record also allows management to track trends in truss repairs for quality control purposes.
Your drivers can also use a tablet computer with great effect. They can photograph and immediately catalog damage to components during transport and delivery, register deliveries and make notes on everything from construction to jobsite conditions. This information can then be reported immediately to management, and allow for real-time tracking of shipments and related issues.
Maximizing Your Meetings
The handwriting recognition software on the tablet computers today is one reason why many office users are taking their tablet computers to meetings instead of a traditional notebook. The ability to immediately email those notes, and keep electronic to-do lists that can be constantly updated, is a good reason to move beyond pen and paper.
The tablet computer can also increase the productivity of meetings in taking collaboration to the next level. “iPad has a white board application,” said Kozlowski. “We can have designers in our office drawing ideas out, and our designer in Ecuador can follow right along with them, adding his own changes to the drawings in real time.” Adobe’s Acrobat software has powerful mark-up capabilities while sharing pdf files, too.
Having a tablet can also make file sharing a breeze, and can even facilitate an impromptu PowerPoint presentation. Granted, the screen size limits the number of people who can crowd around to view it, but most tablets can connect easily to a projector in case the audience is large.
Having the tablet on hand can also make the time in between meetings more productive. On a plane, space is at a premium, so the smaller size of the tablet computer is ideal for cramped spaces. The extended battery life of most tablets (they average around 10 hours), their ability to immediately turn on and off without long boot times, and, again, their Internet connectivity through 3G cellular service, make them ideal for travel.
“I take it everywhere I go,” shared Jerry Vulgaris, President of Smart Components. “If I have a little downtime between meetings or while waiting for a plane, it’s much easier to keep up with email because you can see the whole picture and view attachments, as opposed to being limited to text on your smart phone.”
While tablet computers are not new technology in the realm of manufacturing, the touch-screen user interfaces of tablet computers open the door for various business analytic software solutions to help manufacturers capture and address quality control issues at the point of failure.
Some manufacturing companies have a tablet computer with every forklift. The cameras on the tablets allow for scanning bar codes to do real-time tracking of material throughput and inventory levels. Knowing what your company’s machines and labor are doing at all times, combined with emails or text alerts that are sent when problems arise, means less downtime, more accountability and the ability to be proactive instead of reactive, making for more efficient management of resources.
Not only that, having a tablet computer allows managers to leave the confines of their office and still track these things, whether they are on the road, at a sales meeting (or an SBCA function).
One inventive way to use the tablet computer is in the area of marketing. “We are working with our builder clients and encouraging them to put all their collateral advertising materials online,” explained Dixon. Traditionally, builders have relied on third-party marketing firms to create their brochures and print them, but every time they made a change to the plans because it wasn’t selling well, they’d have to throw all the old brochures out. What a waste.
If they stick with electronic brochures, any change they make to the building plans can quickly be reflected in their marketing. Imagine all their potential homebuyer clients walking around with the blueprints of their new home on their iPhones.
Dixon added, “At this point, everyone becomes a tool of sale for a house. The framer can use a software application on a tablet computer to render the building plans in 3D, so they can walk someone through the house long before construction is completed.”
It certainly gives you a glimpse of the future.
Capitalizing on Communication
Again, mobility is the key advantage with tablet computers.
“The 3G cellular connection allows you to have access to email and files on your server virtually everywhere,” said Vulgaris. “The funny thing is I use my Android phone as a WiFi device to provide the Internet connection for my Apple iPad, all while pulling up Microsoft files from my HP servers back at the office. It’s amazing how all the technology works together.”
While tablet computers are not currently designed to replace phones, Kozlowski and his team have found a useful workaround. “We have a design lead in another state who makes calls through the Internet using Skype. The tablet computers are setup to do the same. Actually, with the camera built into the latest tablets, video-conferencing can be achieved, and it’s all free. The only cost incurred, which is still minimal and on the order of $25 per year, is if you wish to have a dedicated phone number.”
With increased use of “cloud-based” servers (the act of storing your files on a server based at an offsite location) and using remote desktop capabilities, the tablet computer doesn’t need to store a single file. Any document can be accessed from anyplace you can get cell phone coverage, which is virtually everywhere in this country.
“My tablet computer is the epitome of connectivity,” said Kozlowski. “Smart phones have similar features, but are such a distant second due to size and operability.”
Depending on your feelings about technology, the new tablet computers are either sleek and sexy, or downright frightening. But it’s hard to argue against their versatility and potential to transform the way in which business is done in this industry.
“At first, I just got my tablet for fun,” laughed Vulgaris. “But as I got to use it, I realized how many business applications were being created every day. This is a powerful tool.”
“I’m hooked,” echoed Dixon. “About 75 percent of my computer time is now spent on my tablet.” The tablet computer can go everywhere you go, give you access to every file you need, and allow you to communicate in a variety of ways to address challenges as they arise no matter where you happen to be at the moment. High quality of service, delivered in a timely manner, is a key way to differentiate yourself and thrive in this competitive marketplace. Tablet computing can be a pivotal tool to get you there.