If the gadget fits: Broker's and gadgets

It would be fair to say that brokers love their gadgets. But the rapid development of technology has only seen the range of business and recreational gadgetry skyrocket exponentially, adding to the confusion. The questions is though 'Do you really need the 'latest must have?' By Agnes Gajewska

Technology companies release updated versions of their products so often; it often seems as if there is a new mobile phone, PDA, laptop or blackberry on the market every week, and it's probably not far from the truth.

At the end of the day though, selecting the right bit of hardware comes down to a finding a happy medium between what you would like a particular gadget to do and what is currently possible.

Communication needs

With technology being increasingly geared towards personalised solutions, the most important thing for brokers to consider are their priorities - what they need their technology to do and how that technology can best aid them in bringing efficiency and ease to their business.

According to Connective director, Mark Haron, a good proportion of this comes down to communication.

"Communication is most critical to brokers - whether this is between them and a lender or between them and client and referral bases, it's just so important," he says. So in selecting technology it's important to chose something that allows you to do your work anywhere you want, is efficient and doesn't cost too much."

"I would be lost without my BlackBerry. And so long as you're controlling the BlackBerry and it's not controlling you, it can be a powerful tool," Haron says.

Using a BlackBerry (or similar device), Haron says, gives brokers the technology to create connections with their customers and allows queries to be automatically and instantaneously sent to them.

To upgrade or not to upgrade

With new products constantly coming out, it's important to consider whether its time to think about upgrading to something new. And while there is no hard and fast rule for making this decision (and often no real burning need other than 'I want what they have') if you're making the decision for purely business purposes, there are a couple of general rules.

"It's important for brokers to constantly keep an eye out for new developments within the technology space," Haron says.

And while it's useful to keep abreast of new devices, he says it is especially important to keep informed about changes in software and how these can work within the context of your business.

However he warns brokers not to get too caught up with the bells and whistles of the latest products.

"You have to be careful not to follow the trap of getting the sexiest thing available," he says.

Likewise, customer liaison office for MrGadget, David Tran, agrees that while it can be tempting to own the newest products on the market, many older versions are more than capable to handle a specific task and many functions, while impressive, go unused.

Further he says that an upgrade is really only practical when the hardware can no longer keep up with software changes; when it no longer performs the required task or if the new version would make a perceptible difference to the running of the business.

While aesthetics shouldn't be a major contributing factor to a gadget decision, Haron reminds brokers that some degree of consideration has to be paid towards the appearance of the devices which are used to conduct business.

"Ensure that a laptop is well presented as well as that it performs. There is nothing worse than being a good salesperson and being let down by technology," he says.

Toys you can't do without

There are many gadgets that can make life nice and simple - many of these already reside in the offices and homes of mortgage brokers. Here is a quick breakdown of what they are, what they do and what to consider when looking for them:

Laptops

As nearly everyone knows, these are small, mobile computers, which should function in the same way as a desktop PC.

Laptops come in various sizes, from ultra-portable notebooks to tablet PCs to relatively large desktop replacements. The best way to determine which laptop is best for you is to see if its features match your personal and business needs.

When selecting any laptop, MrGadget's Arnold Aranez, lists a few critical features that you should think about:

  • Battery life (more than two hours is recommended)
  • A high screen resolution
  • Connectivity options such as Bluetooth, WiFi, Ethernet
  • CPU (Core Due processor from 1.6, 1.8 GHz upwards)
  • RAM (minimum of 1GB)
  • Screen size.

 

The mobile phone:

While traditionally a mobile phone's primary function has been to enable telecommunication, it is now developing into one which has the capability of several devices all in one casing.

In selecting a new mobile phone Aranez advises brokers to take advantage of this technology and consider the following add-on features:

  • Wether it is locked to a carrier
  • Screen size
  • Compatibility with Microsoft Outlook
  • Operating system
  • Memory expansion options (such as memory cards)
  • Music player ability
  • Connectivity options such as Bluetooth, WiFi, 3G
  • Standby time/talk time

 

PDA

A PDA (or personal digital assistant) is a handheld computer which can be used for checking and sending emails while out of the office, as well as for an array of other function such as making calculations, organising appointments and contacts, writing documents etc. Newer PDA's also have GPS and mobile phone capabilities.

When buying a PDA the following features should be taken into consideration:

  • Operating system
  • Screen size
  • In-built RAM and ROM
  • Memory expansion options
  • Phone functionality
  • Connectivity options such as Bluetooth, WiFi, HSDPa/3G
  • Input type - whether there is an inbuilt keyboard, touch screen, stylus, keypad etc
  • Whether it has inbuilt GPS
  • Battery life

 

On the road

Many brokers will find themselves travelling to and from clients, with the following gadgets useful to their business needs:

GPS device

A GPS (global positioning system) device works like a digital street directory. It generally is mounted within a car and displays a route from one destination point to another. Newer GPS devices are able to include details such as specific street names, information about road conditions and the location of speed cameras.

In selecting one of these Aranez advises brokers to consider:

  • Screen size
  • The type of inbuilt GPS receiver used
  • Currency of maps
  • Text-to-speech ability
  • Ease of use
  • Noise cancelling technology

 

A Bluetooth handsfree device

Bluetooth is a wireless technology that allows devices which are Bluetooth enabled to exchange information. In this way a mobile phone can be wirelessly linked to a hands free device to allow a person to answer and make phone calls without the need to use the mobile handset.

According to Aranez, things to consider are:

  • Compactness
  • Easy setup
  • Voice quality
  • Digital signal processing technology
  • The version of Bluetooth it runs on
  • Access to volume control
  • Battery life
  • Charge options (in-car charger etc)

 

Backing it all up

Having the latest laptop or PDA may turn your colleagues green with envy but if you don't have all that information backed up, you could end up looking rather silly, not to mention lacking all the important data you need to complete an application form.

With such disaster lurking round the corner, its important to back up and save all of your information to an external device in the case your gadget gives up the ghost.

"Obviously data is very important. So it's important to back up on a daily basis," says computer expert from Westate Information Technology Solutions, Calvin Van Helsdingen.

Van Helsdingen says it is a good idea to have more than one backup. "One of these should be in a different location than you are. Just in the case of situations where you have your laptop and backup in the car and that car gets stolen," he explains.

There are several devices that are particularly useful for this function:

  • With the aid of a CD or DVD burner, re-writable disks can be used for regular back-ups
  • External hard drives - These are connected to a laptop or desktop computer and are generally have a large storage capacity
  • USB keys/Flash drives - Although these have a smaller storage capacity, they are highly portable.

 

Thinking outside the loop

Besides the 'usual suspects' there is a world of other irresistibly useful devices that can make life nice and simple, provided you have the money to buy them and the time to learn how to use them. Some of the following may be particularly useful to your business:

  • Portable scanners and printers: Lightweight devices that can scan and print out documents on the go.
  • Web cameras: Video cameras that can be mounted to a desktop or laptop computer and be used for impromptu video conferences and individual video calls.
  • Internet/broadband connection cards: allow for flexible wireless internet connection.
  • Backup battery: to allow them to use their laptops even in the absence of a power supply.

 

And remember, whatever gadget you're buying, whether it's for work or for pleasure, don't forget the golden gadget rule:

'Always read the instructions before operating'.


Brokers and their gadgets

AB surveyed a number of brokers to find out which devices they hold near and dear:

Q. What are five gadgets you'd struggle to live without?
1) Laptop
2) Mobile Phone
3) GPS
4) Bluetooth
5) PDA/Blackberry

Q. Do you actively pursue new gadgets?
No: 33%
Yes: 67%

Q. How do you find out about must-have gadgets?*

  • My own research: 37%
  • Magazine articles: 57%
  • Friends/family: 14%
  • Retail outlets: 9%
  • Online: 70%

 

(*results do not add up to a 100% as multiple answers were given by some of those surveyed)


Gadget-savvy:

According to the experts it isn't overly difficult to remain gadget savvy. MrGadget's customer liaison officer, David Tran, suggests a good way to do this is to sign up to regular updates from the companies who you've bought your gadgets from - that way you can stay on top of the relative new software and hardware developments.

There is also a range of websites which can help information hungry brokers hunt down the latest and greatest:

 

Brokers may also want to check out ROAM, PC User magazines and of course AB's regular gadget review


On the soft side:

While you're busy searching for the perfect piece of hardware, the experts warn not to discount the importance of software.

Connective director, Mark Haron, states that brokers should keep a constant eye out for new software and upgrade whenever possible.

"Skype is a perfect example of this - it's free and effective at creating a flexible communication stream from anywhere in the world."

Director of MrGadget, Arnold Aranez, adds that there are also other software solutions which can make a significant impact on how a broker run their business.

"There are many pieces of software for PDAs and smart phones, especially those which enable Windows. Applications such as time management, expense trackers and customer relationship software are available," he says.


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