M-Tech: Plaudits & Predictions

It’s traditional around this time to look back over the past 12 months, make comparisons with other years, and gaze into the crystal-ball to predict what lies ahead. When it comes to office technology, there’s no denying that 2002 has been another busy year of product launches, major initiatives, and industry takeovers, such as the HP-Compaq mega-merger. Speed and productivity continue to be the driving force behind product releases and upgrades, with the internet continuing to fuel mobile productivity.

Today we communicate, connect, output, and do business faster than ever before, and technology plays major role in this process.

It’s easy to get swept along with the rising tide of new devices and applications – however, the adoption of any new technology should always be carefully considered, to see beyond the promises and sales hype. Where will your business focus be this time next year? Will the technology you invest in today serve you down the track, and would it be wiser to lease or rent that technology?

M-tech (and its predecessor e.Office) kept pace with office technology in 2002, so here is snapshot of the tools and technology that can help transform your business in 2003. It is by no means definitive guide, but should provide food for thought in your purchasing decisions.

Unplugging productivity

Portable PC users have finally discovered what true computing freedom means during 2002. The latest generation of notebook computers not only provides the functionality of desktop PC, it also allows the freedom to operate without the constraints of plugs and cables. Originally adopted by Toshiba in October 2000, Bluetooth wireless technology has now become ubiquitous in the marketplace – virtually replacing infra-red technology.

Notebook or laptop computers continue to tweak their processing speeds upwards, and are increasingly seen as desktop replacements. Plug-in WiFi LAN cards have enhanced wireless capability – offering the speed and security of networked environment. WiFi has 30 times more bandwidth than USB, making it perfect for high-speed storage and serious video capture.

While new model releases now barely cause ripple in the notebook market, recent developments in the handheld or Pocket PC market have created great deal of excitement, particularly where the boundary between computing and communications has blurred.

Phone manufacturers have formed alliances with mobile PC companies and software companies, to create new breed of “smart-phone” or “converged device” that offers the ability to remotely make/receive calls, access email and organise/manipulate personal data. Microsoft has been active in the handheld area, recently announcing its new Tablet PC (which allows pen-based computing), and launching its Windows-powered smart-phone software (enabling seamless multi-tasking and providing companion to Outlook on mobile phone).

Sony Ericsson was one of the first mobile phone manufacturers to take advantage of PXT technology earlier this year, with the launch of its T68i mobile and Communicam package. Now it’s possible to send digital picture over your mobile – the T68i also features full-colour display, GPRS internet access, wireless connectivity, global roaming, and built-in organiser! I can see the day when videoconferencing will also be possible via your smart-phone – perhaps as early as next year.

Today’s handheld devices are indeed cause for excitement, with accessories such as GPRS CompactFlash cards for permanent online connection; GPS modules that put street maps on your screen; as well as plug-in cameras, dictation capability, and handwriting and speech recognition.

Meeting eye-to-eye

Videoconferencing has, by far, had the greatest impact on business presentations since the invention of the OHP. No longer is videoconferencing an option – it’s given, for all types of businesses and organisations. It is an extremely useful collaborative tool for providing ongoing education and training, launching new products, orientating new employees, conducting market research and quality control, as well as repairing remote machinery. It not only saves on costs and speeds up the decision-making process; it also involves more people in that process.

Prime considerations when selecting system and service provider are its deployability with other communication technology, its scalability to cope with future business directions, reliability, and its ease of use. Once only considered the realm of bone-fide “propeller-heads”, now anyone can plug-and-play VC system – it’s as easy as making phone call.

Videoconferencing over IP (the internet) has become more pervasive throughout 2002, and will continue to do so next year as IT managers get better handle on allocating bandwidth and encryption technologies reach new level of security. Industry commentators believe that cost and convenience are driving VC adopters to IP systems – or at least systems that are IP and ISDN capable.

Once company has an IP backbone, it’s easy to incorporate videoconferencing. Canon’s Steve Moulden predicts that in order to further develop the flexibility of IP-based systems, “manufacturers will look to expand the number of sites that can be connected during calls, offering the ability to mix IP/ISDN calls and introduce audio [phone] into the VC mix”.

Shredding & faxing

Just because it’s not high-tech, doesn’t mean that it’s obsolete. Shredders and fax machines have been part of the office scene for years, and their usefulness hasn’t diminished over time – although in the fax machine’s case, transmission volumes have declined significantly as our love affair with email has blossomed.

Both personal and higher capacity shredders have increased in popularity as businesses opt to shred sensitive material in-house. Cross-cut shredders are now preferred over strip-cut models as they produce less bulk waste and offer greater security. Powerful, precision-built, recognised-brand, cross-cut shredders are considered the better buy – machines that can cope with volumes five, even 10 years, down the track.

Check whether the shredder can also deal with floppies, CDs, and other storage media, because security breaches can come from unexpected quarters. Meanwhile, if you thought the shredder market was static – the fax market has been even quieter, with most of the action in the consumer segment. Also, with the Electronic Transaction Act now in force, one wonders if the fax’s role will diminish even further as legal signatures are transmitted electronically.

Many companies have migrated to MFDs (printer/copier/scanner/fax devices) for their faxing needs, mainly for cost and productivity reasons. Makes sense to have one box that does it all – although standalone plain paper fax machine makes good stand-by if, for any reason, the email crashes. There’s still future for the fax, with more colour and wireless capability tipped for 2003. Internet fax (fax to email) will become increasingly popular, and is regarded as natural follow-on from PC-faxing and an alternative to PC-to-PC email.

Projecting an image

They’re lighter, brighter, slimmer, and overall they project much better image. Today’s feature-rich data/video projectors deliver incredible performance for their size, and are not only an essential item in the business presenter’s toolkit, but also are becoming increasingly popular in the home theatre market.

In terms of footprint size and weight, the diminutive V Series DLP projector from PLUS still heads the pack at just 900 grams and features Digital Visual Interface for full digital-to-digital capability.

As well as weight, brightness (ansi lumens), image quality (contrast ratio) and fan noise, you must also consider resolution. If most of your presentations are PowerPoint or graphics based then SVGA resolution (800 x 600 pixels) will probably suffice. But for fine detail, spreadsheets

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