Terry Porter is worried about "windshield time." That's the term he uses to describe the time he spends traveling from jobsite to jobsite checking up on his crews.
Porter, an electrical contractor in Jenks, Okla., says he'd rather be behind his desk than behind the wheel. "From a business standpoint, you're better served back at the office drumming up new business instead of driving around checking up on existing business," he says.
And with gas at well over four dollars a gallon, Porter adds that windshield time is now taking a bite out of his company's bottom line. "Ideally, I'd like to run all my jobsites without leaving the office," he says. "I'm just not sure how that's possible."
What Porter is talking about is what industry insiders have coined Remote Project Management - the ability to manage several jobsites from a central location. And the good news is, two emerging technologies - broadband for cell phones and GPS - are making remote project management both possible and practical for business owners like Porter.
3G brings broadband to your cell phone
There's been a lot of buzz about third generation (3G) services for mobile phones, and with good reason. 3G technology brings broadband wireless capabilities to your cell phone. With speeds that rival DSL connections, 3G networks have the potential to allow you to view streaming video, videoconference with colleagues, send and receive large files, and blaze through Web pages.
Imagine being connected to each of your jobsites via live streaming video. Your foreman points his cell phone at a flaw in a foundation and, with the speed and ease of sending a text message, transmits video footage of that image to you live over the Internet. Imagine being able to evaluate the problem and formulate a solution - all without leaving your desk.
And that's just video. Consider all the other types of valuable information that can be sent to and from broadband-enhanced cell phones and PDAs: blueprint details, schematics, and even attendance records, to name a few.
Not surprisingly, cell phone manufacturers are scrambling to produce devices that leverage the power of 3G - the newest of the high speed wireless services. Ever wonder why picture phones take such shoddy pictures? Or why video captured on your old cell phone looks so bad? Technology that supports higher resolution images and video has been around for a while. But what's the point of manufacturing a cell phone with a high-resolution camera if you can't get that image back to the office? Before 3G, there was no point. Now you can expect to see advanced mobile devices with cameras in the 3- to 5-megapixel range and with high-resolution video capabilities.
Looking even further into the future, there's already talk of a 3.5G standard that promises speeds up to 14.4 mbps. That's almost five times faster than a cable modem!
Track workers and assets with GPS
You've heard of it, but maybe you're not so clear on the ways this powerful technology is being used, and, more importantly, how it can benefit your business.
GPS stands for Global Positioning System. It consists of 24 satellites that circle the earth twice a day transmitting signal information. GPS receivers on the ground are able to take this information and determine a user's or asset's exact location.
GPS is relatively cheap. In fact, it's free. Back in 1983, President Reagan made the system free for civilian use as a common good. And in 1999,
President Clinton ordered that Selective Availability - a feature that intentionally introduced errors to GPS signals - be turned off. Since then, GPS accuracy has improved dramatically, and recent advances in technologies that employ GPS will make it an integral tool in tracking workers and assets.