5 Most Effective Mobile Professionals

— June 01, 2006

There is a certain thrill to being cutting edge--having the flashiest new gear, being the envy of everyone at the office and knowing that you're the one setting the trends. Mobile technology has had its share of daring early adopters, but there have also been the heel draggers who liked the idea of technology freeing them from their desks but weren't convinced that all the bugs had really been worked out. And in many ways, they were right; computers crash, handhelds freeze, cell phones hit dead zones. But the last few years have seen dramatic changes: devices are getting smaller and smarter, high-speed data networks make it possible to connect wirelessly from most places your phone works, and device reliability is on the upswing.

Even with all the good news, it takes a strong leader and an innovative organization to push through change and effectively marry tech-enthusiasm with established business processes. Among these five highly effective mobile pros we found not only some serious tech-savvies, but also champions of a mobile work style who spread the good news within their organizations. Cheers to them, and to all the mobile professionals who have embraced the technologies that make working from the road easier than ever.

Staying connected is extremely important for Barry Cottle, CEO and co-founder of Quickoffice, a mobile office application company. About 80 percent of Quickoffice's business is international, and Cottle finds himself traveling about 50 percent of the time. With his staff and partners almost never in the same place at the same time, Cottle and the whole Quickoffice team have embraced "multiple forms of communication, including email, voicemail and SMS." Everyone on staff at Quickoffice carries a Symbian-based smartphone and can easily stay connected to each other and to partners all over the globe.

Cottle champions traveling light, and for himself and his team at Quickoffice a smartphone is the primary device. "If I were to rank the two, my smartphone by far outranks my laptop," says Cottle. He currently rotates between a Sony Ericsson P910 and the Nokia N70 and N71 phones, but is "constantly trying out the latest handsets from our Symbian clients." Cottle explains that when he travels he makes all of his presentations from his phone using the iGO Pitch Bluetooth adapter to wirelessly connect his phone with any projector. He's usually partially through the presentation before others in the room realize he doesn't have a laptop with him. Not only does dispensing with a laptop cut down on airport security hassles, but it really drives home the point of the Quickoffice platform--handheld access to your documents makes working out those final edits very convenient. "I'd be tremendously less efficient without my smartphone," exclaims Cottle. "So much of my day is not conducive to sitting down and opening a laptop."

Daniel Odio also takes his mobile devices seriously. So seriously, in fact, that he founded his real estate company to promote the advantages of technology in the industry (he continues to be appalled that many realtors don't use email). "I'd be dead in the water without my Palm [smartphone] or Dell laptop," says Odio, "I'd really feel like a part of me was missing."

All 30 agents who work for DROdio Real Estate are proficient road warriors with handhelds and laptops, and most also carry WWAN PC Cards to really maximize productivity from the road. Odio has even set it up so that clients have access to mobile tools and can start searching for homes without a realtor. "We give them the Magellan Roadmate 760 or a Tom-Tom GPS device loaded with available houses, so they can begin on their own," says Odio. "My value-add is not in driving clients around but in negotiating contracts and shepherding them through the closing process. Clients don't need me to be a taxi service."

Which is a good thing, because Odio spends enough time on the road. Between his latest deals in Las Vegas, Costa Rica and Brazil, he's almost always on the go. Following this to its logical conclusion, he's working on the WonderlandBus, a traveling wireless hotspot that's a home/office complete with roof deck and Jacuzzi tub. The bus should be completed by the end of this summer. Until then, Odio keeps his mobile office in his laptop backpack made by Back Office, which is "not perfect, but not aggravating, either. It's all about efficiency. With these tools I can be a force multiplier and do more."

Dave Emmitt is no stranger to doing more--though his title is president of Direct Drive Services, a home and office heating and cooling design and installation company, Emmitt is pretty much in charge of everything from administration to sales, marketing and IT. For years now he's understood the value of mobile technology allowing him to wear many hats and remain productive. "Fifteen years ago, I was one of the early laptop users," says Emmitt. "I've always automated my business so that everything runs smoothly when I'm out of the office all day, and because customers always judge you on first impressions, my thing has always been to go into a house prepared."

Where other contractors typically check out a job and then send a quote later (which Emmitt points out is rarely a true cost), he goes into the home prepared to enter all the information into QuickBooks and make an informed estimate on the spot. From his handheld he can track inventory and even schedule the job. He then prints the estimate to his Canon portable photo printer via infrared. Emmitt has been using a mobile version of QuickBooks on his Sony Clié for six years and just recently upgraded to the Palm Treo 650. He also maximizes his time on the road by using a Plantronics Bluetooth headset connected to his Treo, so he can make and take calls safely.

Emmitt and his sales partner sync their handhelds to a central PC to more easily share sales info and lead data. And because paper is too easily misplaced, Direct Drive crews also carry Palm devices that are synced up with all job and scheduling information. Emmitt says having the tools he needs to stay productive on the road really make a difference in keeping all the aspects of his business together. "Finally," he says, "I truly have everything I need at the touch of a button."

Wayne Yurtin is no stranger to cutting-edge technology--he began at Apple in the 1980s and is currently president and CEO of Rocket Mobile, a mobile content company. As a fairly small company (about 40 employees) in a very competitive pond, Yurtin feels Rocket Mobile's success lies in its commitment to mobility. "Some of our competitors are huge public companies," explains Yurtin, "but we're doing a pretty good job of winning customers from larger competitors because we're a nimble company, and communication is key to that."

Yurtin is on the road about 75 percent of his time, and his travel itinerary spans the globe. He calls his Verizon Wireless EV-DO card a "life saver," and he lists his iPod Mini and Bose noise-canceling headphones as must-haves for long flights. His can't-live-without item, though, is his Motorola RAZR phone (which even works in Korea). On it, he can do most anything, including manage his expenses with a mobile expense account application made by -- that's right, Rocket Mobile. As he goes about his travels Yurtin can input costs with simple dropdown menus (like the cost of the taxi while in the taxi), and when he finishes a trip the application automatically emails him the completed report. As a show of both his appreciation to his hard-working staff and his commitment to the future of mobility, Yurtin bought everyone in the company a RAZR phone at the end of last year. Now not only can all the employees test out company products for real-world bugs, but each person's primary communication tool slips easily into a pocket, for quick access anywhere, anytime.

John Starkweather, a group product manager in the Entertainment and Devices division of Microsoft, is a proponent of balancing work and life while spending much of his time on the road. Among his tools, Starkweather's lifeline device is the Cingular 8125 smartphone made by HTC. "I'd leave my toiletry bag, my PC--anything as long as I could have this device." He says he once even left his wallet at home, but because of the eWallet Pro application on his 8125 he could still access his credit card info, check into his hotel and do just about everything. "Going through security at the airport wasn't much fun, but I really had almost everything else." The key for him is that he sees his mobile devices as more than just business tools "but as something that really fits my life."

Which is good because even when Starkweather is at the office (which is already less than 50 percent of his time) he spends more than half of it away from his desk. He pretty much carries his Toshiba M300 Tablet PC with him everywhere around campus, which allows him to take notes and keep necessary information saved and organized.

Starkweather also takes his tablet with him on the road, but he's more and more able to leave it at the hotel. He says, "This past year I've felt like I could leave my PC and really have everything I need on my phone." Having mobile versions of his desktop applications, such as Outlook, Word and Excel, makes him able to do his job more effectively, leaving more time to stay in touch with his family and non-work obligations. He's thankful Microsoft makes the necessary tools available to its employees so that he can stay connected to work and family and maintain a balance between the two. //

Teresa von Fuchs is the former staff editor of Mobile Enterprise.

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