Office in an Armrest
New mobile solutions allow you to stay in the field
A big problem for guys who like to get their hands dirty is that once they own their own business, they’re behind a desk far too much for their liking.
If you’re spending a lot of time with your office manager or staring at your computer screen when you need to be on the jobsite, the time could be right for you to set up an office on wheels. If it can be done at your desk, it can probably be done in the cab of your pickup.
But with the vast array of mobile office products out there, how are you supposed to know what you need? Let’s start with the basics:
COMPUTERS AND CONNECTIVITY
Since it’s an expensive item, you should give considerable thought to the type of computer you need for your truck. Your computer will be used in conditions that aren’t generally kind to electronics – heat, cold, dust, dirt, vibration, shock – so you won’t be able to use just any laptop from your local electronics store.
Your average personal computer isn’t designed with environmental considerations in mind. It won’t perform well in extreme temperature changes or moisture, the screen will be virtually impossible to read in bright sunlight and it could be toast if dropped.
If you have Ford’s Work Solutions in your new F-Series, then you’re already set up with an in-cab computer.
If not, you’ll need a rugged laptop, such as one from Panasonic’s Toughbook line or DRS Technologies’ Armor computer, specifically designed to handle field use. These computers not only perform in challenging environments, they usually withstand drops from six feet or more. They’re offered in a variety of styles to suit your needs, such as handheld slates, tablets and clamshells.
According to Charlie Gibbs at Panasonic, assessing your individual work style is the first step. Do you need the computer to be portable all day, every day? A handheld would serve you well. Do you need it for maps or drawings? You’ll need a larger screen, such as with a tablet. Do you do a lot of typing, such as sending large numbers of e-mails? You’ll probably want something with a keyboard, like a clamshell.
You’ll have to consider factors you’ve always taken for granted, Gibbs says. “Daylight readability is key,” he says. “And a long-life battery is important. Consider a computer with dual battery availability – you can run it 24/7 if you need to.”
Although everyone wants a good deal, be wary of a great deal. With mobile electronics, a higher price actually is a good indicator of higher quality components, says Gibbs.
Your individual needs should dictate the computer you purchase, and by boosting your productivity, you’ll recoup your cost relatively quickly. Even though you can get a good base model for around $1,500, it may not have everything you need.
Unless your truck is a WiFi hotspot like the Dodge Ram or GMC Sierra/Chevy Silverado HD, you’ll need to choose a computer with plenty of connectivity options. Most have integrated WiFi and Bluetooth, but you can improve productivity by opting for mobile broadband, such as Gobi.
You’ll also need to look at the software installed on your office computer and replicate it on your mobile office computer.
Whichever model you choose, Gibbs says communicating your needs to the retailer is crucial.
“We take a day-in-the-life approach to assess the customer’s mobile workforce needs. Having the right mobile office can save you between one and two hours per day in productivity.”
Whatever type of in-cab office you decide works best for your company, incorporating mobile elements can shorten your day, increase your time in the field and even boost your bottom line.
Of course, doing your own invoicing and taking your own payments may make your office manager crazy – but if your cab becomes your office, you might not need an office manager anymore!