For every new computer or gadget, there are several different stages of ownership. Unfortunately, the first and happiest phase — the honeymoon — doesn't last forever. Eventually, devices can slow, and in the end, even work against you.
Stay ahead of the curve and prevent reduced productivity by maintaining your machines and adopting new technologies. Here are seven ways to make technology work better for you.
1. Go Paperless
Tablets and other devices are making it easier than ever for businesses of all kinds to go paperless. For example, a NeatDesk Desktop Premium Scanner can turn paper into PDF files, allowing you to take on clients, no matter where they are. "I have clients nationwide and internationally, and now I'm able to prepare their taxes and do their accounting without having to meet face to face," says accountant Andrew G. Poulos.
2. Rise Up to the Cloud
Poulos has also embraced cloud computing, organizing his clients' files through Evernote, which he can access from a computer or mobile device. "All my emails and files in Evernote sync between my iPhone, office computer, and laptop," he says. "I can respond to clients and access files even when I'm out of the office."
3. Upgrade As Needed
A simple upgrade can add years of life to your existing devices. For example, adding memory or storage to desktop computers will make them perform better and last longer. Or, instead of upgrading your hard drive, try a network-attached storage device, which will let multiple computers on your network easily connect to shared storage.
Updating your operating system is also smart, but if you use Windows XP, it might be best to just upgrade to a new computer entirely — Microsoft® will be ending support for that operating system in April. Systems like these Dell® computers offer plenty of power and expansion ports to grow.
4. Call on VoIP Phones
Cord-cutting doesn't just apply to cable television; many small businesses are ditching their phone lines for Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phones. Less expensive than regular phone lines and easier to scale if you're a growing business, these services offer lots of features that are great for on-the-go workers, explains Keith Miller, owner of Pampered Pooch Playground and Bubbly Paws Dog Wash, both in the Minneapolis area.
"We can transfer calls between locations," Miller says. "I can even make calls from my house, and it looks like I am at one of our businesses on Caller ID." And because these systems interact with computers, businesses can ditch old-fashioned desktop phones and replace them with more productivity-minded VoIP phones and headsets that sync with Web conferencing software, allow you to record calls and keep a log of phone communications.
5. Embrace Mobile Business
Companies like Brentwood, TN-based USImprints are keeping sales staff busy and connected with smartphones and other mobile devices. The branded and custom promotional product provider recently installed an app on its sales representatives' mobile phones that allows them to access lead, customer, sales and order information. "By making our sales reps more mobile, it allows them to see more customers and access data more quickly, and it keeps them out of the office," says company president Wade Benz.
6. Pick the Right Tool for the Job
These days, devices like tablets and phones can do so much more than entertain. For example, an Apple iPad Air™ and a Samsung Galaxy S III Mini® smartphone are all Lisa Cash Hanson needs to run Las Vegas-based Snuggwugg, maker of the world's first infant smartphone activity pillow. "When I'm in meetings, the iPad is amazing for presentations," says Hanson, who also uses the tablet as a point-of-sale system, to manage her company's social media marketing, and to create promotional videos for her product.
Some businesses need more than that. Donald Cummings, managing partner of Geneva, IL-based Blue Haven Capital, prefers a laptop for his work. "For the last few years, I used a tablet on the road, but it was hit or miss regarding integration with some of the Web sites I accessed," says Cummings, who recently bought a new laptop. "Oddly enough, I will continue to use the tablet in conjunction with the new laptop since my office desk has eight 22-inch monitors, and being on the road and working from only one or two screens is a big change."
7. Pack More Power
The more you use a mobile device, like a tablet or smartphone, the more likely its battery will drain. So make sure you have plenty of power to keep your electronics working. That's what San Francisco-based DataSong does, equipping everyone at the marketing analytics agency with portable USB-powered batteries."Having power banks to charge our phones in an emergency has been incredibly productive," says Traci Lee Chu, the company's vice president of marketing. Frequently on the road or working on site with clients, DataSong staffers use the backup power to keep their smartphones and tablets connected to the company's big data apps.
There's Always a Solution
Technology, like any tool, should make your job easier. In general, if you find your devices are slowing you down instead of speeding your productivity along, stop and assess the problem. From simple workflow tweaks to total system overhauls, there's always a solution to get you back on task and make you more efficient than ever.