Technology Solutions

Smarter, Faster, Cheaper Products Improve Business Efficiency

Technology moves at lightning speed and, to some extent, surpasses consumers' needs and expectations. However, it also becomes more quickly affordable, allowing those with fewer resources to invest in basic versions of today's top innovations sooner than they may think is possible.

This year's Consumer Electronics Show illustrated this trend. Instead of introducing extreme innovations and new advances years away from practical application, the show demonstrated how products and services have become smaller, cheaper, and faster for mainstream users. It also provided examples of how broadband and wireless are taking hold in the workplace.

The technologies creating the next generation of business systems are smarter and more cost-effective than ever before. For the commercial real estate industry, which processes large volumes of information every day, this vision of the future is significant. But rather than focus on each specific product or technology, businesses should concentrate on the systems created when the technologies and products are combined. These new systems can re-engineer everything commercial real estate professionals do, from writing leases to paying commissions. The technology is here; now it is time to create the vision, build the systems, and change the culture.

Top Technology Tools

From a business perspective, the following three products highlighted at the CES illustrate how innovations are trickling down to the work-day environment.

Flat-Panel Monitors. Some industry experts predict that today's clunky computer monitors and televisions will vanish within the next five years. Already flat-panel monitors adorn walls in office building entries, elevators, and conference rooms.

The two primary flat-screen technologies are gas plasma for screens measuring 42 inches or more and liquid crystal display for smaller versions. While LCD technology is more expensive than plasma, industry experts predict that prices will fall during the next 24 to 36 months, making LCD technology competitive in price for the large flat-screen market.

Overall, flat monitor costs have dropped significantly, and two retailers leading the lower-price charge are Gateway (www.gateway.com) and Costco (www.costco.com). Three years ago, large plasma flat monitors averaged about $12,000; today they start around $3,000.

Flat monitors are suitable for high-definition television viewing as well as computer use. Several models also come with built-in speakers and wall-mounting brackets. Smaller LCD flat monitors retail from $200 to $1,800 at most electronics stores. For example, Samsung Syncmaster offers 15-inch and 17-inch screens at various price points. Syncmaster's unique feature is a built-in television tuner, which allows for both television viewing and computing.

For current information on flat-panel monitors, visit www.monitoroutlet.com.

Tablet Computers. When first introduced in 1999, tablet computers were large, heavy, and awkward to use. On early versions, the keyboard and mouse required separate cables and setting up the unit for desktop use was time-consuming. In addition, the first tablet computers were too delicate to withstand a mobile warrior's abuse.

Four years later, these devices are more compact and durable. Outfitted with 802.11 wireless technologies, these computers are redefining how people work.

A handful of vendors, including Acer, Compaq, Fujitsu, Motion Computing, Toshiba, and ViewSonic, offer tablet computers that use the Microsoft operating system. The features vary; some units include built-in cameras, handwriting and voice recognition, CD-ROM drives, and more. Acer and Toshiba units also transform from tablets into regular notebooks. To research available products' options and features, visit www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/tabletpc.

Although tablet computers currently are considered an emerging technology with limited practical applications, every organization should experiment with these new devices to see how they can add to the daily business environment.

Wireless Technology. The wireless world continues to grow at exponential speed, and the prices to outfit small businesses have dropped. High-speed wireless networks soon will allow brokers to access the Internet from just about anywhere. Armed with a notebook, tablet computer, or personal digital assistant, brokers will have access to listing systems, in-house transaction management systems, e-mail, and any other information that once required a trip to the office.

Wireless-access points are available for around $100, while wireless network cards have dropped below $75. Security issues are no longer a major concern, as new technology built into these devices provides a secure solution.

The leaders in wireless continue to be Cisco Systems, Linksys, and D-Link Systems. Each of these vendors offers products for small and mid-size businesses. Linksys' new combination router switch/wireless access point also is a great option for home-office users. Just two years ago, this product cost about $1,800 for marginal service; today it costs $87 and can be installed and fully functional in less than 30 minutes.

The wireless cards required for computers also have dropped in price during the last six months. They now cost about $50. In all, a small office can be outfitted with a wireless network for about $120. For more information on wireless technology options, visit www.80211-planet.com.

Building Better Systems

As with any new investment, commercial real estate professionals should spend the time necessary to research the available technology options. The Internet offers a variety of sites featuring articles and reviews about new high-tech innovations. While there are hundreds of useful sites, the four top online resources for technology information and product reviews are www.zdnet.com, www.techweb.com, www.techtv. com, and www.realcomm.com.

These products can make life easier, but selecting the right ones for specific applications can be confusing. To aid commercial real estate professionals, each year the Realcomm conference features the Innovation Showcase, a venue that reviews and displays state-of-the-art notebooks, tablet computers, PDAs, mobile phones, digital cameras, flat screens, and more. Hundreds of hours of research by knowledgeable professionals go into creating this conference program, and experienced people are available to answer basic as well as complex questions. There is no better place to review the latest technology that can be used in the commercial real estate profession.

Jim Young

Jim Young is founder of the Jamesan Group, a real estate technology service company in Carlsbad, Calif.; CEO of REApplications, an application service provider; and co-producer of te Realcomm conference. Contact him at (760) 729-4312 or jyoung@tjg.com.

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