Technology Solutions

Technology Follows You Around

Wouldn’t it be easier for your customers to find you if they only needed one phone number to reach you? What if you had only one place to retrieve voice-mail, e-mail, and faxes? How about accessing your e-mail and voice-mail from anywhere in the world — for the cost of a local call? Lucky you. New products and services provide all of this so that when you are on the road, your business communications can follow you around like a lost puppy.

Ever since technology pioneers took the first laptop computers on the road to allow them to work outside of the office, business and technology have conspired to erase the links between businessperson and business. Now, e-mail, phone messages, and faxes can follow you, or more accurately, you can access them from anywhere with the same quality and speed as if you were in your office.

Distance and location have no meaning.

If These Calls Could Talk
While computers become cheaper and more powerful (see "Finding the Perfect PC," CIRE, November/December 1998), the growth in your personal business power may come less from the souped-up box on your desk than from smaller gadgets and services.

For example, the Electronic Secretarial Administrator is a service for the businessperson who wants to use one telephone number to handle fax, pager, e-mail, and phone services. ESA (http://www.electronic-secretary.com/) costs $30 a month and 9.9 cents per minute. In return, you get features allowing you to access your fax, e-mail, pager, voice-mail, and more. ESA even will do one-stop broadcast-fax or broadcast-voice messages to thousands of people. In the niftiest idea to be lifted from Star Trek until they invent warp drive, the system can translate written words into spoken language and read you the faxes and e-mail that you receive.

JFax (http://www.jfax.com/) also offers a system that lets you check voice-mail over the phone, have your e-mail messages read to you, print out your e-mail as hard copy via fax, and respond with voice messages. The cost is $12.50 per month for each number and includes free software. If you only want part of that service, the company has taken two features of JFax — the ability to have your e-mail read to you over the phone and to respond with a voice e-mail — and created a service called JTalk that requires no software. For a one-time start-up fee of $15 plus $2.50 per month and 25 cents per minute of usage, JTalk users can call a toll-free telephone number to access their e-mail.

E-Mail VoiceLink, from Softlink (http://www.bravomail.com/), goes in the other direction. Whereas ESA and JFax translate your printed words to spoken words, VoiceLink lets you use your e-mail system to send voice messages. The concept is not revolutionary: People already send attachments of graphics, text, sound, and even video, so VoiceLink simply lets you record your voice message and send it (along with a free audio player for the recipient) as e-mail. E-Mail VoiceLink costs $19.99 and includes a microphone in the package. (VoiceLink’s sister product, PowerLink, is a $50 program that allows you to use whiteboard features to combine speech, graphics, and animation in your e-mail.)

CNet (http://www.cnet.com/) named the JVC HC-E100 portable e-mail device one of its "attention-getting gadgets," and you can see why: This $129.95 (plus $9.95 per month) handheld machine lets you type in messages and then simply place the device over the phone receiver to send your e-mail messages. You also can download any incoming e-mail messages you have and even send faxes.

This is different from the $370-but-still-popular 3Com PalmPilot Professional, which does include the ability to create and read e-mail. However, you’ll need to spend another $100 or more to buy additional software and an external modem to transmit the messages.

The corporate dinosaur of communication still hasn’t rolled over, letting others take everything from it. AT&T offers its Personal Reach Service (http://www.att.com/personalreach/) to "create an office using the power of toll-free calling." Briefly, this service can receive, store, and send faxes, as well as handle conference calling and voice-mail. Call (800) 463-6777 for pricing.

Wherever You Go, There You Are
Many already have identified the paradigm shift of empowering the individual over the large organization, but some have yet to adapt. Developing tools allow you to do business without needing a large staff to type, retype, copy, file, and mail the work after you create it. The ability to perform business functions from any phone is just the latest craze.

One-stop phone numbers are not the only representatives of locationless business. Alias e-mail addresses are one way of letting people always reach you electronically. These addresses, such as the ccim.net alias addresses provided for CCIM designees, simply redirect e-mail to the recipient’s real account, whether it is with CompuServe or AT&T or another Internet service provider, and when the recipient changes his or her real address, the alias account is reprogrammed to send mail to that new address.

Similarly, Web addresses can have aliases. In fact, most Web addresses you see are aliases anyway, because an address for a particular server on which a Web site sits actually is a string of numbers; through international agreement, addresses such as http://www.ccim.com/ or http://www.pikenet.com/ are assigned to the real, numerical addresses. You also can set up aliases for the basic alias; for example, Gary Tharp, CCIM, uses a service of Name Secure (http://www.namesecure.com/) that is called Web site forwarding; as a result, http://www.talofa.com/ will send you to the more-complicated http://members.tripod.com/~GTHARP/. Similarly, type in http://www.ccim.net/ and you’ll go to http://www.ccim.com/.

What’s next? For one, think video. It’s already a part of some people’s work palette, and it will become an expected part of any remote presentation via e-mail or the Web. Soon you’ll be hearing about such products as Microsoft’s Net Meeting and Lotus’ ScreenCam 97 or using them in your real estate business.

Location really doesn’t matter, at least as far as business communications. And like that lost puppy that becomes a tiresome nuisance, you even may begin to long for those golden olden days when you could relax in your hotel without having to work.

John Zipperer

Tech Links is written by John Zipperer, new-media editor of the Commercial Investment Real Estate Institute. Contact him at (312) 321-4466 or jzipperer@cirei.com.

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