If you want to be a global HR manager, it’s vital you have the latest technology to help you keep in touch. Sue Weekes rounds up six of the best hi-tech gadgets
Portable Digital Assistant
These palmtop computers, such as a Psion or Palm, have come a long way since their early days as little more than digital personal organisers. Recent developments and add-ons mean they can offer Internet access, e-mail, digital voice recording and can even be turned into a GSM mobile phone. PDAs can also be synchronised with your desktop PC to exchange data between them. Microsoft’s Pocket PC operating system, present in palmtops made by Compaq, Casio, HP and Symbol, is taking PDAs to another dimension by not only playing sound and video, but by including cut-down versions of Microsoft applications such as Word, Excel, Outlook and Explorer, which also synchronise with your desktop. Look out for PDA phones, expected by Christmas.
These are Wireless Application Protocol mobile phones, which allow you to access parts of the Internet remotely. Because of practicalities such as a small screen, you cannot experience all the bells and whistles of a typical Web page, but they are good enough to peruse CVs from an on-line recruiter, or check train times. Talk of WAP’s demise has been going on since its arrival due to the forthcoming 3G (third generation) phones, which use the Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS). These combine Internet and video technology, as well as offering increased bandwidth. They will also be able to tell the network where you are so you can receive localised content. The theory sounds great, but 3G phones won’t arrive until late 2001 at the earliest, while WAP is already up and running.
Data storage device
A medium for backing-up and storing your work. Higher bandwidth means it is likely more and more information will be digitally transmitted, so back-up media is set to be in constant demand. In the early days of desktop publishing, a myriad of formats led to compatibility problems among storage devices. It is less problematic these days, thanks to the ubiquity of the Iomega Zip drive, which holds 250Mb disks, and is perfect for those who want to download large data files quickly. Tape drives or writing to CD-Rom are still a good bet for serious daily back-up needs, and look out for the latest high-capacity medium, DVD-Ram.
A camera that can be attached to a computer for the purposes of video-conferencing, video e-mailing, a personal surveillance system, or an HR department’s version of Big Brother. When broadband arrives, Webcams will be elevated from their current gimmicky status to become a powerful tool for proper video-conferencing anywhere in the world. They’re small enough to carry and, thanks to the USB port, can be installed quickly and easily.
Digital voice recorder
A better-quality dictation machine. Digital recorders offer better-quality voice recordings, make it easier to get to the relevant parts of the recording, and mean you don’t have to worry about running out of tape with some models holding more than four-and-a-half hours of chat. Ideally, you need one that allows you to plug in voice-recognition software to transcribe your input – especially useful if you are on the move with no secretary to hand. Some devices, such as the Voice It Mobile, come with such software built-in. Many MP3 players, developed to play music downloaded from the Internet, can also be used as digital voice recorders. Some PDAs can also record voice.
They need no introduction and continue to be an essential for those on the move. The performance gap between laptops and desktop computers is closing all the time, so you may want to consider replacing your desktop system altogether with a laptop. Displays are bigger (14-inch is standard), they no longer lack processing power or speed, and 20Gb hard drives are not unusual. Laptops come bundled with everything you need for mobile computing, but if you are using it in different countries you may need to buy the necessary hardware and phone-socket adapters as extras.