Technology for the busy HR professional

The array of technology available to help the busy HR professional is growing everyday. Sue Weekes, deputy editor of the net, looks at what to buy


A portable digital assistant is a palmtop computer, such as a Psion or a Palm. The first PDAs were little more than digital personal organisers but recent developments and add-ons mean that they can offer Internet access, email, digital voice recording and can even be turned into a GSM mobile phone. PDAs can be synchronised with your desktop PC and data downloaded from- and to each.

Who are the main players?

The market was dominated by Palm and Psion until Handspring introduced the Visor earlier this year (which is made by the original maker of the Palm Pilot). Visor is a nifty device in its own right but its Springboard port makes it very easy to add peripherals, including a camera and a modem. Also check out Microsoft’s new operating system, Pocket PC, used in Compaq’s iPaq and Hewlett Packard’s Journada which features cut-down versions of Word, Excel, Outlook and Explorer. Other products to look out for include Sony’s forthcoming PDA, which uses the same operating system as Palm. Also due imminently are PDA phones, with Orange promising one in time for Christmas.

What should I buy?

Choose Palm Vx and fork out another £100 for Ubinetics Palm companion, which turns it into a GSM mobile phone allowing you to surf the Internet and check your email.

User’s tip: Go to and for useful PDA software downloads. Also, make a note on your PDA to back-up at a certain time every day or few days, depending how much you use it.

Further information:


WAP phone

A Wireless Application Protocol mobile phone allows the user to access parts of the Internet remotely. Of course, because of practicalities like the small screen, you can’t experience all the bells and whistles of a typical Web page, but it is good enough to peruse CVs from an online recruiter or to check travel timetables.

Who are the main players?

In short, all the big mobile phone names: Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola, Siemens et al. The best advice is to check out services on offer by the phone networks at their respective Web sites.

What should I buy?

The Nokia 7110’s scrolling bar makes it simple to whiz through WAP sites.

Users’ tip: Don’t get too attached to it. 3G phones will be vastly superior and if you’re serious about mobile telecoms, you’ll want one as soon as they’re available since they use the Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) and will combine Internet and video technology as well as offering increased bandwidth. Expect the first ones by late 2001.

Further information:

WAP chat, glossary, FAQs and everything else you ever wanted to know.

Where to search for UK WAP sites. Plus how to submit your own WAP site for listing.

Find out about third generation phones and when they will be available.


Data storage device

A medium for backing-up and storing your work. While higher bandwidths means that greater amounts of information will be digitally transmitted, there will always be a need for back-up media. The format depends on what you want to do with it: removable media like Zip disks are excellent for downloading data fast and carrying it around; tape drives are good for serious daily back-up; CD-Roms make good archive media; or you might be looking for a portable hard disk as a hard disk extension. DVD-Ram, meanwhile, is the latest high-capacity storage option.

Who are the main players?

Iomega, La Cie, Kenwood, IBM, and Creative Labs but due to the number of different formats they don’t necessarily compete head to head.

What should I buy?

The Iomega drive which holds 250Mb Zip disks dominates the removable arena and it’s a great product. It links to your system via the USB (Universal Serial Bus) or PC card interface and data transfer times are pretty fast.

User tip: If possible, buy two of the above. It may seem extravagant but it will mean you can have one at work and another at home which we reckon to be an enduring data storage system which won’t need upgrading for some time yet.

Further information:



A camera that can be attached to a computer for the purposes of video-conferencing, video emailing, 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 a powerful tool for proper video-conferencing anywhere in the world.

Who are the main players?

Logitech, Creative Labs, 3Com, Philips, and Kodak. Logitech has the best range of cams with one to suit every need from a cheap domestic one to those capable of full-blown Webcasting.

What should I buy?

Logitech products are excellent but for us the top slot it’s a tie between the 3Com Home Connect which offers the best image quality and the Creative Video Blaster Webcam Go Plus, because it can also be used as a digital camera. Check out both.

User tip: Don’t get carried away by video email (small video clips sent with emails) –it sounds like a good idea but remember that it quickly fills up email inboxes.

Further information:


Digital voice recorder

An improved quality dictation machine. Digital recorders offer better quality voice recordings, make it easier to get to the relevant parts of the recording and means not having to worry about running out of tape, with some models holding over five hours of chat. Some also allow you to plug in voice recognition software in order to transcribe your input (especially useful if you’re on the move with no secretary to hand). Some devices, such as the Voice It Mobile, come with this software built-in.

Main players: Household names such as Panasonic, Sony and Olympus, but also look out for the aforementioned Voice It, too.

What should I buy?

The Panasonic RR-QR240 offers over four and half hours recording time and lets you plug in voice recognition software (IBM Via Voice and Dragon Naturally Speaking the two defacto products in the field).

User tip: Don’t expect too much from voice recognition software at the moment – it’s far from perfect but persevere and it’ll start to pay off.

Further information:

Laptop computer

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 (14in is pretty standard), they don’t lack processing power or speed and 20Gb hard drives are not unusual.

Who are the main players?

Sony’s Vaio series looks great and has become something of a laptop status symbol – and Vaio’s feature-set and performance justifies it. The Compaq Presario, HP Omnibook, Dell Inspiron and of course IBM’s Thinkpad are equally well worth looking at. But remember that buying a laptop comes down to personal choice – most manufacturers can offer something that is comparable to a desktop system so find the one you’re comfortable with and check its spec will match your needs.

What should I buy?

The name Hi Grade may not trip off the tongue when you think of laptops but it’s certainly one to watch and top machines in its Ultinote range are among the fastest laptops around at 750MHz. Throw in 20Gb of hard disk space and who needs a desktop system?

User’s tip: While laptops come bundled with everything needed for mobile computing, if you’re using it in lots of different countries, you might need to buy the necessary hardware and phone socket adapters as extras. offers good products and advice on this subject.

Further information:


The technologies that will change the way you work


If you think the Internet is powerful now, wait until broadband is with us properly. It’s short for broad bandwidth and is a high-speed telecommunications network that will be able to carry video and multimedia as well as voice. BT’s ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) is a broadband service and is currently being rolled out in this country. ADSL offers an always-on, high speed link to the Net which ultimately will be able to work 40 times faster than ordinary modems – it’s currently about 10 times faster. Users will pay a flat-rate fee so it makes it much easier to control Internet usage costs in a department.

Find out about BT’s broadband offering and if it’s available in your postcode area.


A short-range wireless technology that will let devices such as laptops, PDAs and mobile phones talk to each other within a 10 metre radius (soon to be extended to 100 metres). It will also allow such devices to hook-up to the Internet remotely. Nearly 2,000 developers are working on Bluetooth products, which should begin shipping soon. Ericsson’s Bluetooth-enabled phones, which also incorporate WAP, are due later this year. Phone manufacturers such as Ericsson and Nokia are hoping they can use Bluetooth to turn their products into the ultimate remote control for all your devices.

Official and definitive site dedicated to the revolutionary technology. Find out when the buzzword will be turned into a commercial reality – and you can get your hands on a product.


Global Positioning Satellite receivers use information sent out by satellites to pinpoint where you are. It’s long been used in built-in navigational systems for cars and there are a number of hand-held devices aimed at the outdoor adventurer set available. However, the technology is being used in the second phase of test 3G phones to help tell phone networks where a user is so it can provide localised content.


Voice Browsers

These allow Internet navigation using voice commands via a phone. They’re currently being developed and are already in use in the US in voice portal services such as Tell Me. It is still early days but this potentially could be the most important development ever for mobile phone users.

US voice portal, which uses voice recognition technology; you can’t access the service but it’ll give you an idea of what it’s all about. One of the companies behind the voice recognition software that could change the way you use the Web. Similar to the above so gen up on what voice technology can do for you here


By Sue Weekes deputy editor of the net magazine







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