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What equipment should I use on the road and for my showroom?

What equipment you will want to use to optimize your use of BrokerForce® depends on what your needs and budget are and what equipment you might presently have.  If you spend more time in the showroom, you may want to optimize scanning capabilities.  If you spend a lot of time with key accounts, where sales analysis is of the greatest importance, a powerful laptop will better suit your needs.  A combination of a moderate laptop and a good hand-held device is optimal.

Remember that a carpenter doesn't go to work without a good hammer and a sharp saw.   If you're serious about making money as a rep, you need good tools that are in top shape.

 

Upgrade or New?

Should you buy a new computer or upgrade an older one?  Older or inexpensive computers are more expensive with the long-term costs of having to wait for them or to recover from a crashed hard drive are added.  Inexpensive computers have to be replaced more often and it takes significant time and effort to move the data and software that you need from your old computer to a new one.

With the exception of adding memory, we no longer upgrade our older machines. The prices of new computers are less than before and the benefits of getting a new one have risen in terms of efficiency and utility.  Extending the life of an older computer is always offset by additional issues such as a hardware or operating system conflicts with the added hardware.  If you're adding memory consider 1 gigabyte so that you may be able to run Window Vista (2007).

Any equipment that you are going to use must meet the hardware and operating system requirements of BrokerForce®If you have existing equipment that you want to use, consider that if you are running other software, you have less than 5 gigabytes of available hard drive space, and your computer is more than 3 years old, you're already pushing the limits of your system and you should seriously consider a replacement.

As another point in favor of new equipment, Windows XP Professional is better at recognizing and configuring new hardware like a wireless network or flash drive.  If you're buying a new computer, we strongly recommend Windows XP Professional or Vista (2007).  It's usually about $100 more than XP Home when you buy a new computer.  Otherwise, it is almost triple that as an after-market upgrade.

Hand-Held PDAs

 ~ $425 to $890 with PocketRep®, scanner, and wireless capability.

If you already have an adequate desktop or laptop but want to further automate your field sales, consider a PDA (personal digital assistant) using PocketRep. PocketRep, our companion application for BrokerForce® is supported only on the Microsoft Pocket PC™ platform and is not available for Palm.  PocketRep is used for scanning (particularly useful with bar coded catalogs) and contact management.  The biggest difference between a PocketPC and a PC or laptop is that it does not hold extended order history and has limited reporting capabilities that are better done by a PC.  Dell Axims represent a good value however, the HP iPAQs  that accept expansion sleeves have the greatest expandability.  The iPAQ has better persistence with the Socket laser scanner than the Axims.

The HP iPAQ 2495 has integrated wireless (Wi Fi) that becomes more useful every day as access points are becoming as ubiquitous as McDonalds.  PocketRep development will also be making greater use of wireless connections and Windows Mobile 5.  If you are buying a PocketPC, watch for in-store rebates, and gift certificates. 

Scanners

Most wedge scanners can be used with a laptop.  The difficulty with these is mobility due to the wired connection.  If this is not an issue these are in the range of $135 up for a new one.  The Socket Cordless laser scanner ~ $450 is an excellent alternative for a laptop and can be used with a PDA e.g. mobile phone running Windows Mobile 5 and PocketRep.

For PDAs, the Socket(tm) type I, class I or type II Class I laser scanners that fit a compact flash (CF) slot work very well.  These are typically $350 new but, if you're adventuresome, can be obtained from eBay at a significant discount.

We DO NOT recommend the Socket CMOS scanners that fit in the secure digital (SD) slot.  These scanners are do not read bar codes nearly as well as the laser scanners so, even though they are less expensive, they are not a good value.  Use them only if you are scanning just one line (vendor) and all barcodes are UPCA. 3 of 9 tags are very difficult to read with a CMOS scanner.

Portable Printers ~ $300

HP 450cbi (bi for battery included), or Canon i90.  Office Max usually offers a competitive price on both and there may be a downloadable coupon on the HP rebates web site or a gift certificate from the retailer.  The Cannon is a little thinner and lighter than the HP but, a bit more expensive with the additional battery and charger.  The HP 450cbi also accepts memory or BlueTooth CF expansion cards.  The Bluetooth expansion card (~$100) enables wireless printing from up to 30 feet.  This wireless option is useful in a showroom.

Printers from less than $200 +

For the showroom or back office, you should only consider using a laser jet rather than an ink jet.  Laser jets are now under $200 and it only takes 2000 pages to make up the difference in cost of an ink jet when cartridges have to be replaced.  Also, bar codes printed from a laser jet are more reliable for scanning than those printed from an inkjet.

Laptops ~ $1500 +

Laptops and desktops offer the benefit of the ability to do reporting on-the-fly, and to have access to the complete order history for your customers.  This latter ability allows you to reference or duplicate a previous order.  Ultra-portables are very lightweight, small, and efficient.  However, some, like the Fujitsu, are known to make significant sacrifices in battery life and processor speed.

Our personal preference is to have a laptop and a PDA.  Alternatively, a desktop and PDA work well since summarized customer history is available on the PDA and order guides with barcodes can be printed on the desktop before visiting an account.

Intel® processor laptops perform significantly faster than their competitors.  The Intel® "m" processors or Dual Core processors usually include built-in mobile wireless.  This avoids having to setup or use an external Wi-Fi card.  Processor speed should be 1 GHZ or better (not Celeron), with 30 GB of hard drive space, 512 MB of RAM, and XP Professional or Vista (2007), and wireless network capabilities are recommended.  Air Cards are used to connect via a mobile phone connection and while not as fast as a cable or DSL connection, are much faster than a dial-up connection and can usually be connected anywhere that you can get a mobile phone connection.

Desktops $1000 +

Desktops are now available with flat-panel displays for reasonable prices.  A flat-panel display will save valuable space in a showroom or on a cramped desk.  A flat-screen monitor is still bulky and large but can be read from wider angles, is brighter, and less expensive than a flat panel display.  A flat-panel display typically adds about $150 to the cost.

A CDRW is useful for creating backups of large amounts of data and for creating photo and music CDs.  A DVD/CDRW is even more useful as one can also play their favorite movies on it.

Resources for reviews, discounts, and price comparisons

www.shopper.com , www.fatwallet.com, www.dell.com, www.costco.com , www.mobileplanet.com, www.slickdeals.net, www.dealnews.com, www.cnet.com, www.zdnet.com

 

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