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Freedom technologies: working in a world without wires.

Keeping up with the latest in office technology and telecommunications has become a necessary part of business today. People haven't been this stirred up about the way they go about their business since Gutenberg invented movable type five-and-a-ha6lf centuries ago. You may think it's too costly to bring up-to-date technology into your office or car, but can you exist without it?

William Sommers and Paul Roberts are principals of Criti Care Emergency Medical Services, a 10-year-old company that runs educational programs in Ontario, Manitoba and as far north as the North Pole for nurses, medical students, paramedics and public or private sector employees requiring such training.

Criti Care makes extensive use of audio-visual materials and sophisticated high-tech medical graphics -- such as images of the human skeletal and circulatory systems -- and other illustrations. Their equipment makes it possible for them to produce images for slick, color slide shows in their home offices, or make last-minute changes on the road.

"We do most of the work ourselves on the computer using a commercial illustration software package such as CorelDraw," says Sommers. We use a scanner to scan in certain medical images into material we're producing, whether that's a booklet, slide show or overhead transparency."

To Sommers, portability is just as important as technological sophistication. He recalls the time they were teaching advanced cardiac life support in Ontario. The agency responsible for supplying the slide set lost them and didn't realize it until the day Criti Care showed up to put on the presentation.

"Under normal circumstances, we would have had a problematic situation," says Sommers, "but because we had the equipment (laptop computer, software, hand-held scanner, slide projector) with us to produce overheads, and graphics we keep stored in the computer, there wasn't a problem. We avoid problems because of high technology. That is really why we're into it."

It is difficult to know exactly when to buy. Ray Senez, general manager of Grassroots Information Services, a CTI-ComTel Inc. company, says some businesses wait for new devices to prove themselves, then buy.

You may have invested thousands of dollars within the last few years for computers, fax machines, copiers and printers, thinking you'd be covered for awhile. But, they keep getting smaller, faster, better, cheaper -- or they merge. Okidata, for one, produces a combination printer/fax/copier/ scanner that works with DOS- and Windows-based PCs.

Faxing direct from PCs is becoming popular. Instead of investing in a fax machine or fax modern and software, you could pay for the use of a network service. Harold Hermann, sales manager for Grassroots Information Services, explains: "If you have a modem and you're a subscriber to our network, you can fax a document across the country without leaving the program you're in. You don't have to get a fax modem. You don't have to buy a particular piece of software. It's like a one-stop shop for communications without involving three different services or products."

John MacLise, market development manager with MTS Mobility, agrees "tetherless communications" are the wave of the future. Technologies will converge and people will have the power to work anywhere. He says that Motorola, one of the largest manufacturers of wireless communications products, envisions a wireless society by the year 2000.

We'll still have phones, but they'll be very small. An OKI 1150, one of the new hand-held cellular telephones, will store up to 200 names and numbers. It's shorter and narrower than a chequebook and sells for about $900. Says MacLise, "When you get to your destination, you just pop the phone out of your car and put it in your pocket."

Yet, none of these streamlined cellular devices offer what digital phones will in the future. MacLise says because the conversion to digital will take awhile -- approximately seven years -- telephones just coming out now are of a dual-mode variety. Your phone determines if a digital signal is available. If not, it will switch over to a cellular system. The major benefit of digital equipment to businesspeople is security. Sommers, who uses a Motorola cellular phone on the road says, "You have to give some consideration to things you discuss on a cellular phone today."

As of September this year, Mobilink, a service delivered through MTS Mobility, will enable you to call or receive calls in just about any populated area of the U.S. or Canada with your cellular phone. Presently, only about 1 in 20 adults in Manitoba uses a cellular phone.

This is exciting stuff. But, is it all good news? Accessibility anywhere in North America may sound disconcerting to those who like to get away from it all. MacLise says fine, shut the phone off. He believes it gives people more control.

"It allows people to communicate when they want to. Instead of people calling locations, people will call people."

CD-ROMs, electronic networks and multimedia are other technologies with enormous office application potential CD-ROMs (compact disc, read-only memory) are like the CDs you play on your CD player at home. When you place them into a CD-ROM reader connected to your computer you are given access to encyclopediae, accounting manuals, photographic images, even Aesop's Fables. More than 3,500 CD-ROMs are in print today, double what was available only two years ago.

With a private network service, people on the road with a modem and portable PC can get at information from head office. Hermann explains a Grassroots network set up in Saskatchewan: "A crop insurance agent out in the field can access a database back in Regina (through a telephone outlet or with a portable modem and transmitter), retrieve information, do some calculations on-line and file a claim that would go right back to the home office and be processed as quickly as someone standing at the counter."

Or bars can order their spirits any time of the day or night through MLCC's electronic order desk.

At Royal LePage offices in and around Ottawa, prospective buyers can wander through an electronic neighborhood, selecting prices, areas and features of a home by touching a computer screen.

Leading-edge technology, however, does nothing for you if you buy the latest bells and whistles but don't learn how to use them -- there is nothing advanced about nifty boxes gathering dust.

Sommers says they, too, were reluctant information-seekers at first. They were aware of traditional or more popular benefits of computer technology such as word processing, accounting and database creating. But, they were completely unaware of the combined potential of computers, modems, scanners etc. to fax documents, design slides, access medical journals via a CD-ROM or transmit material while on the road.

Sifting through the office and communications "solutions" available today is overwhelming. Even so, that shouldn't deter businesspeople who suspect they have needs that could be met more effectively, frugally (important in today's economy) or both with available technology. A little toe-dipping may be in order.

Determine your specific needs; find out what equipment you'll need to meet those needs; talk to people who may already be doing what you want to do; and buy, borrow or rent required equipment and services. Then, most vital, use it.

Catherine Senecal is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer.
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Title Annotation:Technology; office technology and telecommunications
Author:Senecal, Catherine M.
Publication:Manitoba Business
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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