This is the tenth of a series of newsletters published on Business Management and Management Skills. Not all topics discussed will apply to your business, but each section will be beneficial to establish company goals and objectives. By reading and studying these newsletter articles, you’re taking the first step in achieving your goals.

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Before the dawn of the information age, electrical contractors relied on three things for success: their trucks, tools, and knowledge of electricity. Although resistant to change in the beginning, most contractors eventually bought into the computer reality, purchasing a few machines to supplement their operations. But change didn’t stop there. Soon, the fax machine and two-way radio became staples. Next, the pager and cell phone became necessities. E-mail and the Internet followed, revolutionizing the business world and forever changing the way contractors work.

The growing market of technology tools is changing the way high-tech electrical contractors do business. Thanks to the high-speed modem, satellite technology, and various other new connectivity media, today’s contractors are breaking new ground in the area of wireless communications, using laptops, handheld devices, personal digital assistants (PDA’s), voice recognition systems, bar-coding devices, and digital Web cameras to communicate with their home office and collaborate on projects over the Internet, transforming traditional business of the past into a virtual construction office at home, on the road, in a plane, or in the field.

The Internet is the most influential tool contractors can use to increase communications and become more competitive. Through online project collaboration, contractors reap significant benefits, such as preventing delays from clogged fax machines, missed telephone calls, and communication breakdowns. Although the Internet holds obvious cost and productivity benefits for contractors, there’s a multitude of communication accessories on the market that can complement the Web. Some examples are:

Handheld Devices - Palm-sized computers, like the Palm Pilot and other handheld PC’s, offer a host of customized features, including contract management, scheduling, spreadsheet functions and Web access, E-mail, and project management capabilities. Regardless of the method contractors choose to access the Web, this kind of connectivity helps to increase project profitability and productivity, enables clear and effective communications, establishes team accountability, reduces the frequency of meetings, and minimizes the risk of litigation by providing detailed, ongoing documentation. Not only does the contractor get jobs done weeks ahead of schedule (which saves them tremendous amounts of money and allows them to bid or negotiate more jobs), it also greatly increases their potential for future income by establishing a reputation for working smarter and faster than the competition.

Digital and Web Cameras - There is a growing demand for digital cameras in the construction industry similar to that of the PDA’s. These devices range from $150 to $1,000 and enable you to transfer digital images into a computer for editing, storage, and retrieval. Digital cameras improve the efficiency of the entire construction process, not to mention cash flow.

Small businesses today need computers as much as larger ones. In a small company, the owner has to wear many hats and perform many functions. After a day’s work in the field, they often take paperwork home, and spend more hours doing billing, writing checks, and fulfilling the requirements of Federal and State tax returns, as well as local licenses, permits, etc. With a computer and the specialty software readily available, an owner can save time and increase accuracy in such office functions as estimating, general ledger, inventory control, purchasing, payroll and billing.

Organizations of almost all economic sizes can benefit from a networked system of desktop PC’s. Investments of between $20,000 and $60,000 are common. Do some serious investigation about the features of a system before undertaking such an expense to make sure it offers what you need. Computer hardware and software will likely be like cars and trucks, to be replaced time and time again.

Be careful of being overwhelmed by wonderful electronics that have short life spans. Each dollar spent must be invested so that it produces a minimum return on investment. Putting a pencil to potential purchases of electronic gadgets will help to avoid wasted time and money.

Anticipate cost associated with continuing education, or on-the-job training. Changes in technology, hardware and software evolutions are going to be necessitating that we all continue to keep up, or at least remain not too far behind.

Mike Holt’s Comment: This newsletter article was extracted from Mike Holt’s Business Management and Management Skills’ Workbook. Watch for our next newsletter, and as always, we invite your comments and feedback. Send us your real-life experiences. We value your opinions and participation. Please respond to Barbara at

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