Car Phone Company Blog
Why we need more “washing machines” in the business

I have had a bit of an epiphany about technology this week and it made me think of washing machines when I was thinking about buying a printer. Weird,eh?

The key fear about technology with many people is that it is complicated and that it’s an unnecessary complication. However, no one gripes about using a washing machine. That’s a tech solution to solve a manual labour issue.

A washing machine may be seen as low tech (it’s just part of the modern world) so we need to try and replicate that level of benefit in everything we sell. I think we do a great job of showing how tech can benefit your personal or business life but we can always do better and we are always learning. 

One of the most boring parts of the mobile business (but most important) is the process of sending and managing the return of signed contracts. All of our contracts are sent electronically to process but we need to have signed originals for our records. It’s a compliance thing.

Until this week, it was a process of manually writing the contract (a bind in itself), then manually writing an envelope from the address in Outlook. Then sticking a return envelope in that envelope. Generally just a boring repetitive process.

Now I know I could print an envelope but that is a pain to mess around with printer setup for just one envelope. I could print a label but on an A4 printer, that’s a pain as well. We don’t send enough volume of mail (nearly everything “paper” we send is electronic and our stock is normally fulfilled by suppliers) to warrant printing a single sheet with the same customer address label over and over again.

It’s a simple action with a current client so no need for the personal touch of hand addressing that can work when direct marketing so automation could work. Hand written addressing was dull but easiest/fastest.

So I would end up doing the contracts once or twice a month by hand and hating the entire process. There had to be a better way and I was sure that tech could solve it.

We decided to invest in these: Dymo LabelMaker 450 (purchased from TLC Tom: top price, top service plus a big tin of biscuits thrown in). Printing a label from an Outlook contact in one click and under a second.   So absolutely no effort to do the job. Guess what, I do it straight away now.

And then I started making bulk returns labels and labels for compliment slips on conventional A4 label sheets, complete with Car Phone Company branding. So I had then added a couple of “hacks” to the intended use to save even more time and turn the process up a notch.

We had taken a dull task, added a cheap bit of tech to create the “washing machine-like” labour saving and the job just got done. But even more, it opened my eyes to ways of elevating the task: labelling instructions to the client on a comp slip, subtly branding our mail when sending out product and systemising the process to make it easy to delegate or outsource.

It’s a tiny thing but it’s really inspired me to look at every single process we have and how we can continue to evolve and refine them, defining our brand and practices ever more accurately. It’s a great place to work on/from as we continue to grow rapidly.

I am always looking at how I can make the iPhone, iPad or Outlook to make my life and my client’s lives easier. Sometimes I forget to apply that same focus to the less obvious parts of the business. So I need to find more ways of making my business have more “washing machines” in it.  I also need to look for that washing machine level of acceptance when dealing with tech for clients. It’s that “white goods” simplicity that makes Apple products such an attraction for clients. No wonder their signature colour for a long time has been white!

It’s about the iPad 2 of course

So what’s my opinion? Nothing earth shattering, the same core device but better, so there’s not a huge need to upgrade from iPad 1 for businesses. Unless you are pushing your iPad (mine is bursting at seams, as we started with only 16GB WiFi models), a gamer (I am) or into the creative side of things (movies, music: I am), you can take advantage of the £100 price cut on the current model.

I can find some great uses for the upspecced iPad: running my efficient iPad courses from it using Video Mirroring  (show people what to do, rather than use video or PowerPoint) and hopefully the faster processor will sort out the occasional slowdown when using email (I have thousands of e-mails accessible on it!). The HDMI output also offers potential as a portable media centre.

The evolutionary steps are aimed at the consumer/creative,  not the business market. Facetime is mainly a consumer proposition, although if 3G access is enabled in the future, it becomes a real business tool to display stuff from in the field. With WiFi only Facetime, it ties you to an office where there is probably a better solution that also works on non Apple devices.

Gyroscope: demonstrated with Garageband for iPad, as well as useful for gaming. Garageband (velocity sensitive keys on touch screen piano and drums!) is a great use of the tech but it’s again consumer/media focussed. The graphics uplift helps gaming, multitasking and intensive apps like Keynote but iPad cannot exactly be defined as slow as it is.

iMovie for iPad is long overdue and looks really powerful. There is bound to be a movie shot and edited on iPad that captures the imagination within a few months of the release. iPad 1 isn’t really a creative tool to compare with dedicated hardware but it’s incredible for roughing stuff out on the road. Just see what Damon Albarn did with the recent Gorillaz album made on iPad.

Of course, the design is beautiful and really turns it up a notch from iPad 1. No “sides”, just a gentle curve up to the screen from the back. White or black coloured bezels plus ten choices of Smart Covers move it more firmly into the iPod area of fashionable design.

Smart Covers really appeal to my OCD side! A built in microfibre screen cleaning cloth on your case? Pushes all my buttons. I already have a microfibre cloth retrofitted to my iPad 1 case. It is just another example of the brilliance of Jony Ive and the Apple design team. Magnets attach it to the iPad, magnets create the stand and magnets power down the screen as the Smart Cover covers the screen. The iPad 1 case was a brilliant piece of design: this just goes into a whole new realm.

Outside of the iPad, Apple announce iOS4.3. Biggest change is Personal Hotspot for iPhone. Essentially, it shares the 3G data connection via WiFi with other devices. Sounds great but there looks to be a sting in the tail. It appears that you will need an additional tethering bolt on tom enable it. Is also bound to cripple your battery life.  With a cost uplift and battery life hit, I think the MiFi on Three is still a better solution: more data for a similar cost with a more flexible setup. Personal hotspot is really a low volume data solution as it stands today.  

So there’s no pre order date but release in UK is 25th March. I am on the email waiting list and a couple of 32GB WiFi only will be on order as soon as they are available. Once in hand, I will give a detailed review and comparison.

All of the above is based on the launch event: once I have the new one in my hand, only then can I really judge it. But right now, if you are itching to buy an iPad and don’t need the latest developments on the device, the £100 price cut across the range is a compelling case to buy the original (or is it going to be seen as the “Classic”) iPad now. 

I’ll be back next week with some updates on some escapades plus some tips to save you all some frustrations with your mobiles.