Today, speed and efficiency are watchwords in our industry. Many loan originators work as outside sales agents. They visit clients, prospects, and other sources of business. They make presentations and attempt to find or develop quality potential borrowers. Many use laptop computers to present their products to prospective borrowers away from the loan production office. When they return to that office, they need to transfer the new loan files into the company’s loan production computer.
Making this transfer normally means:
- Find an open network station to connect the laptop to the company’s network, or
- Copy files from the laptop to a floppy diskette, then insert the diskette into a network workstation, or
- Use some sort of e-mail file transfer.
But there are other ways. One option is Bluetooth, named after the Danish Viking King of that name. Bluetooth may become the product of choice for so called Personal Area Networks, or PANs. Bluetooth operates in the 2.4 GHz band using frequency hopping and provides up to one Mbps data rates over short ranges, usually less than 30 feet. Note that many other devices operate in the same spectrum; wireless phones come to mind. Interference between or among these devices can require some patient tuning.
Bluetooth lets myriad devices automatically synchronize whenever they come within range of eachother. For example, you could be out of your office to take a loan application. When you return to your car, the client database in your car phone could automatically update for the new client contact data. Return to your office and the laptop file information could synchronize automatically with your office computer and your processor’s computer.
There are many more Bluetooth features pending, however pending seems to be the operative word. Currently Bluetooth devices are expensive and very few products have reached the market. Most of these are in Europe and not yet available in the US. For current information about Bluetooth products, and progress, check the official Bluetooth website at www.bluetooth.com
An engineering standard known as 802.11b now allows wireless connections at standard Ethernet speeds. The device in my office handles up to three wired connections at 100 Mbps and ten wireless connections at up to 11 Mbps. It does additional duty as a router to our cable modem, sharing this high-speed connection with all connected computers. It also offers a built in firewall to help deter any snooping parties. It cost less than $300. A refinement, called 802.11a, is in the wings and will increase connection speeds to 56 Mbps.
A truly wireless office should become a reality during the first part of the 21st century. New technology for wireless voice and data systems, together with advances in fuel cell technology and miniaturization of computing and telephony devices, will allow powerful new tools. These emerging wireless technologies promise new tools that will alter the shape of your workplace and the way you’ll work in the next century.
When new freedom to connect gives you the ability to easily work anywhere, will you still need a traditional workplace? That will be a major decision for many companies. You can see this beginning today with the growing number of home workers and distributed offices. By adopting portable mobile devices as primary productivity tools, coupled with high-speed wireless access to the Internet, mobility and nomadic work styles may become the norm, and not just for loan originators. Ricochet now offers 128 Kbps wireless access in major cities and major airports. This service lets you access the Internet, e-mail, and the like at ISDN speeds anywhere within the coverage areas. As an automobile passenger, you can surf the net while driving through cities such as San Francisco, San Diego, Denver, and others.
Technology always leads change. In the 19th century, the typewriter, telegraph, and telephone shaped the offices we know today. Networked personal computers largely replaced the dedicated computer room, bringing power and efficiency to each desktop in the late 1970s and early 1980s. However, such networks require expensive cable connections to connect every desk to every other desk.
Wireless technologies greatly reduce the need for cabling. Software-based, easy to use, visual, telephone functions merge into mobile computers and let you point and click to talk with anyone you wish. This eliminates telephone cable requirements too. Making the whole process wireless means you can continue to work the same way wherever you happen to be, reducing training cost. Computer based telephony has already brought tremendous savings to long distance and conference calling. Now if you make all this wireless and wearable, just imagine the differences
To the user the environment will seem wireless. But behind the scenes, all these devices still connect through local bridges or gateways to a complex cabled infrastructure. Still, reducing these static resources reduces physical constraints, costs, and complexities of cable management in buildings. Freedom and flexibility will redefine where and when you work, both inside and outside of corporate real estate. Hiring and managing in this environment will be the next great leadership challenge.
New Internet protocols (IP) will also change the rules. IP-enabled networks are the norm for many organizations, but understanding the benefits of working with the Internet is just beginning. A web browser can be the primary workspace for many people. Software does need to reside on each user’s personal computer. Users do not need a physical desktop. A wireless browser becomes the gateway to information and communication, perhaps becoming the future office. Outsourced application and data storage offers a world where the individual is king and corporate resources can become virtual instead of physical. New companies offering Application Service Provider (ASP) concepts may forever change the way you do business. Such vendors can eliminate concerns about software management and upgrades, data backup, central data storage, access management, and can allow much easier management of distributed workforces.
Long-term, as we move toward a wireless digital world, one should anticipate more fundamental change. Companies demand increased flexibility as they develop new, more fluid, organizational structures. Physical offices are expensive overhead usually occupied only 30% of the day. New work styles, such as the hot desk or free address, and new office concepts, such as office hotels or clubs, are already underway as companies become leaner and more agile. Increased pressure on companies to improve and innovate, push them towards new styles of work that include teaming, telecommuting, and home working. Employees also want to adopt new work patterns as they reassess work-life balance and quality of life.
Wireless technology and the Internet certainly are no longer new, but the shift toward digital communication, new standards, miniaturization and portability of equipment, together with increased battery power and reliability, allows new systems to be launched and puts a wireless office within reach today, or very soon