Mobile tech in practice- a case history

It is easy to get enamored with mobile technology and cool gadgets but it doesn’t mean much unless the tech makes a positive difference in your work.  I had a good example of mobile tech as an enabler last Friday and thought I would share it with you.  I have been carrying a Sony U-70 for a few months that is running the Tablet OS.  The Sony is a full Windows XP computer in a tiny form factor that makes it convenient to carry everywhere I go.  Having the Tablet OS available turns the Sony into a full blown mini Tablet PC with all the benefits that entails.

I provide technical services to oil companies who are processing raw 3-D seismic data into a full image of the subsurface.  This finished image is then used to guide decisions about oil wells, specifically where to drill (or not drill as the case may be).  These oil wells can cost as much as $30 million so the processing of the image data is critical to their success.  I attended a meeting last Friday afternoon with a potential client, a major oil company with whom I have been trying to work for a couple of years.  This meeting was to take place with one of the senior technical managers who wanted to meet with me to discuss the possibility of hiring my consulting services. 

I carried the Sony U in my briefcase into the conference room where the meeting was to take place.  It was quickly apparent that the scope of the meeting would be much larger than my contact had indicated as there were five people representing the potential client.  As the meeting unfolded they indicated their intent was to not just find a consultant to work on one project but one who could handle a number of projects.  The five people at the meeting represented three different business groups with several projects that needed attention and I knew that making a good impression would go a long way to a successful meeting.

When the meeting first started we had a friendly discussion all around about my credentials and experience in the industry.  This was followed with an overview of the client company’s work and what they needed, potentially from me.  I was taking notes on a legal pad as I usually do at meetings with multiple client reps because I have found using laptops or UPCs at these meetings are often distracting.  This period of the meeting was information gathering so the notepad was good enough.

A short period into the meeting the discussion turned to actual projects the clients-to-be had going and we looked at preliminary images of the subsurface.  We discussed various technical problems they are having with the images and what they might do about it.  A lot of the discussion kept returning to questions about my experience with these specific types of problems so I felt it was time to bring out the big tiny gun- the Sony U. 

I told them I had a presentation I use to show prospective clients the types of geophysical problems I had encountered in the past and that I would be happy to show them if they would let me use the projector sitting in the middle of the conference table.  They were agreeable to this so I pulled out the Sony and hooked up the VGA dongle that Sony provided and hooked it up to the projector with a VGA cable I brought along just in case I needed it.  This only took a couple of minutes and while I connected everything I answered their questions about the U.  They were impressed with the small size of the device when I explained to them it is a full computer running Windows XP Tablet Edition.

Once the projector was up and running I toggled the U to display on both the external projector and the internal LCD screen simultaneously so I could run the presentation from the end of the table.  The Sony is on battery power so at this point the only tether is the 6 foot VGA cable running from the U to the projector.  Since the Sony is a Tablet I am able to run the presentation with my pen stylus using just the touch screen of the computer.  This also impressed the clients but then it got really cool.

One of the problems with PowerPoint presentations is the static nature of the slides.  No matter how much you embellish them they just sit there on the screen and it is easy to lose your audience.  Adding flashy animations can relieve some of that but without really adding anything to the presentation.  Giving a presentation on a Tablet PC gives you an unfair advantage and this is what I was counting on.  I started annotating the slides to point out the particulars I felt were important, adding notes as we went and drawing attention to points of interest by circling them with the pen.  This turned a static slideshow into an interactive session and I quickly drew the small audience in.  At one point I encouraged one of the clients to take the U in his hands and draw on the slide to make his own point.  What a tremendous difference this made in the entire experience not only for the clients but for me.  Instead of a dry presenter/ audience session we had a real discussion.  And that was the whole point.  When the discussion was over we had a graphic history of it contained in the PowerPoint presentation and the coup de grace was emailing it to them before leaving the meeting using my Bluetooth cellphone to connect to my Exchange Server.

I should point out that the important piece of this meeting was not the Sony U.  While it’s cool that the computer is so small that really didn’t make the big difference here.  What turned this meeting into a fruitful two-way discussion was the Tablet OS.  This session would have been just as successful with any Tablet PC as it was the ink that did the trick.  It would actually have been easier to do with a full-size Tablet PC as the small screen of the Sony made it a little difficult at times to draw on the slides.

The rest of the meeting went well and while I cannot be sure I will get work from this company I am absolutely convinced I made a very high-tech impression on them.   They won’t forget this meeting anytime soon.  This is what I mean when I say that mobile tech must be enabling- it must fit in naturally with what you need to accomplish without you having to think about it.  It should just work and the Tablet PC did that and more.

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