A panel of experts told a South Coast business women’s group Wednesday that solutions are being developed to make it easier for firms to integrate the functions of smartphones and computers, even though all of the answers aren’t yet clear.
The panel spoke to about 100 members and guests at the breakfast meeting of the Santa Barbara chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners.
“Without our computers, we don’t have customers,” said panelist Carrie Jacobson, Verizon Wireless’ regional director for data solutions who joined the company five years ago.
The challenge these days, the panelists agreed, is that information is sent and stored to smartphones and computers separately, which makes it difficult to have all of the information business people need right away.
That is where people such as panelist Dave Gilbert, chief executive officer and founder of SimpleSignal, come in. Using the “Internet cloud,” Gilbert said, his company puts telephone calls over the Internet.
“Telephone wire poles are coming down soon,” Gilbert said. “The land lines are leaving.”
He said what SimpleSignal can do for a company is so simple that he can describe it by writing it on a napkin — which he had printed just for the occasion.
“I believe you can’t sell something unless you can put it on a napkin,” said Gilbert, who has 20 years of technology, communications and marketing experience to the business VoIP space.
His napkin diagram described how a smartphone can turn speech to text, have 14-way conferencing and have a “hosted exchange.” His company acts as the host to help ensure a business’ phones and computers work together.
Jacobson and Gilbert agreed that social media, such as Facebook, are all a part of commerce these days. So it should be easy to access on what Jacobson called “your pocket PC,” referring to smartphones.
“You don’t have to put all the equipment in one house,” Jacobson said, noting that the first computers built more than 50 years ago could fill a house.
Panelist Kathy Chill, vice president of business development and product marketing for Goleta-based Citrix Online, said the idea these days is to “power your business without all the infrastructure.”
At Citrix, Chill develops ways for businesses to more easily access computers, hold conferences and meetings over the Internet among their employees or with other firms, provide training to people at multiple remote locations, give remote support for computers and even provide remote IT management.
“This saves money by cutting travel costs,” Chill said. “It gives your business the freedom to grow.”
Before the end of the year, Jacobson said, Verizon will sell “fourth-generation” wireless devices and services that will provide an Internet feed as fast as those that are wired.
“It’s info on the go,” she said, adding that quick information like that helped emergency crews get valuable information during the recent natural gas explosion in San Bruno that demolished a neighborhood. “Firefighters were able to communicate within 15 minutes. They couldn’t do that five years ago.”
Soon in San Francisco, Verizon will help companies build their own smartphone applications, Jacobson said. And someday, Verizon and Apple Corp. will negotiate a deal that will allow Version customers to use devices such as the iPhone just the way AT&T users can today.
“We will need each other, eventually,” Jacobson said.
While the panelists said their technology allows professionals to work just about anywhere, they also agreed that their firms need to cooperate with one another to provide services to large and small companies.
However, when members of the audience asked what’s so difficult for them to keep up with fast-changing technology and get trained to use it for their business, the panelists seemed stumped.
Jacobson and Chill agreed that training is the key to businesses being able to use the evolving technology.
“We have to teach how this will help the life of your business,” Chill said.
When asked how South Coast businesses can figure out what its technology needs and costs are, Chill said, “We’re still trying to figure that out,” since every business is so different.
“We can’t just sell you a phone,” Jacobson said. “We need to sell you a solution.”
Ironically, some members of the audience had to leave to retrieve voicemail and e-mails on their smartphones because the hotel’s basement allows only one communication company’s repeater to penetrate the walls.
The panelists were optimistic that problem, too, soon would be remedied.
— Noozhawk business writer Ray Estrada can be reached at email@example.com.