Like many executives, Joseph Muscari spends a considerable amount of time on the road — the CFO of Alcoa Inc. made nine trips to China alone last year.
And in true road-warrior fashion, he does not travel light when it comes to electronics. Standard components of his arsenal include a Lenovo ThinkPad X40, a BlackBerry 7230, and a Motorola RAZR GPS cell phone. Muscari also takes along a lesser-known device, a fairly low-tech sheet of black plastic called the Privacy Filter. The 3M-designed screen, which attaches to the display of Muscari’s notebook computer, prevents bystanders from stealing a glimpse of whatever he may be working on. Like many companies, Alcoa goes to great lengths to keep digital data secure, yet, as Muscari notes, “Something as simple as somebody looking over your shoulder could cause a problem.”
Muscari has touted the virtues of the Privacy Filter to Alcoa’s CEO and finance staffers. It’s simple, reliable, and solves a very real problem. Those became our guiding principles as we assembled this look at new technologies that help executives stay productive no matter where they may be. Cool has its place, but when you’ve been on the road so long that you no longer remember what time zone you’re in, what you value most is reliability.
So the technology editors at CFO have zeroed in on well-designed products that more than carry their own weight. Some are cutting-edge, others are mainstream or should be. Wide availability, ease of use, value, and effectiveness were our top criteria. Most of these products are wireless, and some don’t even require power cords. All of them can help make business travel vastly more bearable and even — dare we say it? — fun. Or substantially less painful, which is the business-travel equivalent.
Do-It-All Devices for the No-Time-Off Set
Now that Research in Motion has seemingly put its legal troubles behind it, the company can get back to making innovative PDAs. Its latest, the BlackBerry 8700c, is a great example of how far the multifunction “smart phone” has come. This nifty device, sold at Cingular Wireless stores for around $299 (plus the obligatory two-year activation fee), lets you talk, check E-mail, browse the Web, check your calendar and address book, and plenty more. The 35-key, backlit, QWERTY keyboard is reasonably big, and the 2.5-inch screen is bright, clear, and adjusts to ambient lighting. It seems tailored to the hard-working finance executive: Excel files can now be displayed as spreadsheets, and there is a notable dearth of preloaded games.
The Samsung SCH-i730 also exhibits some real design smarts. For starters, the keyboard slides out from the bottom of the phone, reducing the carrying size of the unit. It’s also lightning fast and ships with Windows Mobile 2003 (second edition). Hence, the Samsung smart phone runs Pocket versions of Word and Excel. In addition, the Samsung phone comes equipped with a cavalcade of communication tools, including Wi-Fi and EV-DO cellular data (from Verizon Wireless). All this connectivity comes at a price, however. The i730 costs $450 (with a two-year service contract from Verizon).