The Season's Best Tech Tools

Doing Business: These products are tops for the holidays.

By: Margot Carmichael Lester

Are you looking for a unique give-away to show your best clients how much you appreciate their business amid the traditional holiday gift-giving season? Or maybe you’re simply looking to boost your business’ efficiency?

There are dozens of cool gizmos on the market that will fill either role and are worth taking a look at.

With the help of Brian Smith, chief information officer at CSA Travel Protection, here’s a peek at 10 such technological tools.

Computer Hardware

Tablet PC. If a PDA is too small for your tastes, try a tablet PC. Think of it as an electronic legal pad. There are two kinds those with attached keyboards and a swivel monitor that lies flat to write on, or those that dock to your desktop PC. I like the latter best because it’s so portable.

Think how convenient it would be to scrawl notes on that next fam trip directly into your computer. There are dozens of versions on the market from makers including Acer, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, NEC, Toshiba and Fujitsu. From $1,000 to $2,500.

Wireless Adapter. I can’t live without my Linksys WPC55AG Dual-Band Wireless A+G Notebook Adapter. It enables me to access 802.11a, b, and g wireless networks around the world with just a few clicks.

I can file reports, send photos and keep up with business even when I’m away from the office. product.asp?prid=525&scid=36

Illuminated Keyboard. I love this illuminated keyboard from Auravision. It fits nicely with my desktop unit as well as my laptop and is light enough to carry on long trips.

The illumination allows you to work in lower light, reducing glare. That allows me to work longer and later without straining my eyes or keeping my husband awake with lights ablaze. They also make an illuminated optical mouse.

Computer Software

Windows-Based Phone Switch. If you have a small agency, this could be a cost-saver. The CSA Call Center uses a telephony switching system called “Interaction Client” from Interactive Intelligence Inc.

Unlike a traditional phone switch that the big phone companies sell to call centers and that are difficult to manage, Interaction Client is a Windows-based system. It is easy for staff, with little technical training, to configure call routing, monitor activity, produce reports, etcetera. uctsoverview/productsover view.asp

XML Travel Booking Specification. CSA is a member of the OpenTravel Alliance, a travel industry group that has developed a standard specification for booking travel services including travel insurance. This specification provides a common “language” for travel partners for example, a travel agency and a travel insurance provider to transact e-business.

The specification uses XML (Extensible Markup Language), which has been rapidly accepted as the leading protocol for e-commerce transactions for all industries.

Remote Access. GoToMyPC allows a traveler, on the road with a laptop, to access and control a home or corporate computer.

“Remote control” software like this has been around for years; what makes GoToMyPC special is that it operates through a Web browser, making it particularly simple for travelers to connect easily from anywhere at any time.

Wireless Devices

GPS-enabled PDA. Handhelds are great, but what about one that knows where you are even if you don’t? Perfect for travelers and travel professionals who need to know where they’re going, as well as when and with whom. Best bet: the Garmini Que 3600. iQue3600/

PDA Phones. CSA field sales reps use PDA/cell phone combination devices to carry all of their contact information with them, update on the PDAs, and upload that information to CSA’s central Customer Relationship Management system.

Hand-Crank Cell Phone Charger. This is a must for anyone who travels particularly to remote locations and situations where electricity is hard to find.

The SideWinder cell phone charger is a pocket-sized, lightweight hand-crank gadget you power to power up your portable phone. It comes with several adapters to fit most phones and has a nifty LED that’s bright enough to serve as a flashlight.

Cell Earpiece. I really like the new JABRA EarWave Boom earpiece. It’s ultra-light and seriously effective, providing crystal-clear reception and optimum volume.

And the noise-canceling microphone makes you easier to hear on the other end whether you’re in a bustling airport terminal or on a windy bluff.

The GE Wireless Weather Station. This smallish device offers you instant climatological information on the go. The sensor goes outside and beams a wireless weather report directly to the portable base unit. It keeps time (there’s a handy alarm function, too) and offers indoor/outdoor temperature and humidity readings.

Other cool features: an ice alert, a lunar phase indicator and a “weather estimator” that gives you a 12- to 24-hour forecast. And all on the go. Runs on four AA batteries.