I recently purchased two Microsoft Surface Pro 4 tablets from Best Buy (on sale for $150 off!). This completes our upgrade from our last two Lenovo Helix, an older generation convertible tablet.
We actually have been using tablets in our business since 2005 – and I am not talking computer wannabe tablets, you can’t do everything you need to do with a faux-computer tablet like an iPad, Galaxy, etc. Those are really nothing more than a media consumption device, it’s very hard to do real work on those devices without improvising a work around. Don’t get me wrong, they have their place, but they’re not a substitute for a real computer when you need to do business.
Our first tablet was a Toshiba M200 convertible. This was state of the art tablet – a laptop with a swivel screen! Heavy, slow, but it’s redeeming quality was you could still see the screen in full sun . . . well, sort of. Battery life sucked. We did a couple generations of those before we switched to Lenovo.
Our next purchases were all Lenovo, doing one or two iterations of each model, going from the X60 Tablet to the ThinkPad X201t to the ThinkPad X220 and finally to the Helix. The helix actually had a detachable screen (finally!) which allowed you to have a true tablet experience rather than having always to lug a keyboard. A pound might not seem like much difference, but when you carry it around with you for two hours on a property visit you quickly realize why weight matters as your arm aches. Of course battery life still sucked but it was getting better.
Finally . . . a decent solution
When the Surface products first came out we were a bit hesitant as those first models just weren’t that good, it wasn’t until I saw the Surface Pro 4 last fall that I was taken with it. Finally, a tablet that was a full computer, provides decent battery life, has a stylus that has the heft of a nice pen (better than the skinny, plastic Helix stylus), excellent display in full sun, and looks pretty cool.
The only drawback is that it is a Microsoft product. I have had a couple of iPads and numerous Android phones and I don’t have the little niggling issues like I do with Microsoft. The display crashes too often, sometimes the display just doesn’t want to wake up and you have to do a reset (press and hold the power button for about 20 seconds), and I get random blue screens about once ever couple of weeks (way more frequently than our older tablets). But they’re all those things I have come to expect with Microsoft. Overall the computer is a considerable improvement over what we have had in the past so I have learned to live with it.
So, we go back 11 years using tablets and I have never understood how you could manage a homeowner’s association without it. But I think the number one difference is that we’re out in the field, weekly walking around the homeowner association we manage. I honestly think managers at other companies, if they even go to the property “regularly” (weekly? monthly?), are mostly doing their property visit from their car (we call those “windshield visits” or “drive-by’s”). Well, in that situation a laptop can be used, but they certainly can’t take it out with them and walk around the property (I tried it in 2003, didn’t work so well). How can a property manager effectively operate without getting out there?
You can still do it old school, we have a manager like that but he has his systems and they work well for him. Dictate notes, someone types them up (we found a very nice woman in Mississippi through ODesk (now Upwork) who transcribes them for us), and he takes his notes around with him on his weekly property visits. I did that for my first few years and didn’t mind it really, as long as you have a system.
Use it – and even abuse it if you have to
We believe in investing in technology and I get upset sometimes with our employees who baby the equipment. We had one who wouldn’t take her tablet out of her car during the property visit, she was afraid she would drop it. That’s not very productive! It’s there to be used! I use mine when it’s minus 5 and snowing, sprinkling (hard to keep touch screen dry when it’s more than that), or baking sun (it gets a little warm). Use it!
We figure about 18 months between upgrades on our tablets, rather than a more typical 36 months. We want them to be used, so if one lasts 13 months because you slipped on some ice and accidentally dropped it, so be it. When our tablets were costing $2,200 each that was a bit much to take, but now that their $900? Easy decision. A manager will easily recoup 20 minutes of labor in that month if they always have their tablet with them, covering that extra $25/month that shortened lifespan is costing us.
We use a cloud syncing service, Syncplicity, so a manager’s client files are synced between our file server, cloud, and their computer (this also gives us multiple redundancies of client data). We are also now starting the process of switching our back-end software that runs our business from a TOPS server installation to Caliber’s cloud solution which will give even more real-time access to our business. We also have been using Microsoft’s Office 365 for several years which gives us other remote working capability, including SharePoint and OneDrive (although most of us still use Dropbox, it just works better). Our final component is our phone system which automatically forwards calls to manager cell phones and those cell phones use YouMail for smart voicemail greetings, which allows for integration with our office (e.g. press 1 to be transferred to customer service).
Our managers are true remote workers. Some companies will tout their managers working from home, but that’s not good enough for us, we want them working from the field, out on the properties where the action is taking place. To accomplish this, a manager needs the right tools and a manager with a laptop, and not a true computer tablet, doesn’t have the right tools.