Newest office trend downright touching

LONGMONT — A proliferation of devices with touch-enabled screens spurred customer use and familiarity with a technology once employed only in certain peripheral markets. Now well-entrenched on personal phones, tablets and music players, some businesses are making the transition to touch for the office, too.

“It’s more prevalent in the workplace,´ said Stuart Robertson, chief executive of Software Wholesale International, a Longmont-based software reseller. The company works with 8,000 clients across the United States, offering strategic business consulting around technology that helps clients decide what technology fits their needs and assisting in its implementation, Robertson said. The transition to touch matches the trajectory of the industry.

“The whole paradigm is changing — not just because people are changing but because it’s just natural,” Robertson said. He recalls recently reaching for the non-touch screen of his computer only to realize he had to go to the mouse.

An expectation of mobility, increased efficiency and stabilized cost also are driving an increase in touch computing for small and medium-sized businesses, he said. Robertson recently began using a Microsoft Surface tablet, which meshes nicely with the Windows 8 touch-enabled platform.

“The fact that I can be mobile anywhere is awesome,” Robertson said. Using devices with differing platforms prevented a smooth transition from one device to another. With Windows 8 and more touch, that’s changed.

“In the past it’s not been available to me and what I was really able to do was consolidate my devices,” he said.

On a recent trip there was less to carry, he said, meaning time savings through airport security and access to traditional Microsoft Office programs such as Word.

“I’ve been an Apple and iPad user in the past, but really for business solutions there’s no comparison,” Robertson said.

His company is also a licensed Microsoft reseller. For businesses using a Windows platform, it’s been difficult to incorporate traditional Microsoft Office programs, such as Excel and Word, across mobile platforms with full access, he said. The new operating system allows easy synchronization of data for access while commuting, at the office or at home.

“People are so mobile these days,” Robertson said. “They pretty much expect to work anytime, anywhere.”

Jay Paulus, Microsoft Windows director of product marketing for small businesses, said consumer expectation and a desire for mobility and increased efficiency drove the decision to make Windows 8 touch-based.

Around the office, the mobility touch provides can improve efficiency, Paulus said, allowing employees to leave their desk and share work with co-workers rather than remain tethered to a desktop. Receptionists can approach customers instead of the other way around, managers can roam factory floors with tablet-style touch-screens in hand and easy to use while standing. Truck drivers can use a few quick swipes on a touch screen to check deliveries rather than taking the time to break out a laptop. Sales people use touch screens and tablets to take presentations out to prospective buyers, sitting beside them and interacting rather than formally presenting to a customer.

“And having people put their hands on stuff turns out to be a better sales tool,” Paulus said.

The biggest challenge for businesses making the switch to touch — and particularly to Windows 8 — is the mental one, Paulus said. That’s something with which David Fuess agrees.

“User adoption is usually the biggest challenge,´ said Fuess, president of Catapult Systems, an Austin, Texas-based Microsoft partner that helps companies nationwide integrate Microsoft technology. He helped start Catapult’s Denver office four years ago and has worked with local companies such as Array BioPharma Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRY).

Proper training is the key to successful user adoption of touch technology. When Fuess helps a company transition to touch-computing, or another technology, his company places teachers at the business to assist employees while they make the switch.

The cost for switching to the touch-based Windows 8 system is similar to other comparable technology, said Robertson. Windows 8 Pro, designed for small businesses, is offered for around $40. Additionally, a variety of deals and special pricing for small and medium-sized businesses interested in transitioning to Windows 8 are available, Paulus said. The deals should last for the next few months.

Robertson sees many businesses using outdated technology that’s close to the end of its life cycle. Making the change can enhance success, he said.

“If they are limping along on their current technology and feel stifled and feel stuck,” he said, “it’s a great time to move forward and to abandon technologies that aren’t working anymore and upgrade to products that are going to help them be competitive and drive forward.”

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