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Computers Continue To Forge Major Changes in Work Habits - 2002-04-25

Today's laptop computer is one sixth as heavy as the portable computers available 20 years ago and 720 times more powerful. Business technology is in a constant state of change today and, as a result, so is the way business is conducted.

As they've become smaller, cheaper, and more powerful, laptop computers have also become ubiquitous. And, as a result, so has work.

Intel's Consumer Education manager Ralph Bond says the company was startled by the results of a recent nationwide survey of how and where people were using their laptops.

"Eighty-one percent of those surveyed reported using their laptops in front of the TV. Sixty percent use their laptops in bed. Fifty four percent said they use a laptop while eating, and 41 percent of the respondents use the laptop while riding as a passenger in a car," he said. One man used a laptop while escaping from a hurricane to remotely, through a cell phone connection to the internet, turn off an oil well offshore to prevent a terrible accident." Marketing strategist J.P. Frenza says cheaper, faster computers are making it easier for small businesses to compete with big ones in the customer services they can offer.

Small real estate firms give customers property previews online, he says. Internet hook-ups enable even tiny day care centers to transmit camera views of children that parents can watch at their offices.

"A car dealer will say 'It's time to get your oil changed' and will send you an e-mail on Friday afternoon at 3 o'clock and process your credit card and have the service bay ready so when you drive in you get your oil changed and drive right on out," he said.

In his new book, "X-Engineering the Corporation," author James Champy says the latest technologies continue to improve business efficiency.

Using the internet as a communications tool, he says, companies can get input from suppliers in the design stage of a product, a step that is raising both productivity and profits.

"Seventy-five percent of the cost of a manufactured product is determined in very early engineering stages, and if manufacturers could do more collaboration with their suppliers and their designers around the specifications of products, there's tremendous cost savings benefits available in those industries," he said.

When, for example, Honda Motors implemented its dealers' suggestions on ordering custom cars, Mr. Champy says, the company cut its production cycles by more then half.

The next stage, Champy predicts, will be using the Internet to bring customers into the design process.