At Gold Medal Service, in East Brunswick, the latest piece of business equipment is the same device many people use for decidedly nonbusiness activities, such as reading e-books or watching movies.
The company provides heating and air, plumbing, electric, remodeling and other services. In March, it began equipping its 60 technicians with Pantech Element tablets, which it uses for invoicing, dispatching and ordering parts, among other tasks.
Rob Santora, director of marketing and technology at the firm, said the tablets have helped create new efficiencies. For one, he said, it replaces the traditional system of telephone dispatching.
"Anytime a dispatcher wanted to interact with a technician, it had to be through phones, and you could only have so many people on the phone at once," he said. Now, technicians can close out a job with an e-mail.
The tablets are also helping the company transition away from paper invoices, though Santora said that's still a work in progress.
The company paid about $200 for each tablet, Santora said. While that's a significant up-front expense, he said the company believes the added efficiency and elimination of paper will more than make up for the costs.
Santora said he's not aware of any competitors using tablets, but a survey conducted by wireless provider AT&T suggests that may soon change.
The carrier conducted an Internet survey in March asking 200 small businesses (employing fewer than 100) about their tablet use. Forty-one percent of respondents said they already use some type of tablet in their business. Another 54 percent said they "definitely" or "probably" will do so within the next year. About a third of those companies said they planned to outfit every employee with a tablet.
Santora said the rollout of the tablets mostly has been smooth. He said at first there was some reticence among some staffers who weren't sure they would be comfortable using the technology.
"There is a learning curve," he said. "At first you have to deal with a lot of questions. But over time, people get more proficient at using it."
While the tablets have helped improve the company's internal operations, Santora said he hopes the tablets also improve the customer experience. The company now uses the tablets to take "before" and "after" pictures of every job. Those photos can be used to show off the company's work to potential clients, but they can also be sent back to headquarters if a technician wants a second opinion.