Friday, February 26, 1999

 The Globe and Mail

  The construction industry is not known for its use of cutting-edge   information technology. Most builders are more interested in bricks and   mortar than bytes and modems. Springtown Homes is an exception.

  Tony and Dave Di Pede are two home-building brothers that embrace the latest technology. They take it on the road in   12-hour jobs that involve endless visits to construction sites, meetings with subcontractors and suppliers, conferences   with lawyers, and communications from buyers and tenants.

  The two men are vice-presidents of Spring Town Homes, a small family business in Mississauga started by their father,   Mario, when he emigrated from Italy and became a bricklayer in 1953. Today, they construct 250 to 300 homes a year,   mostly in nearby Brampton and Woodbridge, as well as owning and managing 24 industrial and commercial buildings in   the Mississauga area.

  The ideal portable office for them includes devices that are small enough to carry and that have one or two critical   functions refined over generations of products and learned over years of testing and use.

  The brothers' array of technology is virtually identical, although their jobs are quite a bit different.

  Rather than laptop computers, which they have tried, they have invested in Windows CE products that are smaller and   suit their business. They use them strictly for reference units for spreadsheets and looking up files, as opposed to writing   letters or reports.

  Portable communications devices are particularly important for the brothers, who stay in touch all day "almost   instantaneously," Tony says.

  One of the most critical gadgets for this is the new RIM Interactive Pager from Cantel, which they bought in December. It   can receive, send and forward not only numeric and alpha numeric pages, but also E-mail, faxes and voice mail.

  The two have raised the issue of getting organized to a science, working their way through at least eight electronic   organizers and PDAs in the past decade to settle on the REX Pro5 by Franklin. It's the size of a PCMCIA computer card   because it is one, fitting into a computer to be updated using Microsoft Outlook and then operating on its own to provide   a calendar, telephone book and to-do list.

  The men stay on top of the latest gadgets through magazines, including Mobile Computing, Handheld PC Magazine, PC   Laptop Magazine and P3, a British publication that features strictly gadgets. And they are not shy about ordering   upgrades, especially buying gadgets from U.S. mail-order catalogues because of the lag time in the devices coming to   Canada.

  Interestingly, the brothers are doubling up for now on gadgets that perform similar functions because each product has its   own advantages.

  The two are careful to back up the information on each device. Tony synchronizes his gadgets daily with his desktop PC,   does a daily tape backup of the office computer network and, for safe measure, prints everything in the system every four   months. "I don't trust anything."

  Both agree that the most important gadgets in their arsenal are their cellular telephones, which are improved by features   such as Cantel's "No Answer Transfer" that acts as a forwarding service so they can be found anywhere.


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