Collier's Mobile Tech( Collier Consulting Group, www.collierflatrate.com, 800/739-9025) is a complete tablet PC application designed for field service technicians. The solution includes a tablet PC, which features a 101/2-in. screen and accepts handwritten input via an electronic pen. It packages a wireless printer, vehicle-mounting brackets, a camera for help in diagnosis by off-site personnel and for before/after pictures, a credit card processor, service software and Collier's Flat Rate tables for pricing service work. The user supplies the wireless phone service.

The flat-rate database, which comes preloaded on the tablet, culls from nearly 10,000 HVAC repairs; 90,000 parts and equipment; 2,500 plumbing repairs; and 45,000 plumbing inventory items. Conveniently, contractors can either accept the HVAC/plumbing database as-is or can customize any of the tables and pricing before the package is shipped by logging onto the Collier Website and making changes before the database is loaded onto the tablet.

The tech is more likely to maximize the size of the work order or service call.

Contractors can make global or selected changes to material costs, labor rates and mark-ups online later and then download the updated data onto the tablet themselves. Contractors can have multiple databases for technicians performing different types of work or for work performed in different geographic areas.

The service software gives technicians easy access to customer service agreements, new and past work orders, and invoices and other back-office data. The techs can process customer work orders and invoices in the field, ready for customer signature and credit card processing right on the spot.

Because the information is captured in the field in real time, it decreases the likelihood of parts omissions from the work order and therefore the bill because the documentation does not rely on technician memory or paper-based notes as to what was installed during the day. The information recorded and sent back from the field to the office can automatically interface with an accounting program, eliminating double entry of data and chance of transcription errors.

The package includes sales presentations and proposals that enable a tech to display and offer service agreements and other sales options to customers in a professional manner, helping ensure that no opportunities to sign a customer into a service agreement or an upsell is lost to lack of available documentation or signed approvals to do the work. All the pages can be customized with company logos and photos.

The tech has immediate access to numerous work efficiency tools including wiring diagrams, installation guides, product manuals and parts reference databases.

The screen of the handheld PC is, in effect, the work order onto which a technician enters data, using the electronic pen. Inspection forms are electronic renderings of the standard inspection forms that a technician typically works with. Because all options are right there on screen where they can serve as suggestions or memory jogs, the tech is more likely to maximize the size of the work order or service call, the company points out.

The solution offers productivity and quality control capabilities. For example, techs can transmit on-screen inventory requisitions, minimizing time to locate and replenish inventory and can pull up inspection forms, quality control checklists and combustion analyzer integrations to ensure compliance with QC procedures.

Prevention is best defense
Norton Confidential 2007 (www.symantecstore.com, retail locations and online retailers for Windows XP Home/XP Pro and free Windows Vista compatibility update) is a comprehensive transaction security solution that helps protect consumers shopping, banking or conducting other sensitive transactions online from fraud through phishing and other nefarious techniques. (Phishing occurs when cyber criminals and hackers use e-mail and other electronic means to fraudulently acquire passwords, credit card information and other sensitive data by posing as a legitimate business.)

Designed to protect consumers at the time of transaction, the program features zero-hour protection against fraudulent Websites and crime ware, thwarting emerging attacks designed to steal confidential information. It includes Website authentication to make sure you are actually on the site you think you are and password encryption, preventing it from being disclosed to unauthorized or unknown sites.

Independent of software, you can help protect yourself from identity theft by shopping at Websites that start only with "https," with that "s" signifying the Website is secure via SSL (secure socket layer). Don't lose heart right away — on some shopping sites that "s" only shows up at checkout but does eventually appear in the address.

Bill and Patti Feldman are freelance writers for magazines, building product manufacturers and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at productpad@yahoo.com.