Upgrading to a smartphone is a decision facing many contractors, but with it comes new costs and technology to learn. The many benefits outweigh the increased monthly bill and learning curve.

According to a recent survey by Gartner, 67 million smartphones were sold in 2010. That number is expected to rise to 95 million units in 2011. It's likely that your peers, competitors, and customers have already made the switch. The question is, "How can you best utilize a smartphone in your business?"

A smartphone enables a constant feed of information from those with whom you interact with on a day-to-day basis. At the most basic level, your calendar can be kept up-to-date at the office and your e-mails will reach you in the field. More advanced applications, such as location-based services, will allow you to see where your coworkers or employees are using GPS technology. This can greatly improve your customer response should an issue arise in the middle of your day by showing you who's closest and able to assist. The same services can also help you find the closest supply shop so you can minimize downtime and travel as your business expands into new cities and areas. As a manager, you can monitor productivity in the field and make appropriate changes to maximize efficiency.

Web-enabled smartphones can also save countless trips to and from jobsites, and reduce the amount of equipment to carry, including a digital camera. Built-in cameras allow you to send photos and video to other members of your team so that they don't need to be on location. That picture or video can now allow for a much more informed conversation to take place and increases your credibility with your customer. You can also reference parts lists, manuals and other drawings from the Internet while working on the jobsite. Some contractors use this daily. Showing customers parts lists from manufacturers' websites help explain what needs to be replaced on the spot and can aid in closing the sale right then and there. Previously, contractors would need to go back to the office, find the drawing, and then make a return trip to the customer or jobsite. A smartphone enables contractors to stay in the field for a larger portion of the day and work more efficiently.

Because of the emergence of smartphone technology, many customers are becoming accustomed to having access to their contractor. They expect to hear back the same day. Some contractors aim to respond within minutes to exceed customer expectations. Thus, having access to communicate at any point is a great benefit. In addition, it provides the capability to communicate with customers via the method they choose — e-mail, SMS/text or by phone.

With more than 10 billion downloads of applications from Apple’s iTunes store, and other providers’ arsenals growing, there is certainly an app that can assist with day-to-day operations. Whether it's a weather application, mileage tracker, conversion calculator, or navigation program, you can consolidate many forms, processes and tools you currently carry into software stored on your smartphone.

Beginning to use a smartphone or expanding on the ways you currently use one can help your business from a productivity, credibility and cost efficiency standpoint. Visit your service provider, ask your peers for their opinions, and visit trade shows to see what applications are available that others in your industry are using — you don’t want to get left behind!

Brad Yuronich, the lead system engineer for the RIDGID Software Solutions group, provides technical and business consultancy for both internal and external customers of all technology platforms managed by the RIDGID Software Solutions group.