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A clean slate

Tablet PCs can offer a lightweight and flexible technology solution for IFAs.

The tablet PC heralds the biggest change in the way that computers are used since the birth of the desktop personal computer in the mid-1980s.

Working in conjunction with wireless and third-generation (3G) data access solutions, the Tablet PC not only frees users from their desks but also from the burden of having to use a keyboard to enter data.

A tablet PC has a touchscreen where you write directly using a special stylus or pen.

They come in two basic formats: a clamshell format where a traditional laptop has a screen which can be rotated round and folded back over the keyboard; and a slate format, which has no keyboard attached to the unit and is about the size of an A4 pad. In both cases, the hardware is a fully featured PC, running an enhanced version of the Windows XP operating system (tablet PC Edition).

Writing with the pen directly on to the screen, the handwriting is captured via the Microsoft Ink interface and processed. In some cases, built-in recognisers convert the handwriting to text within the application, in others, software stores handwriting directly as the handwritten scribe.

The prospect of a client digitally signing an electronic application form seems extremely close with a tablet PC.

Using a tablet PC builds on the PDA/mobile phone handwriting environment in which many advisers are now comfortable and familiar so the jump to using a tablet PC is not necessarily a big one. Coupled with the fact that handwriting is a more natural process, the tablet PC offers an intuitive approach to computing for many users.

The main benefit of a tablet PC lies in its flexibility. In the office, attached to a docking station, or wired keyboard, you have a powerful, desktop computing solution. Its light and compact design also allows you to take it on the road with you, wherever you go, scribbling notes and entering data as easily as if you had a notepad in your hands.

To use the tablet PC to thefull requires custom software – with the ability to handwrite data directly into a program, in front of a client.

Positive Solutions has developed such a program. Its Intuitive software works like a pad of A4 paper and is as unobtrusive as completing a paper fact-find.

This offers much in terms of breaking down the barriers between client and adviser. Typically, when an adviser is using an electronic fact-find with a client, the screen of the laptop sits as a barrier between client and adviser.

The key to any client-facing point of sale data-entry system is the time it takes to process. The quicker it is to process the information, the cheaper the overheads will be.

A software-based solution, such as Intuitive, means the data is entered once at the point of sale and reused in the advice and sales process.

The reluctance of both adviser and client to enter data into laptops has meant such a solution has always fallen at the most important first step. Using a tablet PC to complete an electronic fact-find, brings the end-to-end data process one step closer.

Tablet PCs will drive efficiency and ease of use upward in any industry where data collection is a key part of the ongoing work process. Tablet PCs are still relatively uncommon in Europe but in America their use has been embraced across a range of industries. What these industries all have in common is the need to enter data, often remotely from the central data source and in front of a client or patient.

The use and acceptance of tablet PCs in the UK financial services industry will be driven by two factors – usability and efficiency. Financial services have seen many technologies and IT-based solutions that have claimed to change the way in which advice is offered. However, the reality is that the industry has come to accept and embrace those which actually offer real cost and timesaving in the advice and sales process.

Tablet PCs will be no different. It is early days yet in the evolution of the tablet PC but financial services is an industry in which genuine advantages exist for this way of working.

There is a downside to the opportunities that tablet PCs offer. Price of ownership tends to be higher than a standard PC laptop and custom software solutions which accept handwriting direct into them, can be an expensive and difficult tool to develop.

Spending time and money getting new software options in place to allow intelligent and efficient data collection is a hidden cost of the tablet PC which should be considered up front. Otherwise, the promise of the tablet will evaporate quickly in the cold light of day.

Positive Solutions is running a series of workshops demonstrating the live use of tablet PCs and its Intuitive software. For details on its nearest workshop contact 0800 953 0262.

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