User Profile: The HP Palmtop As Tech Support Tool

This technical support professional uses the HP 100's built-in applications to manage projects, track personnel needs, stay on top of customer support problems, and more!

By Ronald Nutter

I am the escalation manager for a company called 900 Support, Inc., a 24 hour 7 day a week telephone support organization serving an international customer base. My responsibilities include ensuring that we have a sufficient number of Certified Netware Engineers available to answer calls around the clock. We have a number of OEM support contracts where we take some or all support calls for a given product. This requires that appropriately skilled technicians be available when needed. When I took over the position, I was using a TI Organizer to track needs and resources, but soon started to see that this wouldn't be sufficient to get the job done.

Enter the HP 100LX

The HP 100LX was introduced to me at a national chapter presidents conference of the Certified Netware Engineer Professional Association (CNEPA). The 80x25 display and the built-in applications attracted me to the Palmtop. For several months, I had been looking to purchase a portable computer, but had hesitated, feeling there had to be a better solution available. The 100LX proved to be that solution.

Shortly after my return from the conference, I purchased a Palmtop. I spent the next few days hand entering data from the TI Organizer into the 100LX, since a conversion program was not available to translate the information into an HP format.

Using Phone Book

Having to manually enter about 250 phone numbers gave me the opportunity to clean up my phone number list. As I entered contact information, I was delighted to be able to enter a category for each entry. This made it easy to use the F6 Subset feature to look at smaller categories of my ever growing collection of phone numbers.

I keep three different phone books on my Palmtop. One is for my business related contacts, one for personal numbers and a master listing of all CompuServe node phone numbers. Being able to maintain multiple phone books is a strong feature of the 100LX (and the HP 95LX).

Learning the Power of Data Base

After getting my PHONE list under control and transferring my notes into the Palmtop, I knew it was time to start learning more about my new tool. The database application seemed like the place to start for my needs. Keeping track of my staff is a big job. My first database (PERS.GDB (ON DISK ICON)) resembled a miniature personnel file. In addition to general contact information, there are fields that list all the Novell products that they have been tested on or have experience with, what OEM support contracts they are certified to work on and what vendor certifications they have - CNE, ECNE, MCP, etc.

Personal Database: 100LX:  Graphic

 Putting the database application to use didn't stop there. My next task was to organize my library of LAN related books (LANLIB.GDB (ON DISK ICON)). The record for each book lists the title of the book, author's name, publisher, cost, ISBN number and brief comments about the book. I no longer accidentally purchase the same book twice because I have this list in my pocket whenever I enter a bookstore. Keeping track of the cost of the book has another advantage -- in case of theft or fire, I have a ready reference for the insurance company when filing the loss claim.

Library Database: Graphic

 Resolving a customers problem is my chief concern. Unfortunately, there are times when an answer for a problem isn't immediately available. As Escalation Manager, this is when I usually become involved with a call. I have set up a database of the technical support calls that are still active (CUSTCALL.GDB (ON DISK ICON)).

Customer Problem Database: Graphic

 At one glance I know who the customer is, when the problem was first reported, what the initial problem was, and what has happened so far. I have created a Subset to view open calls only.

HP CALC's Solver Helps Calculate System RAM for Novell Networks

When I started doing research on the 100LX, I wasn't sure what Solver could do for me. However, it has become a valued tool in my arsenal. Novell has several different, sometimes lengthy, formulas to determine how much RAM is needed for the server. When I'm in a hurry to perform one of these calculations, it is not unusual to make a calculation error. With the formulas in Solver, I don't worry about calculation errors anymore!

Note Taker is an excellent companion for Solver. I use it to document each formula in Solver, and include information on the purpose of each formula, the variables involved, and the information to be entered. The category function in Note Taker lets me quickly find the documentation on a Solver equation. (See Ed Keefe's article, page 40, for more on using Note Taker with Solver.)

Using MEMO as a Writer's Companion

Another part of my responsibilities include writing for several LAN magazines. I contribute to "help desk" columns and write product reviews. I'll use MEMO's Outline (press (F7)) to outline longer articles. I'll import complete drafts and edit them in MEMO. I'll even write shorter articles from scratch in MEMO.

I use the HP Dictionary/Thesaurus card to make sure that my spelling is correct. After completion of the article I send it to the publisher via CompuServe E-mail.

Using Note Taker

I use Note Taker for more than documenting Solver equations. It helps me track hard disk space requirements for the different parts of Novell's Netware 4.0 program; it keeps tips & hints; it stores file server console commands; it keeps configuration instructions for particular brands of diskless workstations, and more. I also use Note Taker for short term projects where I need to track the progress of the individuals involved. I'll enter the name of the project in the Title field and a description of the project in the Note field.

Recently I have created a separate Note Taker database file to track long term projects. Keeping the projects in separate files helps keep things organized. I have started thinking about creating another notes database to handle my contact management needs, instead of purchasing a program like ACT!.

Communicating with the Outside World

I use TAPCIS (ON DISK ICON) on the 100LX to watch the CompuServe Novell forums in which I am active. The 100LX lets me stay in touch wherever I am. Although I have faster modems available, I use the Worldport 2400 MDL modem (cradle version) and the accessory cradle to minimize the amount of bulk and cables to be kept track of.

I need the Palmtop to dial up more than just CompuServe. Using some proprietary communications software, I dial into our communications network hardware and monitor its condition or make changes to the configuration wherever I am in the country. This flexibility helps keep the equipment in optimum operating condition.

Recently I have started using the built-in DataComm program to dial up my Internet access point using VT100 emulation. I have set up a configuration profile containing the telephone number, emulation preference, etc. and leave that loaded when I close down DataComm so that all I have to do to get into the Internet is turn on the modem and press (F10) to connect.

Wireless Communications is the Future for the Palmtop

Two recently announced products in the mobile computing arena are worth looking at. The first is a PCMCIA card pager. A California company called Wireless Access has put a Skytel or Mobilcom pager into a PCMCIA Type II card that can slide into your 100LX. The pager-on-a-card can be powered by its own internal battery (that should last for 30 days) or from the batteries inside the 100LX. Although the pager doesn't have to be inside the 100LX to receive a message, you will have to use the Palmtop to be able to read the page. The projected price for the Wireless Access PCMCIA card should be around $300 to the end user. You will need to purchase the pager from the company whose service you want to use.

The other product announcement is from a company called RadioMail. This company is offering a two-way radio based E-Mail system for $89 a month regardless of how much it is used. Currently you have a choice of the Ericcson/GE Mobidem or the Motorola InfoTAC radio modems. RadioMail is an interesting approach to E-mail. This system gives you an Internet account and more. You can send mail to almost any system you can think of - CompuServe, cc:MAIL, MCIMail, etc. You will get your mail wherever you are in the country and the people sending the mail don't have to know what city you are in. Because you are on Internet, you can participate in the discussion areas there by subscribing to a listserver that handles the particular forum or conference you are interested in.

My use of the HP 100LX keeps changing as I learn more about the HP Palmtop. To this end, I find a periodic review of the HP 100LX User's Guide very helpful.

I don't regret the purchase of this valuable business tool in the least. Thanks to HP for a great product!!