Now that “everybody” is synching their emails with a PDA device, the next generation of applications is starting to appear that link a PDA with the main database of your practice or document management systems. This will increase rapidly in the next year or two, especially as more and more on-line practice management systems start to appear.
To date, there are basically two models, one represented by Amicus Mobile and the other by TM Mobile and Worldox Web/mobile.
The Amicus approach installs a mini version of the main application on your PDA. In the case of practice management programs, this has one tremendous advantage: If you make a phone call or send an email from your PDA, the application pops up and lets you bill time for it. The time record is transmitted back to the office where you can edit it when needed and send it to your billing application from there. This is one of the main reasons people have for buying this application. Any changes made either on the PDA or at the office are synchronized with the other side.
This approach does, however, have a major inconvenience. In an age of proliferating PDA platforms - Blackberry, Treo, Windows Mobile, iPhone, Gphone, etc., it is platform specific (logically, since the “mini-app” has to be written for each separate platform). Amicus Mobile requires Windows Mobile devices: nothing else will work. Getting people to give up their Blackberrys or telling them they can’t have an iPhone is a hard sell.
The second approach uses a web browser to access your data store and download pages as needed. Thus the Worldox Web/mobile application lets you download, view, and most importantly, e-mail documents on your server anywhere.
The new TM Mobile application, written by Steve Stockstill (formerly the lead programmer for Time Matters) and marketed by OTB consulting, is extremely slick for what it does. No more problems with synchronization (of which there were many). You access your data in real time. If you leave the office in the morning, and somebody adds an appointment to your calendar at 11 o’clock, you see it by very shortly after that.
This approach has the massive advantage that it works with any java-enabled phone that can browse the web: Blackberry, Treo, Windows, iPhone and so on, There is no software to download (and hence fewer things to go wrong). It has the disadvantage that you cannot upload any information: e-mails, billing records for phone calls, etc.
This is, however, likely to come in a later generation as feature creep sets in. Like a new PC, the application will be wonderful for a while, but then people will start to say, “why can’t it ... ,” and the main thing they are likely to want to do is to upload time records and new appointments.
While the first approach is more powerful (and likely to remain so), the second approach is more likely to win out in the longer run, because of the independence and flexibility it provides.