Long gone are the days when we regarded the American obsession with the BlackBerry as a crazy fad. Today the pocket-friendly device plays an integral part in the working culture of an increasing number of Irish businesses. For Eithne Fitzpatrick (pictured), managing director of the Fitzpatrick’s Castle Hotel in Killiney, Co Dublin, its impact has been profound. “It’s changed my life,” she says. “I don’t know how other businesspeople manage without one.”
She acquired her first BlackBerry 18 months ago, after her brother came home from the US and introduced her to the technology. She subsequently signed up with O2 and is currently using the BlackBerry 7230, a curvaceous piece of kit dominated by a backlit LCD and a full QWERTY keyboard. A thumb-operated track wheel on the side of the chassis lets you navigate between the different functions.
The device has phone functionality and PIM (personal information management) features such as an address book and a diary but it’s the ability to send and respond to emails anywhere that is the killer application. “Being able to action email on the road is a huge stress reliever,” says Fitzpatrick. “Customer service and retention is vital in my business and it’s important that you stay ahead of the competition.”
No longer would she have to lug a laptop, a Palm PDA and a separate mobile phone on her many business trips. As well as the hotel business Fitzpatrick is a member of a number of boards including the Abbey Tavern, Fáilte Ireland, Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company and Leopardstown Race Course. Staying in touch is crucial; now she can do it with a one-stop device.
The BlackBerry runs over O2’s GPRS network, fine for email (if you avoid big attachments) but not fast enough for surfing the internet, according to Fitzpatrick. In the early days she experienced roaming difficulties as O2 was still setting up agreements with overseas operators, but now it’s plain sailing in most of her destinations though a recent trip to the Far East was beyond the range of O2’s data coverage — but the phone still worked.
Fitzpatrick, a self-confessed technophobe, finds the BlackBerry intuitive and user-friendly. The one down side is that BlackBerry software is incompatible with the hotel’s network server, ruling out the deployment of its more sophisticated enterprise offering. Instead, she subscribes to the BlackBerry Internet Service that lets her receive forwarded email from her IOL account as well mail direct to her BlackBerry address. She is able to sync it up her desktop PC but she hopes to avail of the bigger enterprise solution when the business upgrades its system.
She would also be keen to equip other staff with the device though she concedes that the BlackBerry — famously labeled ‘crackberry’ in the US — has a habit of taking over your life, blurring the boundaries between work and free time. “I suspect some of our managers would resist it. They would never be left alone,” she laughs. “It is something you have to learn to control; you have to know when to switch it off.”
By Ian Campbell