Building the CEO Workstation

Once a chief executive has decided to start computing, everyone in the company from the network priesthood to the secretarial pool is apt to have advice on what constitutes the ideal CEO workstation. But whatís convenient for them is not necessarily best for you, the boss; so hereís what I think you need to know about computing at the top.

  Take a Look at Portables

Consider a full-featured portable as your second or even your only computer. Since the best models come with fast processors, large capacity hard disk, readable screens, full keyboards and as much memory as you're likely to find in a desktop computer, a portable can be a small-footprint solution for your desk.

While the ones with the very best displays still consume too much juice to operate for more than a couple of hours or so, if at all, unplugged form a wall outlet. Other machines with DSTN displays that look almost as crisp have an added advantage of working for 4 or 5 hours on batteries. That's just enough time to fly across the country. With some models, you can carry a spare power pack to double your battery time. Equipped with a PCMCIA modem, you will also be able to check your electronic mail from remote locations.

  Stick with Logical Software

If a program cannot be mastered in an hour or two, itís probably not for you. The best programs for the boss, in fact, have thin manuals and pull-down menus, and can be used almost out of the box. Programs that come with bulky manuals are better suited to those whose workday is dedicated to a specific task. Since a chief executiveís job is anything but that, learning the esoteric commands of the most complicated software packages would not only be unnecessary, it would divert you from the more important issues of the day.

Furthermore, being busy with so many other things, you probably wonít have the chance to work with specific programs regularly. If itís been several days or weeks since using a software program, you may face the problem of relearning it all over again. So, stick with software thatís both powerful and easy to master.

  Donít Be a Follower

Being able to do work within the same computing parameters as others in the office counts - up to a point - but it should not be overriding concern when executives makes choices about what programs to work with. Sure, you want to be able to pass files back and forth to your secretary or speechwriter. You may knock out a first draft of a letter or an outline for a speech, then get back a version for further revisions. But donít select a program solely to conform to those associates. It is their responsibility to either get up to speed with the program you choose (usually not a problem, since if they are efficient at their own word processors, your easy-to-learn program should not be too much of a challenge) or take care of any conversion utility that needs to be run between programs

  Get to Know a Spreadsheet

After youíve got word processing figured out, youíll want to get a good spreadsheet program. Why? Because while you might be getting summary financial reports on paper, you cannot manipulate numbers this way. Getting a budget report on disk, on the other hand, gives you the capability of quickly analyzing the numbers and running projections. Chief financial officers cannot live without a spreadsheet. Since you deal with this person all the time, the back-and-forth can be greatly automated if you're both working on the same worksheet models. Of course, you won't be using a spreadsheet to record transactions. That's what data input clerks are for. Similarly, the company's senior analysts will have the major number crunching responsibilities.

However, as the company's leader, you need to be able to review these people's work and even instigate what-if scenarios of your own. Here again, you've got options. Either you can work with whatever spreadsheet is standard in the company, or recreate the standard if it's not to your liking. While Excel continues to be the corporate standard, the learning curve is less steep with the addition of pull-down menus. Excel also lets you see a graph in a window as you change a number in an adjacent worksheet. You can also vary the size and style of numbers and labels on-screen to highlight otherwise monotonous rows of data.

  Get Set to Communicate

Besides word processing, the other major application where you can exercise all 10 fingers is communication. Electronic mail is well suited for the otherwise hard-to-reach CEO. You'll need a modem, preferably one running 56,600bps. You will also need a communications program; this lets you access an internal company e-mail server as a remote computer or to nationwide services such as MCI Mail from your personal computer.

From the CEO's perspective, electronic mail has three big advantages. First, messages can be sent or received at any time -- a real boon when dealing with people in other time zones. Second, they can be retrieved from a personal computer equipped with communications software from any location. You don't have to be in your office -- and since the whole process is automated, your secretary doesn't have to wait for your call either. Third, and perhaps the most important, electronic mail is a great way to break through the memo gridlock.

Considering that everyone is probably trying to get your ear -- in writing, on the phone, or in person -- the channels to the executive suite can become a real bottleneck. You need to prioritize incoming mail, read the messages you want to see, and respond to those that matter in a timely fashion. When checking your e-mail, you can typically see a list of senders and their subjects before seeing the full contents of the messages. So, you can read only those you're interested in. Messages sent electronically are invariably more concise than a formal letter. In a sense, they are already in the form of an executive summary.

  Move Past the Keyboard

If you're not too hot on typing, maybe you need speech recognition that facilitates dictation on your computer. You talk into a microphone in a natural manner and the program records your words on the screen, achieving impressive accuracy on the process.

You should select an accurate product for continuous speech recognition. Previously, all so-called general-purpose speech recognition products relied on discrete speech. You ... had ... to ... talk ... like ... this (with distinct pauses between words) to get the software to recognize what you area saying.

  Make a Mark on Presentations

Since part of a CEO's job involves standing in front of an audience, you're likely to travel with a supporting cast of color slides. It will help to get a presentation graphics package so that you can review slide shows prepared for your speeches. Your graphics arts department should be working with your speechwriter to put together a coherent show. By having the same graphics package on your computer's hard disk, you can review the production and suggest changes without leaving your desk.

  Organize Your Desktop

Get a desktop accessories package that combines such features as an appointment calendar, memo pad, to-do list, alarm, calculator, phone directory and dialer (like Starfish's SideKick, Lotus Organizer, MS Outlook and GoldMine). Desktop accessories are so-called because they can replace dedicated objects found in your desk. They sometimes go further: Though a Rolodex can't dial the phone number for you, the desktop accessory can. For other uses though, they may not be as practical. A pop-up alarm, for example, is not likely to be effective as a programmable watch, which beeps and flashed messages no matter where you are.

  Have an Expert On-Hand

Lastly, build an affable relationship with a computer expert within the company who you can call as your computer guru (or human panic button). For that matter, you might also consider hiring an executive assistant who's expert in these matters. Depend on this person to solve any problems you may encounter and to discuss things you'd like your computer to be able to do.