July 24, 1999

This driver's wired

Christopher Whittier's mobile office bristles with information tools

By Brian Dexter
Toronto Star Staff Reporter

The mobile offices devised by Christopher Whittier, 29, president of a Markham-based computer software company, are something to behold.

While driving almost anywhere in North America in his Lexus RX300 sport-utility vehicle, he often makes business deals half the world away.

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BRIAN DEXTER/TORONTO STAR
HANDS-ON: Communications tools allow Christopher Whittier to do business from the driver's seat.

Some of the high-tech equipment Whittier has at his fingertips and uses effectively would probably even make James Bond drool.

Most of the gear is in the Lexus, but he can also transfer key elements with ease into an Acura NSX sportscar or a Legend coupe.

Whittier, who is basically self-taught in computer skills and an international business graduate of Centennial College, heads Results International and has nine employees.

It's not unusual for him to pull into a Toronto park beside Lake Ontario, take a call from Saudi Arabia, send off a business quote via laptop computer, resume a cell phone chat minutes later and then close a $10,000 sales deal.

He says the high-tech systems he's installed in the Lexus and Acuras increase company efficiency, save hiring more employees and are revenue boosters as well.

``There is a very serious business thesis to all this technology,'' insists Whittier. ``Once everything is set up you can easily multi-task on the road.''

A special desk in the front passenger seat of the Lexus serves as the platform for most mobile office equipment, including an NEC LX Pentium 300 laptop with an attached video camera as well as cellular and modem and DVD technology.

Other equipment includes a pager, two cell phones, a zoom digital camera, a portable printer with infra-red connection, a mini Sony digital recorder, a VCR, a global positioning gizmo and mapping software to locate and display directions on the laptop to any street in Toronto.

Whittier hired programmers to develop a business software called iQuote which helps companies manage quotes for products and services. It works with Microsoft Windows and Whittier markets the program worldwide and essentially heads up sales.

``I've spoken to quite few people who have customized their vehicles for mobile offices but very few have taken the technology to the extent I've achieved,'' Whittier says. ``I guess I'm a graduate student of road warriors of the past.''

If necessary Whittier can play a video on his laptop to an Audiovox screen that snaps down from the roof of the Lexus in front of rear-seat passengers. The system also allows playing of video games and screening of movies, at times turning the sport-ute into a kind of drive-on theatre for his family.

On the road, E-mails received through a hands-free cell phone can be played through a voice recognition system and key telephone numbers re-recorded on the mini-hand-held recorder. This, Whittier says, is safer than trying to write down details while driving.

As well, E-mail can be sent out under the same system and dictation of memos and letters into the laptop without typing has ``90 per cent accuracy'' although it requires a one-eared headset connection to the laptop.

It's a snap to dial into the office computer network to download and upload files and initiate video conferencing from the Lexus.

Over-all, Whittier says, his offices-on-wheels, make for better use of his time and faster response to customer and company responsibilities while freeing him from his Markham office or home.

The entire setup, he says, cost $15,000 to $20,000 including the laptop. Moreover, the technology is very useable with various components assembled from equipment readily available on the retail market.

Whittier adds that he always pulls off beside the highway or in a parking lot if he feels any operation of the equipment with jeopardize road safety.

Whittier says he got involved with computers such as the old Commodore 64 while growing up in Ottawa and later served for seven years in Canadian Armed Forces reserves, ending up as a specialist artillery bombardier. He founded Results International nine years ago.

``The best thing I ever did was to join the military,'' he adds.

``It allowed me to gain discipline, respect and drive. I wouldn't be where I am today without that.''