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A handful of information

By Julie Clothier for CNN

Handheld devices at Wagamama save the company time and money.
Do you use a handheld personal organizer?
Wireless devices

LONDON, England (CNN) -- The palm pilot may not yet be a ubiquitous part of everyday life, but handheld technology can be a valuable -- and in some cases essential -- part of business operations.

From milkmen to waitresses, tour operators to parking wardens, a handheld computer can save businesses money by maximizing employees' time, allowing them to complete paperwork as they go, and to process data immediately.

Noodle restaurant chain Wagamama uses handheld technology in its 25 UK and eight overseas outlets.

Its waiters and waitresses use the wireless devices to place customer orders, sending them straight to the kitchen, enabling chefs to set to work on meals without having to decipher tricky handwriting, and bar staff to begin making drinks, before the server has even left the table.

Wagamama operations manager Jerry Marks says the company's motto is to serve good food at good prices, and the biggest benefit of the handhelds is speed.

"We run a high-turnover operation. The quicker we can turn over a table, the quicker we can fill it again and the more money we make."

He says each handheld unit costs about £1,000 but the return on investment is more than £17,000 per server each year.

"Once we opened a new restaurant and decided to do a bit of a case study by not introducing the handhelds," says Marks.

"It was quite evident that not having them meant lower profits. Each time a server placed an order, they would have to walk four or five meters. We calculated this to be 12km -- or about one-and-a-half hours of jogging -- each week."

Marks says this meant 180 missed sales every week worth £360 per server, which, over 52 weeks, was the equivalent of £18,700 a year per server.

For "hop-on hop-off" style coach travel company Busabout -- which transports 12,000 independent travelers around Europe every summer -- a handheld computer system is also an integral part of its business.

During its annual six-month season of operation, Busabout takes travelers across 41 cities in 11 different countries.

Each traveler is issued with a credit-card type plastic card with a magnetic strip, which they use to book a seat on a future leg of their trip, either by handing it to a tour guide upon entering the bus or by using the Internet.

Busabout international sales and marketing manager Ed Dischler says that in an ideal world, travelers would turn up and a seat on the bus would be available, but the company realized that, although desirable, it was sometimes impossible to achieve because of demand at busy times of the year.

"It's an absolute necessity," says Dischler. "To be able to manage that many people on a network of that scale would be impossible without the handheld devices."

The wireless devices are also vital for communication between the company's 36 tour guides who are on the road and staff in the London headquarters.

"The guides essentially do all their work on the bus. They also use the devices to download their emails, so we can send them any information, including updates about road works, from our London office," says Dischler.

Most other tour operators do bookings and other communication by telephone but Dischler says it would be impossible for Busabout because of the volume of travelers and the size of the network it covers.

UK-based milk company Express Dairies also issues handheld computers to its milkmen. The devices are used to store clients' addresses and delivery routes, information that was previously catalogued in books.

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