As Todd Burgess finishes another call on his Moto Q smartphone from Motorola, he has no doubt about the impact the little gadget has had on his business.

“It's giving me an edge over some of the other contractors because I'm much more available to my customers and prospects,” says Burgess, president of American Deck in Baltimore. “Being that much more connected, I can get answers a lot quicker. I don't have to wait until I get back to the office to follow up.”

The technological gadgets that Burgess and a growing number of home improvement contractors now carry are the visible tip of the in-house computer power they're bringing to bear beyond their office walls. Most of the gadgets are of little use without a connection to the computers, software, and databases that comprise the nerve centers of the most successful home improvement businesses today.

The cell phones and digital cameras that were cutting-edge just a few years ago are now commonplace. These days, global positioning satellite (GPS) technology speeds home improvement contractors to sales calls in unfamiliar neighborhoods. With laptop computers and smartphones, wireless (and wired) Internet connectivity, reps, owners, and estimators are able to access company resources more easily, write more professional sales contracts, and manage their businesses more effectively. During the last decade, the home improvement industry has quietly undergone a sea change in its use of, and its attitude toward, new technology.

Burgess, for example, via an Internet connection, gains access to the software his company uses for scheduling, lead tracking, and project management that is practically identical to what he would have on his office desktop computer. “If somebody wants to set up a meeting while I'm on the road and I can't get it on my laptop,” he says, “I pull it up on my phone and schedule it there, on the spot.”

BROCHURE DOESN'T COVER IT Windowizards, headquartered in Bristol, Pa., “doesn't have a ton of electronic gadgets in the field at this point,” says David Goodman, vice president. But smartphones providing a wireless Internet connection are a key tool that helps managers “make the most of our database,” he says.

Goodman's company-supplied smartphone lets him see how Windowizards' $2 million-plus annual ad budget is performing, virtually minute by minute. He can review the leads generated by a particular ad, the appointments that resulted, and how much the ad cost. “Being able to get at that data and see it quickly helps me spend my money much more wisely,” he says.

Similarly, Windowizards sales managers keep track of their sales personnel's appointments on an ongoing basis. “We live in a bookings world of how many appointments we set up. The sales managers want to be able to see that number going up all day long,” he adds, and they can do that from anywhere on their mobile phone provider's network.

The company does not supply salespeople with smartphones, but they have similar access to company information from any Internet connection. “They can come into our system through a Web page where they can see all their sales statistics, where they stand, and what's been invoiced,” Goodman explains.

The evidence suggests that more contractors are using more sophisticated technology more broadly, at least in part because competition is getting tougher overall.