From electronic books to an ingenious hand-held projector, Kristina Smith discovers the devices you simply cannot live without

1. Optoma Pico projector

‘This is a quick-fix presentation gadget. We can access all our drawings and files on our laptops wherever we are. But if you have got more than two people sitting round a laptop, often you can’t see what you are looking at. This gadget allows you to expand the drawings as a projection onto a wall. It’s only the size of a cigarette packet, so it’s handy to carry around because it’s so light.’

Chris Chivers, managing director, Killby & Gayford.

2. BlackBerry Curve

‘This is brilliant – it’s robust, it never crashes and it makes me more efficient. I am in charge of strategy with my executive board colleagues and then responsible for implementing that with our top customers.

I probably spend two-thirds of my time out with customers. Having the BlackBerry means that between meetings I can clear all my emails and keep up to date with where the market is going, where deals are going, what’s happening with customers. I have developed a knack for high-speed typing even though I have chubby little fingers. My colleagues are amazed at how fast I can type. I got hooked on Nokia predictive texting in early 2000 and never looked back!”

Stephen Wells, business strategy and development director, Costain.

3. MacBook Pro

‘I do everything on my Mac, I am online all the time. Recently I have been using it to Tweet. We went live with the Mace Group Twitter account at the end of April ( We are using it as a feed, trying to encourage traffic back to the website. It’s very important that it’s a live feed. If you ignore it for five days, you lose audience. Also, through Tweetdeck [a browser that lets you follow several Twitterers at once] you can very quickly and easily see any comments about your company. If you are in the mix you can catch that and respond in a positive way to any criticism, although we haven’t had any yet.’

Catherine Button, head of marketing and communications, Mace.

4. BlackBerry Pearl

‘A lot of people say to me “you never forget anything”.

It’s because I dictate notes and prompts using my BlackBerry. A fair bit of my time is spent out on site, with technicians in their vans, or in local offices. It’s not always appropriate to have a laptop or pen and paper – for example if you’re halfway up a scaffold. And if you are in your suit with a pad and paper, it can be a bit formal and cause people to clam up. With this, they don’t feel like they are being watched or monitored. I make notes of good or bad practice, ideas and things I want to do when I get back to the office.’

Shaun Davis, director of safety, health, environment and quality, Rok.


‘It’s a phone, a camera, a mini laptop. It does emails, my diary, stores all my contacts, has an internet browser (great for cheating at pub quizzes). It’s a calculator, it’s got games on to keep my kids amused, it even has a GPS receiver so it’s also got TomTom Sat Nav. It’s the Swiss Army Knife of the electronic gadget world! I bought it about a year ago. For once in my life I wanted something that was absolutely at the top of the market and wouldn’t go out of date so quick. Now the company is buying it for the senior guys.’

Neil Bradley, head of pre-construction and design, Thomas Vale.

6. Merlin Lazer

‘I first came across the Merlin Lazer some 10 years ago when I had to survey a tall building with neither safe external access nor any opening windows. It’s a device for measuring the thickness of double-glazed units from one side of the glass. It's really useful because it’s small and light and easy to slip into a computer bag. There are alternatives available, but I have found they have a limited lifespan and are not as accurate.

We have other pieces of kit, for example to check coatings on glass to see whether it is toughened and torque gauges to check doors for DDA compliance, but this one remains my favourite.’

Steve Bosi, technical director of facade engineering, WSP Group

7. SmartBoard

‘At weekly planning meetings our team and our subcontractors agree the plan for the following week. The team use the SmartTech SmartBoard to call up the site drawings from a laptop, and then you can use electronic pens that come with the system to mark comments or revisions on the projected drawings. For instance, we mark up who will be working where in the following week, where materials will be placed and how they will be distributed. The marked-up drawings are printed off after the meeting and everyone is given a copy.

Nicola Morrey, Process improvement manager, Shepherd Construction.

8. Sony Reader eBook

‘I have had this for three months, and although I’ve only downloaded novels so far I can see it really making a difference professionally. I’m a town planner and it would be really handy to carry round planning law guides and other technical books on it.

It’s about the size of a small paperback, with a white screen with black writing. You turn the pages by pressing a button. You download whatever books you want just like you download music.

It can hold about 100 books and has a full indexing system. If I am going away on business I used to always take a couple of books. Now I just download what I want and pop my Reader into my briefcase.’

Phil Cusak, director, AECOM Medion.

9. GoPal Sat Nav

‘This is so fantastic. It’s really easy to do your mileage claim form for your expenses, you just put in your start point and end point. If I’m on a construction site somewhere in the middle of nowhere I can call my kids up and say I’ll pick you up outside Debenhams at 4:52 and it’s always right within a couple of minutes. Likewise, when I am travelling round the country I can let people know if I am going to be 10 minutes later, or quarter of an hour. It seems very accurate, so it’s good for expectation management. I bought it from Sainsbury’s for about £90 I think and it is worth every penny.’

Charles Tinknall, head of process improvement, Willmott Dixon.

10. Huawei E160

‘The intuitive simplicity of my Huawei E160 USB dongle [modem] is a godsend when I cannot reach a Kier networked docking station and Wi-Fi is unobtainable. Travelling to BSF projects from Cumbria to Kent and an assortment of laboratories, hotels, offices and colleges in between, this is a frequent occurrence! Its “plug and play” 3.6Mbps connection speed, plus USB cable to improve signal reception “web enables” me for email, text and phonebook, even in remote areas. So, what looks like nothing more than a cheap throwaway cigarette lighter is actually 84mm of pure technological genius.’

Elvin Box, Kier business improvement manager and chair of the CIOB Innovation and Research Panel.