Wired woman

The Internet offers help at last for busy secretaries, giving a quick way in to up-to-date information on a range of topics - including where to find a new job if you still can't cope with the workload
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The Independent Culture
Is your desk quivering under mountains of restaurant guides, travel brochures, corporate calendars, phone books and bits of paper with details of the best florists, couriers and gift shops in your area? Wouldn't it be wonderful if every scrap of information you might need at work were available at the touch of a button?

Well, according to Smart Information, a UK training organisation, it is. No, it's not another of those "guides to everything" that appear in the junk mail. This is an service accessed via the Internet, and because it's in electronic form, the information is regularly updated.

Unlike many information based Web sites Smart Information is a friendly, easy-to-use resource and not merely a dull catalogue of facts and figures. The burgundy and cream home page looks professional and inviting, and has a simple menu split into Business, Leisure, For Secretaries and Directories categories.

Head for the Smart Secretary Network first. This is a service for the PA who wants to stay informed about business developments. It even promises to help you climb the career ladder, with offers for training courses at discounted rates and special members' benefits such as cheap holiday and flight offers. Smart Secretary Network is simple to join; just fill in your details online and your application is processed immediately. There is also a Smart Secretary magazine, but this seems a bit pointless when the service is available online.

Back on the main menu, the For Secretaries section has further career- enhancing features, with pages on personal and career development; the latest advice on health and safety for VDU operators; techniques from professionals on how to prepare a CV; and the questions that you should ask at an interview. There is also a useful guide on safety for young women, from the Suzy Lamplugh Trust.

Looking to change your job? Or need careers advice? For Secretaries is planning a situations vacant service. For now, it offers an easy-to-use listing by area of recommended employment agencies and consultants. If you are serious about networking, fill in the registration forms online for membership of both the Industrial Society and the Institute of Qualified Private Secretaries.

Unfortunately, the rest of Smart Information is not yet as useful as For Secretaries. The Business category promised an extensive, updatable search facility on everything the modern PA might need in a day. So I created a short list of things I wanted to know: the opening hours of the Portuguese Consulate; a decent restaurant for an imaginary vegetarian boss; and who to call if you want to organise a business party at a rugby international.

Smart Information provided telephone numbers for the Portuguese Consulate, but no further details such as opening hours or where the nearest Underground station was. Restaurants were in alphabetical order and not searchable by post code, so I had to ring round to avoid sending my imaginary boss to a steak house by mistake. I did, however, get the number to call for the Rugby Football Union's head office and, on the way, found out where to stand for the best view of the State Opening of Parliament, so not all was lost.

With a few changes - such as extending the database categories and including more than just telephone numbers - Smart Information could finally liberate your desk from the paper mountain. Then there will be no excuse.