Teenagers may be today’s biggest camera phone enthusiasts, but companies are increasingly employing camera-equipped cell phones to streamline business processes.

According to Boston-based Strategy Analytics, about 700,000 people will use camera phones for business purposes this year. That number is expected to top 2 million by 2009.

But it’s not major corporations that are leading the way. Smaller companies have been the early innovators, often turning to camera phones as a cost-saving alternative to sending employees to far-flung locations.

“Camera phones are good for any kind of field service scenario where you can keep an expert centrally located and have relatively unskilled workers report in and say, essentially, `This is what I’m looking at. How can you advise me?'” said Cliff Raskind, director of the global wireless practice at Strategy Analytics.

In Yakima, Wash., salespeople at Burrows Tractor drive as far as 100 miles to visit farmers who want to trade in their tractor for a newer model. In the past, the Burrows sales staff would shoot photos of customers’ tractors with a digital camera and bring the photo back to headquarters. General manager John Riel would evaluate the tractor’s condition and determine its trade-in price.

“In the time you left the customer’s farm, another dealer had a chance to get in there and mess up your deal,” said Riel.

About a year ago, on the advice of a U.S. Cellular sales representative, Riel equipped his salespeople with camera phones. They now transmit photos to Riel via e-mail, and he calculates a trade-in price while the salesperson is still on the phone. The company has also provided its salespeople with laptops so they can print a sales contract and complete the transaction on the spot.

“We saw a huge savings on mileage, because the camera phone saves a minimum of one trip on every deal we do. And now we never leave the customer’s farm, so we lose fewer deals,” said Riel.

Chicago-based Maintenance Systems, a commercial painting contractor whose clients include such national retail chains as Burger King, J. Crew and CompUSA, relies on images taken by camera phones to keep clients in the loop.

Since the retailers’ facilities managers work out of offices that can be hundreds, if not thousands, of miles from the store that is being spruced up, Maintenance Systems painting crews use camera phones to provide them with daily photographic updates of their work.

The managers view the photos on a Web site that is accessible only to Maintenance Systems’ clients.

“Showing them our work in progress gives our clients more comfort with the work being done,” said Matt Wolfsmith, Maintenance Systems’ operations manager.

Photos can be transmitted from one cell phone to another or sent to a computer or a Web site as an e-mail attachment. Photos can also be sent via multimedia messaging service, or MMS, a transmission service for images and other large files.

Real estate agents were among the earliest professionals to make use of camera phones. It has become a common practice for real estate agents to shoot photos of a property’s key selling points and send them to clients.

But today, with so many clients snapping photos with their own digital cameras, some agents are finding that camera phones are even more valuable in helping them take care of problems like cracks in a property’s foundation.

Samantha Powell, a Chicago agent at Baird & Warner Real Estate Inc.’s City West office, says that her Treo 600 camera phone comes in handy when she wants get a quick read on how severe a structural problem may be. She e-mails photos of the problem areas to a building inspector as an e-mail attachment, either directly from her phone or from her PC.

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