What I’ll Miss About CES

I used to look forward to CES, the Consumer Electronics Show held every January in Las Vegas. Like everything else in town, it was glittery, glitzy and way over the top. But I always focused on finding the tech experts to learn more about how products worked. Now, it’s all changed. This year’s show starts Jan. 11, totally online, a reflection of where life is headed as the pandemic continues.

Being a techie, I loved talking to the engineers at the exhibits of product manufacturers. Whether it was for a product that caught my interest or one that many of my clients use, the engineers could answer my questions or explain the key areas that made a product work. They told me where I could unlock more capabilities and where I could stumble into a deep, dark hole.

You didn’t have to be a techie to get into the show. There was always something to wow anybody who attended, and there were neat toys that companies were giving away. Last year, I registered to get a flood detector that a company named Orbit introduced. It’s a good concept. It has Wi-Fi enabled sensors that you can put on the floor in a place that might flood, such as near a water pipe, sink, toilet or washing machine. It has an app that you install on your smartphone, and it warns you when the sensor detects water.

My friend, who attended the show with me, registered for one, too. They said they’d ship them; that’s what everyone says. After a while, we forgot about them. But last month, we got FedEx notices, and we could see that they were legitimately from Orbit. My system is on my basement floor, where, fortunately, it’s been silent.

But for all its glitter and glitz, CES is a show of concepts more than readily available products. Last year, as you may recall, healthcare was the major focus. If you had wristwatches stretching from your wrist to your shoulder, they would all contain features and apps that you couldn’t condense to just a few units. There were that many.

Flexible telephones, such as the one Samsung introduced, were not available until later, and the same was true of really large, really lightweight TVs with 8K resolution. Very few of them are on the market, and there is hardly any content I can think of that you can view with 8K resolution. Even 4K resolution is not universal – nor is it compelling technology for many.

I may go to the online CES, but it’s not the same. If you’re wandering around virtually, I’m sure there will be links to product manufacturers’ websites. But if you’re looking for information about the types of products you might buy, you can go directly to the websites. And if you want to actually see and touch the real thing, you might consider heading off to Best Buy.

If you’re looking for a TV, for example, you can get side-by-side comparisons by looking at multiple brand names, screen sizes and levels of technology. You can see if a specific size will fit in the room where you’ll watch it. You can do the same with any appliance and any type of smart home device you want to install. Seeing a product in person gives you a different perspective, and even with minimal sales staff, you can find somebody in a store who can answer some of your basic questions better than with most online chat services.

A trip to the store can also help us help you better with buying and configuring TVs, home electronics and smart home devices. You’ll have a better idea of what you want or need to buy and where to install it, and we’ll be better able to answer questions about what can work better and what’s possible to meet your expectations. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us. We can review product specs to help you make a good selection and provide whatever installation and configuration help you might need.

Pants on Fire

Whether it’s business or politics, there’s a tendency to point fingers at other parties or make excuses. Some people will do anything to avoid responsibility. Yes, stuff happens, especially with technology and especially in these times, with so many people using more technology for work, school and entertainment. We believe this places a premium on being honest and upfront when dealing with tech issues.

I’ve been doing IT work for 30 years, and as I’ve built my own small business to serve other small businesses and home users, nothing has become more important than honesty and a let’s-get-it-solved attitude. In today’s daily-life environment, many of us feel we must be our own advocate, and technology has given us the tools. We can research anything on the internet to provide our supporting information; it doesn’t matter if we haven’t asked the right questions to get the right answers. And we can tell the entire world how we’ve been wronged; again, it doesn’t matter if we’re right or wrong.

In my IT world, life gets ever more complex. We have the capability to do so many things for work, school or entertainment because of technology. We invest money and emotion into putting technology to work, and we don’t leave a lot of margin for error. With small margins and little wiggle room, one could easily reason it’s better not to hold any responsibility. When that happens, honesty suffers.

A recent example of how this fits into our business occurred during a perfect storm. Have you ever seen the message telling you that firmware is updating and telling at the same time not turn off your computer? There’s a reason for that: it kills the computer.

In our case, we were in the final process of setting up a computer for a client. We were going through the last reboot – and we knew not to shut off the computer. What we didn’t know was that the computer hadn’t been plugged securely into the power outlet. When I moved it, the plug fell out, which was just like shutting off the computer. It no longer worked.

I told the client what happened and how we would fix the problem. I called Dell and told them what happened and got a replacement. I could have said it was a defective unit and gone through the long paperwork process of getting a replacement. I could have said the update was bad. Because the old computer was still in the office and working, we got the old one ready for work, and when the replacement new computer came, we completed the project.

Another time, we had scheduled the installation of a new server right after we returned from a trip. Normally, we don’t do major system work during business hours, but the problem the new server was to solve kept getting worse.

We came in on a Friday afternoon, and after assessing the situation presented the options. We said we could spend hours trying to fix the problem, but we weren’t optimistic about a good outcome. The other option was to shut down business and do the data migration right then and there. The client left it up to us to make the decision.

We did the migration over the weekend, and then we committed to be back in their office Monday morning to make sure everyone in the office could access all the information they needed. We could have just told them to call us Monday if they had a problem, but that would have meant more downtime for the business and a lot more tension and aggravation. When would they know they were having a problem, and how long would it take for us to get there? We knew what questions to ask and would know how to fix the problem.

By being upfront about everything in these examples, we and our clients understood the value we provided for each other. That helped us get on the same page and provide a timelier solution. If you or someone you know is tired of getting the runaround from an equipment supplier or another IT service provider, call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us discuss the problem. You deserve to know the truth – and the knowledge to make a sound decision.

Technology Years and Dog Years

Dog owners are used to extrapolating their pet’s age into more human terms by multiplying their age by seven. A 10-year-old dog is roughly the same “age” as a 70-year-old person. A technology year can be more like 20 human years; your 3-year-old computer could be more like a 60-year-old person. If you have a business, old technology can hamper employee retention because there are only so many tricks you can teach an old computer.

It makes good sense to keep your technology younger and more athletic because employees feel old systems hold them back. This is especially true for employees who work remotely, including salespeople. Older systems are not as adaptable for security measures to get to protected data they need to do their jobs better. Nor are they able to accommodate the new ways innovative employees find to do their jobs more efficiently. We’ve talked to many people who have accepted less money at new jobs because they want the opportunity to improve their skills and performance levels in ways that could lead to higher pay later.

The Windows 7 end of life should give business owners with old technology reason to rethink their technology. A 5-year-old system still running Windows 7 is like a 100-year-old person who has really slowed down physically.

That’s well past the retirement age, but even more, it illustrates the problem of old technology. There are no nursing homes for old technology. The industry just doesn’t support old software and old hardware. Technology arteries harden, becoming less flexible and subject to fractures. Even if you have a Windows 10-based system, older versions of office present the same symptoms of aging. Employees are not able take advantage of new features, and that prevents them from increasing their work throughput.

Our clients who have invested in Office 365 subscriptions are benefiting from an improved work environment. Employees are “playing around” with newer, more powerful tools to do their jobs better. The Microsoft Teams tool is a major upgrade over Skype for Business. We’ve seen employees use Teams to set up meetings, share screens and use other collaborative tools, including video conferences, to get more work done faster. Any business that relies on field technicians, for example, can let them use these tools on their cell phones to chat with office-based resources and solve their customers’ problems faster and more efficiently.

If you have Office 365, all these advanced tools are part of your package. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to help you determine the tools and features that are best for your business and to help you set them up with your employees. We can also help you make sure your current hardware has the capacity to help you make use of your new tools.

Convenience vs. Competition: What do You Think?

The Department of Justice is beginning an investigation of “big data” companies and their hold on your online activity. This is not intended to be a political rant, but we’d like to know your thoughts on convenience vs. competition.

Here’s the executive summary of the DOJ’s investigation:

  • DOJ is reviewing whether and how market-leading online platforms – Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and the rest of the usual suspects – have achieved market power and are engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers.
  • The review will consider the widespread concerns about competition that consumers, businesses, and entrepreneurs have expressed about search, social media, and some retail services online.
  • The goal of the review is to assess the competitive conditions in the online marketplace in an objective and fair-minded manner and to ensure Americans have access to free markets in which companies compete on their merits to provide services that users want. 
  • If violations of law are identified, the DOJ will proceed appropriately to seek redress.

The investigation – or review – caught our attention because Amazon’s recent Prime Day blew projected numbers out of the water. Why not? When you want to buy a product, what do you usually do? You use Google to find the best price or fastest delivery, and you generally go to an Amazon website – where Amazon has your address and credit card info on file. Yes, it’s basically one click or just a few, and your shiny new object is on its way – sometimes with same-day delivery.

I admit, that’s how we sometimes shop for products and make our purchase decisions. I don’t know if the size of Google and Amazon limits my choices – or if they limit them significantly. I might never know if a local merchant has a better product, price or customer service because smaller businesses don’t have the numbers to show up in a Google search where I can easily see it. I don’t know if another search engine (not Bing, which is Microsoft) would give me better results because Google is ingrained in my mind. It’s even become a verb.

We recognize that technology and laws are complex fields, and we’ll all have different opinions about what makes a good law. But we’d like your thoughts on competition and convenience. If you would answer a few questions either by return email or by leaving comments for everyone to see, we can share what’s important to us:

  • Do you automatically use Google for product searches?
  • Would you use another search engine if it were readily available and gave the results you needed?
  • Do you go to websites only at the top of a Google search?
  • Do you click on the ads at the top of the search results?
  • Do you go to a product provider’s website directly before or after seeing Amazon results?
  • Do you really care that Google and Amazon are so big that they might be stifling competition and limiting your choices?

Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts.

School-Dazed Networks

A talk on “The Global Technology Outlook” by William La Fontaine, Vice President of Technical Strategy & Worldwide Operations Research, IBM, at the Morris County Chamber of Commerce raised a lot of interesting points about the role technology needs to play to help our students be competitive in the job market. As a parent and IT specialist, I have strong opinions to share.

We need to continuously upgrade our curricula and ways we learn to prepare our students to find good jobs and provide the workforce our country needs for economic growth and sustainability. Today’s college degree is yesterday’s high school diploma, and tomorrow’s college degree will need to be today’s graduate degree.

Smart and powerful technology will play a key role as educators and students learn how to find and use more resources and develop more and better collaborative tools. They will do this in their own classrooms and then expand to classrooms or collaborative groups that can be located anywhere in the world.

To me, the prospects for my children are exciting beyond my imagination.

However, our schools tend to have older equipment that can’t keep up with the devices students and teachers can bring to classes. Computers are old and slow, and the Wi-Fi networks can’t handle the traffic needed to provide the best learning opportunities in school.

If you are reading this, you know how important it is to have the right technology to receive and send information, and you know what it takes to do it. We need to demand and support initiatives that teach our teachers how to make full use of technology, and we need to demand and support measures that ensure our schools have the necessary tools – computers and networks – to handle the Internet traffic that deliver educational resources.

I was impressed by the global technology R&D efforts that William La Fontaine outlined at the Morris County Chamber. I’ll be really impressed when I see schools and parents working together to implement new ways of learning that give our students a leg up in meeting future challenges head-on.

What’s going to impress you? You’re invited to leave a comment.

This article was published in Technology Update, the monthly newsletter from Sterling Rose LLC.