Monday, June 24, 2013

You Should be Impressed with the Silicon Prairie

Disappointed with Silicon Valley, you should look
to the Silicon prairie. 
As a technologist, you meet lots of people and all of them have an opinion about technology.  Some eagerly embrace the latest gadgets and gizmos; others, still struggle with text messaging and Facebook.  It is also that way in the technology press.  Farhad Manjoo is one of those voices I trust.  He attended the release of a new and improved video service courtesy of Instagram and like McKayla Maroney, he was not impressed.  He even lamented the state of innovation in Silicon Valley.  In this post, I wanted to talk about where the real innovation exists out on the web.

In the United States, technology is clustered around several key geographic regions.  There is the research triangle in North Carolina and then the empire built by Texas Instruments but the real action is centered on New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.  Silicon Valley gets much of the attention today and this enclave of engineers, venture capitalists and visionaries came into being thanks to an odd collection of factors.  Once that community got started, it became synonymous with the promise of technology innovation within the United States.

Since the dot-com boom of the 1990’s, New York has emerged as a technology powerhouse.  This is primarily due to all the media companies, financial firms and book publishers who call that city home.  Big media and big Finance need to get on the web and so they did what they always do when they need talent: they paid big bucks.  This wealthy new cohort of technologists then began to create its own culture of cynical, ink stained wretches who put together web sites for all the major networks, banks and publishing houses.  They also spawned some great blogs and magazines like Slate, Gawker, Wonkette, and Salon.  This cluster of technology was nicknamed Silicon Alley because instead of flashy corporate headquarter, many of these New York firms existed in office suites and lofts which were not prime real estate in Manhattan.

Chicago has a very different technology tradition.  During the dot-com boom, the Chicago Tribune called the Midwest “The Silicon Prairie” and used that moniker for its technology want-ads.  The want ads and newspaper became a victim of Craigslist and the web but the technology environment of the mid-west is alive and well.  Unlike Silicon Valley which wants to changes the world or Silicon Alley which wants to make tons of money.  The Silicon Prairies is focused on infrastructure and doing business better, faster, and cheaper.  It is not sexy or sensation but it is a vital niche.

My company E3 systems is part of this tradition.  Already, we have inventory and warehouse management software.  We also have a big release coming in July which will make fleet maintenance as easy as scanning a bar code.

Farhad, may be depressed about Silicon Valley but if he spends some time on the Silicon Prairie I think he will be impressed with all the innovation quietly taking place.

Until next time.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Zombie Proof your Business

Zombies are coming,  is your business ready?
This week Brad Pitt is putting his money and reputation on the line with the release of his blockbuster production World War Z.   I have been reading the book in anticipation of the movie and I am looking forward how they are going to transform Max Brooks’ book into popular entertainment.  While I was reading along, it struck me that a great deal wisdom can be gleaned from a fictional zombie apocalypse. As a small business person the unforeseen and the unexpected happen all the time. If you are not careful your business can wind up like the walking dead.  In this post, I want to talk about how cloud based services and changes in the technology sphere can help you avoid this tragic fate.

The biggest challenge for any business is how to deal with disaster recovery.  If a fire, earthquake or flood hits your business how are you going to get back up and running.  Larger companies have decided that they are going to create large data centers resembling Fort Knox.  Massive Batteries, multiple generators, and numerous systems are in place.  In fact these facilities are filled with backups and redundancies that the only way to really stop business is the have an asteroid directly strike the building or a massive civil disruption, like a zombie apocalypse, to shut down the entire power grid.

As a software developer at the turn of the century, I though all these precautions were an over-reaction.   My opinion changed overnight in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks on the world trade center.  Merrill Lynch lost four employees to the attacks but the terrorist nearly destroyed the company causing it loose over $98 million in the course of a tragic morning.  Data-centers and disaster recover became a very serious business. No one anticipated the terrorists flying a plane into the building with your data but now it was a very real possibility.

Over the last decade, as data centers grew they had surplus space and power.  Being good capitalists, these companies began leasing out their extra space to smaller companies.  Cloud computing was born.  Soon companies like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft got into the act and became the principle suppliers of cloud services.  Prices fell and up-time increased.  This was technology and the marketplace doing what Adam Smith said it would.

As a small business myself for a few hundred dollars a year I have the computing power which would have cost several hundred thousand dollars during the giddy days of the dot-com boom.  It allows me to stay in business as I look for customers.  I also know that my data is secure because it exists in a data-center in the Pacific Northwest and that if something happens to me or my business, like a zombie attack, the survivors will be able to access the data and information with a few passwords.  You can have this security too.  At E3 systems we have inventory management and fleet management software safely hidden away on the cloud for you to use so if something happens to your facility you will be ready to do business the next day.

Contact us today and we will show you how this is more exciting than a zombie apocalypse.

Until next time.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Making Sense of Software as a service.

Software as a service makes sense.
Last week I spoke about how the mobile web is a growing concern for your small business.  This week, I wanted to share with you another important trend in business.  Software to the public is being offered as a service.

The software as a service or SaaS, as people say in the technology field, has been around for over fifteen years.  What has changed is the technology has caught up with the theory.  Large cloud servers and access to broadband networks make it possible to perform some powerful computing from anywhere in the world at a low cost.  What this means for you the small business person is that instead of purchasing software like a book now you will subscribe to it like a magazine.

Already, Adobe, the makers of Photoshop have adopted this model.  E3 systems is using this model for our customers.  We do this for three reasons.  First, the customer is no longer responsible for upgrades they come free of charge with the subscription.  Next the software becomes device agnostic.  It will work on a mobile phone, tablet or PC.  Finally, the user can access the software anytime or anywhere rather than the device they install it on.

When I visit small offices, I notice plenty of old versions of software lying about.  Computers with Microsoft office have versions scattered over the last decade randomly placed on computers in the office.  One computer is deliberately on an outdated operating system because they do not know if the software installed will upgrade.  With software as a service this problem goes away.  When there is a new upgrade it is part of the machines subscribed to the service automatically reflecting the changes.  You as the user do not have to do anything.  The updates just show up on the system.

When a software vendor says something is device agnostic what that are saying is that the software will work the same way on a phone, tablet, or a PC.  It should also work on a PC or a Macintosh.  As a small or medium sized business you should not be bothered with different packages and tools depending on what device you use.  Software as a service comes to the rescue again.  E3 systems Sully 2.0 service makes it possible to use our software on a mobile phone, tablet or PC with no additional software to buy or install.

Finally, the business world is changing and becoming a 24/7 enterprise; for a small business on the web that means that customers will call for help anytime.  In order to do business in this environment, you cannot spend your entire life in the office so you need to bring the office with you.  This is where software as a service really shines because you can access your information anywhere you have a connection to the web.  This way a customer call on a Sunday does not spoil your entire weekend because you can address your customer’s needs and get back to your family and friends.

Those are the reason we do software as a service.  We understood this trend before it became a headline and we know it will work for you.  Contact us today and find out more.

Until next time.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Don't Buck the Smartphone trend.

Cell phones are taking over the web.  Pay attention.
I wanted to discuss some of the latest trends in web development.  In reality, I want to recap with my readers what Mary Meeks said during her annual Internet trends address.  Mary has been at this for a while and she is considered the source for internet metrics. What she illustrates is what I have been saying for some time.  If you ignore the mobile web you are taking a huge risk with your business.

If you want to see the report yourself, you can view all slides here.  Here is my take from the discussion.  First, the total amount of time we spend on the internet is 22% of our media viewing time.  Additionally, we spend 12% of our free time on the mobile web.   This means we spend roughly a third of our free time on the internet either via a browser or the mobile web.  This is market share is growing and has the potential for 20 Billion dollars in advertising revenue.  That is only on slide five.

The next major slide is number 32 which shows that current internet traffic is on mobile devices about 15% of all web requests.  That number is expected to double to 30% by 2014.  This means that a third of your corporate web traffic in the next year is going to reach your website via a mobile device.  If your web site cannot adapt to this new form of traffic it is like turning away a third of your customers.  As a small or medium sized business do you really want to turn away a third of your customers?

The final trend you need to be aware of is that the adoption of smart phones continues to grow at a scary pace.  Currently the percentage of smart phones currently in circulation represents about 58% of the total market for cellular phones.  The growth of the smart phone adoption is also fairly large at 28%.  So, smart phones already eclipse ordinary cellular phones and the adoption rate remains high. This means that as a business you are going to have to adjust to more consumers learning about your business via a mobile device.

Already we are seeing this internet usage cause some problems in the business world.  Zynga the on-line game company is going through a second round of lay-offs cutting 18% of its staff.  The reason why is that they are not growing quickly enough in their mobile gaming offerings while traffic for their on-line games is decreasing.  Salon magazine noted that companies like Viggle as attempting to capture the second screen phenomena where people surf the net and watch television at the same time.  Why is there a company like Viggle?  I claim that it is because of the rise of mobile computing.

So as a small and medium sized business, you have two choices; you can ignore these trends and hope for the best or attempt to modify your web presence to take advantage of these trends.  At E3 systems we did a major site revision to account for these trends.  We can help you do the same.  Contact us today and we will show you how.

The web is never a static thing and this year’s state of the web speech shows some pretty serious trends.  To ignore them is put your business at risk, and you wouldn't want do that would you?

Until next time.