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Traveling with Technology

November 7th, 2013

With the travel season quickly approaching, many people wonder what to bring with them to stay connected. After a recent trip to Bali, I am amazed with the ability to access the rest of the world from an underdeveloped country. WiFi is in nearly all hotels and most public locations. The biggest questions are figuring out which gadgets to bring.

Portability and ease of use are the two most important factors. Laptops, tablets, smart phones and e-readers are the most common devices travelers are taking with them. Most travelers bring a couple devices so here is a quick guide for travel:

Laptops – Choose something small, under 13”, and it must be durable so aluminum or a high density plastic is a great option. You might not need lots of storage but a minimum 128 GB will store any media needed while you’re on the road. Solid state hard drives are the best because there are less moving parts which could break, but can be more expensive. SD memory slot is a nice feature which prevents you bringing an extra cord to transfer pictures from a camera. Don’t spend more than $1,000.

Tablets – For those not getting as much work done a tablet is an ideal option – slim, light, and long battery life. They are great for web browsing, watching movies, listening to music, and emailing. There are pretty slick solar Bluetooth keyboard devices that improve functionality and help to protect the device while getting bumped around in your bag. iPads are most popular these days but if you have a limited budget there are plenty of Android devices which offer similar functionality. Be sure to go into a store and actually get your hands on one prior to buying it, half of the user experience is in the ergonomics.

Smart Phones – Most travelers these days already have a smart phone, so use it. International rates can be high so if you don’t have an unlocked version and swap out your sim card be sure to notify your provider and change the phone settings to avoid using cellular data outside the network. You’ll find WiFi everywhere and using apps like Skype, Viber, Google Translate you can use your phone just like you’re at home – call whenever, snap a photo, reply to an email, etc.

E-reader – If you don’t have one yet, an E-reader is a great way to minimize your load and maximize your options. Battery life lasts weeks, you can store dozens of books, connect nearly anywhere, and if you purchase one with a web browser you’ll have access to emails and the internet.

iPad

Security should be considered also. Fortunately many hospitality locations depend on providing a safe facility to keep people coming back; a single theft or bad review on Tripadvisor.com could drive patrons away. The days of the maid stealing a computer are nearly past. However, physical theft is always a concern so be sure you are smart and pick a location that has good online reviews and an environment you feel secure in. Don’t flash your gadgets in public places like bus stops with high levels of traffic.

With public WiFi be sure to limit entering passwords and usernames, and keep your private browsing of banks, credit cards, administrative tasks to a minimum. Paypal security key is helpful for online transactions. Backups make you feel safe about not losing pictures or data from your trip so look into an online service like Crashplan, Google Drive, or Carbonite. Try to coordinate all your devices and if you have similar cords and adapters, condense or buy a universal adapter to keep things simple. Don’t forget some sites like Facebook, Pandora, and Twitter are not able to be accessed from outside the country so be aware it’s not the hotel internet causing the problem.

Traveling today is easier than it’s ever been. You can book hotels and day excursions after reading all about it from the group who posted a review the day before. Technology does make it better. Be resourceful and plan out your trip but remember things are a bit different. The internet might be slow or the person at the front desk might not know why you are not able to connect. It’s all about the experience, safe travels!

The Tablet Buyer’s Guide

March 22nd, 2013

Tablets are becoming ever more popular. Many offer fast processing power and user friendly touch screens to access data stored locally and in the cloud. They are lightweight, yet durable for warehouse conditions. They have become mainstream and are used by anyone looking for a blend between a smart phone and laptop. Personal users take advantage of features such as gaming, movies, photos, video phones, internet access, and e-books. Workgroups and professionals are learning to capture the paperless flexibility a tablet offers too.

Here are a few examples:
– Sales teams are using tablets for presentations and tracking leads
– Manufacturing and warehouse employees are replacing print-outs for tracking inventory and receiving shipments with QCR codes on a tablet
– Medical professionals track patient care with reduced infection rates
– Service professionals are able to invoice and get signatures on-site
– Executives are able to access sensitive corporate data across multiple applications while traveling

There are hundreds to choose from so understanding why you might want to buy one or what it can be used for can help promote your productivity and efficiency. The four main categories you will discover are: iPad (iOS), Android, Windows, and E-Book Readers. Each category has its advantages.

iPad (iOS) – For starters, the Apple iPad is the dominant tablet on the market with millions sold to date. It offers intuitive design, fast processing, 4g wireless, high quality camera, and high resolution screen. Apple has regulations in place to ensure App development meets their high quality standards. Many users experience the same workflow experience going from an iMac (Desktop), MacBook (Laptop), or iPad resulting in instant comfort with the new device.

Android – The Android is a Google operating system which is available from dozens of manufacturers such as Asus, Sony, Samsung, or Toshiba. Each device is different so determining what you will use it for will help determine screen size, processing power, camera resolution, battery life, etc. The Android offers flexibility and a wide range of applications because it’s an open source operating system.

Windows – Windows tablets have been around since the 90s and continue to evolve. They offer high performance and the familiarity of a laptop or desktop experience with Windows. For this reason they are popular because they can run the same applications as any Windows workstation. Windows tablets are typically larger and more expensive than the other tablet categories.

E-Book Readers – E-Readers such as the Kindle and Nook are becoming a hybrid of a tablet. Originally designed for simple reading, they have expanded to include web browsing, email, and video but have limited business application. They are inexpensive and great for entertainment purposes.

5 main factors to consider when you’re buying a tablet:
1)  Do you really need a tablet?
2)  Which operating system do you want?
3)  Which apps will you need access to?
4)  What type of display and storage will you require?
5)  Will you need wireless service or will Wi-Fi be acceptable?

The tablet marketplace continues to improve and expand. The ergonomics of each device is different so be sure you get your hands on it before you decide to make a purchase. Educate yourself by talking to fellow professionals; this can provide insight on new ways to utilize this technology in your field. There are applications like FileMaker which offer real time cross platform access to your data. This means you can add, edit and delete information on a Mac, Windows workstation or Tablet, and iPad at the same time. For example, an office manager can create a work order on an iMac while the technician in the field instantly sees the update, completes the work, and the bookkeeper automatically processes an invoice on a Windows workstation. With the right device and training a tablet is a superb tool for improving your productivity and making your daily life simpler.

FM Work Orders on iPad

For more information, feel free to contact josh@productivecomputing.com.

Databases 101

March 12th, 2013

With the constant development of database technology, it is important to understand the logic and language of these advancements.  Many experts agree that database development could be one of the most advancing areas of business technologies today.  In the simplest form, a database is the storage of data.  Database software is what drives the technology by computing data.  Whether it is a webpage, a car, or even a sprinkler system, if it has an electronic interface the technology involved is based from computing data.  Understanding database technology and terminology can help you to take advantage of these emerging areas.  You will be able to communicate more effectively and make the most of database technologies.

There is a variety of database software such as FileMaker, Microsoft Access, or in its simplest form Microsoft excel.  A database is created from a list of Fields (columns), Records (rows), and Tables (worksheets) which make up a single file.  A field is a single piece of information; a record is one complete set of fields; and a file is a collection of records.  Database technology is really that simple, three main components.  Yet the logic used to access and perform activities with this data is what makes it complex.

Components of a Database Defined:

Database Software – A programmable tool designed to store, access, and sequentially and automatically carry out a sequence of arithmetic or logical operations

Database – A collection of data organized for rapid search, retrieval, and updating

Database File – A block of information related to computer storage

Database Table – A set of data elements that is organized by using a vertical column and horizontal row model.  This model uses columns as field names such as name in column 1 and phone number in column 2; it uses rows to track records such as John Smith in Row 1 and Mary Smith in Row 2.

Database Language – SQL (Structured Query Language) – Based on Calculus and Algebraic logic provides a common database language to today’s data management tools

Relational Database – The use of common characteristics or objects found in multiple data sets to link them together, based on mathematical terms attributed to Edward Cob at IBM in 1970 for example variable x in table one = variable x in table two.

Syntax – Common forms, behaviors, and principles for constructing universally used computer language systems

Open Source – Public or free computer code which can be further developed by any end user (similar to Wikipedia)

Data Redundancy – Repeating or duplication of data or fields in multiple locations (tables)

Data Normalization – The process of organizing data into small groups or modules with well defined common relationships eliminating anomalies and potential corruption

If you’re confused, don’t worry that was a crash course.  Hopefully you gathered that a good majority of our database technology is built on old fashioned arithmetic.  However much like calculus and algebra not everyone understands theories, formulas, and logic the same.  With many databases this can be the difference between an effective use of technology and a misunderstood tool.  A database is only as effective as the architect and developer who design it.  Having the end user and daily work flow in mind will help translate advanced logic into simple terms.  In addition, creating an intuitive interface which the user has a good experience viewing, searching for, and updating data is crucial in utilizing a database and its successful implementation.

Using a database with your business could be mission critical to its success, regardless of the industry, company size or internal growth cycle.  Each department has valuable data it works with and without a centralized source for it to be tracked it will get lost, forgotten, or never passed as a shared resource. A database will provide accountability and a quantifiable way to review results.  Many databases are advanced enough to automate simple tasks like sending emails or alerting customers on account related activities.  It is also worth mentioning that a database will provide an insurance policy in the form of backing up and securing your information as well.  A good database will improve overall efficiency, individual operations, and offer reliable accurate information for strategic decision making.