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Technology Trends

Technology Trends
  Technology with Integrity

By Tim Torian, Torian Group, Inc.


With the start of a new year, it is a good time to think about how you want to be using technology in the coming year. One of the fun things about technology is that there is always something new, and if you can’t afford it, you can just wait until the price comes down.

Here are some things you could be doing, and possibly some enhancements to things some of you are already implementing:

Working from anywhere. It’s great to have the freedom and power to access information and communicate with co-workers from home, at a client, or on the road. If you are reading this article, you are probably already rather disciplined in your work habits, so hopefully you won’t abuse this and not take time off for yourself.

A Virtual Private Network connection allows you to connect securely from one computer to another across the internet. A common use for this is to enable working from home. If your home computer is on a high speed internet connection – typically cable, DSL, or wireless – you can use that connection to get to your office computer network. Once connected, there are many tools you can use to access your office computer as if you were sitting at the office keyboard, while sitting in front of your home computer.

Extending this concept, you can equip your laptop with a wireless card, and work from anywhere within reach of your wireless network. Just keep in mind that wireless devices need to be set up with security when you install them. Wireless access points are open to anyone when you first plug them in.  You can also use a cell phone card that plugs into a laptop, and be connected from anywhere you can get a cell signal. The card is about $250, and service is about $100 per month. Although cell providers are continually upgrading and improving service, currently Verizon has the best speed in our area for this type of service, about 144K, or twice the traditional dial up speed. 

A cell phone / PDA combination gives you full time access to email, calendar, and the internet. With the correct server, the device will automatically stay in sync with your office computer, so appointments and email are always current on your PDA. No more remembering to put it in the cradle and sync up. Also, you can update your calendar while out of the office, and your staff will immediately see the change. Sprint offers the Palm Treo 650, Cingular the Treo 600, and Verizon offers the Samsung i700. They are about $400-500 with a year contract, and the internet service will cost about $40 / Month above your phone bill.

You can access your client’s computer remotely as well. If they are not equipped to allow a VPN connection, you can use a number of companies that provide remote desktop access via a web browser. One of the most popular is WebX. Most of them require a subscription for the person providing support, which allows you to connect to your client’s computer. You send them an invitation via email, they click on the link they receive in the email, and sign on to a web page where they join a “meeting” that you set up for them. The web page allows them to download software so they can grant control of their computer to you. Both you and they see and can control the desktop. It is great for CPA’s and others who need to work with their clients on the client computer.  QuickBooks is offering a version of this, which I think is overpriced compared to other offerings.

VOIP – Voice over IP is the ability to make a phone call using the computer network rather than the phone network. There are now services that interface with your existing phone system to allow placing internet calls. The service reconnects you to a phone provider in a city near the person you are calling, bypassing the long distance charges. If the other person has a matching device, the call is bypassing the phone company entirely. VOIP replacements for the traditional PBX are coming down in cost, and are now affordable alternatives for companies with 20 or more phones. They allow much richer functionality, including the ability to store voice messages in your email inbox, very flexible calling features, and the ability to integrate phone functionality with other computer software, such as customer relations management tools.

The Paperless Office – Copier/scanner/printers are now a common sight in offices. Most copier dealers offer some sort of basic document management software to go with their copier.  The software allows you to scan in documents, and usually do some basic indexing or categorizing. More sophisticated software packages, at a cost of several thousand dollars (and up) allow you to automatically batch documents together under a single set of search categories, and automatically OCR and index the document for later searching. The challenge with these systems is easily accessing the stored document when you need to find it. OCR – optical character recognition – takes the scanned image and converts it into a computerized text document that can then be indexed and searched. Without OCR the document is just a picture. The better software makes it easier to find scanned files.  A second monitor is a great addition to these systems – you can bring up the image on one monitor, and do related work on the other.

Faxing via the computer fits in well with the paperless office. The format that computer faxes are stored in (TIFF files) is a format that is often used and supported by document management tools.

The trend is toward storing more types of content in digital format, and being able to access and use it in more ways from more places. Properly used, they can be a great tool for enhanced productivity.

Tim Torian teaches computer networking at the College of Sequoias. He has a BS in Computer Science, and has been consulting on computer networks for the past 15 Years. His industry certifications include: Cisco CCNA and CCNI, Microsoft MCSE, and Novell CNE.  He is president of Torian Group, Inc. which provides a full range of Technology Consulting services to local business, including computer services, networking, and custom software development. They can be reached at (559) 733-1940 or on the web at http://www.toriangroup.com


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