Technology breaks down borders—but not always

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Nov 21st 2010 - by Fix My PC FREE in: News | 0 Comment

PINE GROVE MILLS, Pa.—Barry Myers can remember when weather forecasts were printed off on a dot-matrix printer, taken apart and faxed around the globe for reassembly.

Twenty years later, the pace of business within international markets has changed. Fax machines have been replaced with high-speed digital connections and the dot-matrix printer has been relegated to a display at the Smithsonian. Many Centre County businesses are using technology advances of the past two decades to find new ways to deliver goods and services, and extend their reach around the globe.

“New technology has blurred international borders,” Myers said.

At AccuWeather, printers and faxes have been replaced with high-speed servers. Today, the CEO of AccuWeather oversees a digital data empire that crosses international boundaries as often—and as easily—as it does presentation platforms.

In the basement of the company’s building, row upon row of computer servers process terabytes of information daily.

Staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the network center is constantly replying to electronic requests for weather information related to 2.7 million places on Earth.

The data is beamed back to home computers, corporate Web pages, cell phones, PDAs, emergency management command posts, and piped straight into radio and television broadcasts.

“Our success has always been based on focusing on the latest technology or emerging market,” Myers said. “We’re constantly looking for the latest trend.”

In a small office on Oakwood Avenue, John Foshnacht, of SoftGenetics, points to a standard PC workstation on his desk.

“That’s my factory,” he said. a software provider for biotech industries and researchers, SoftGenetics can—and does—distribute its wares electronically. however, it still “presses” compact discs of its software for about 98 percent of its clients, said Foshnacht, vice president of sales and marketing. Old habits, he said, die hard.

“Personally, I chose to send a disk and a manual,” he said. “I’m selling $8,000 software … so I think you feel better if you get something tangible in your hand.”

SoftGenetics, like most software developers, ships its software primarily via FedEx. But how do you move a 55-ton rock-eating, tunnel-boring machine halfway across the world?

Old school and low tech—you tear it apart, pack the components into crates and strap the base of the machine onto the deck of a container ship, which then spends up to a month in transit, said Chip Kogleman, at Alpine Equipment.

For all the changes of the past few years, some things, he said, remain the same. last year the heavy equipment company shipped to Sri Lanka, Yemen, Russia, Panama, Peru and Qatar, among other destinations.

But even for a traditional equipment manufacturer like Alpine, the digital revolution of the past 30 years has altered the way it does business internationally.

Perhaps the largest change has been in communications—with the advent of the Internet and satellite technology, a subsidiary, customer or distributor across the globe can literally be at a company’s fingertips. that has changed the way companies handle distribution, sales, product support and even marketing.

“Twenty years ago, all of our advertising was in print,” using industry journals and magazines, said Kogleman. Today, the majority of the company’s advertising budget is spent with Google.

Alpine pays Google for certain words or phrases that cause its Web site to be displayed higher on Google’s search results.

“You’re bidding really on search words,” Kogleman said. “The vast majority of people who are calling or e-mailing are finding us that way.”

The company has also started using YouTube to market its products, posting video demonstrations of various equipment at work.

Alpine is still a small company and the costs of flying potential clients to demonstration sites would be prohibitive. Mailing a demo DVD—as the company used to do—is also time-consuming.

“This way they can go on at their leisure and see what we do,” Kogleman said. And potential customers can watch it from anywhere—international orders from South America, the Middle East and Asia are becoming increasingly important for the Bellefonte-based company.

SoftGenetics, like many software companies, makes a demonstration copy of its wares available on its Web site, where consumers can download it for free in minutes.

It’s a far departure from old the old ways of marketing.

“When I was growing up, I remember a guy walking around with a mail sack on his back, hanging up bottles on everyone’s doorknob,” he said. “It was Mr. Clean, when it was introduced.

“Today, we probably have 15 to 20 end-users a day download our software to test it,” he said.

Of course, the opening of the borders electronically can also cause a few headaches. Anyone can access the SoftGenetics demonstration software—including those who shouldn’t.

“I’m constantly having people from Iran download the software—the demo,” Foshnact said, despite the fact that the nation is blacklisted due to economic sanctions and is considered a security risk. “But we just can’t do business with those people. So we block them when we get them.”

For some software companies, piracy—the illegal copying and distribution of proprietary material—has become a fact of modern life. Companies try to restrict their vulnerability to copying, through software licensing or hardware “keys,” but do so at the risk of alienating clients.

On the Internet, the proliferation of “linkbacks”—the reposting of a company’s data—have caused information providers to take a hard look at their accessibility.

With its Web-based presence, anyone with a blog, a news aggregator or personal Web page can link to AccuWeather.com’s forecasting information, pulling the information onto a myriad of other locations.

But the Internet has opened AccuWeather up to a vast number of new consumers. During the past few years, the company has seen exponential growth in the overseas hand-held device market, driven by spreading Internet accessibility.

“So, when we talk about an international market I think personally, almost inevitably, the scope of our international market has to outstrip the size of our domestic market,” said R. Lee Rainey, vice president of marketing at AccuWeather. “We have relationships with manufacturers responsible for 80 percent of the world’s handsets, producing millions of handsets each year.

“So when you talk about AccuWeather being embedded on those handsets, you’re talking about new audiences that could be Korean-based, China-based, based in Eastern Europe.”

The nature of the Internet also allows for the weather information provider to tailor its presentation for each region.

“We can use a individual’s IP (Internet Protocol) address to determine their location, in turn using that to select a language delivery platform accordingly,” Myers said.

And it’s increasingly targeting its presentation to cultural, as well as language differences.

“We use different packages for different areas,” said Justin Roberti with AccuWeather. “For instance, Europeans have different sensibilities—they want more entertainment with their weather—they think we Americans are too interested in facts and gritty details.”

Of course, the biggest technology change in business has been in simple communications. Employees, customers, distributors, regulators and contractors—everyone is available at the push of a button.

“If the Internet didn’t exist today, or e-mail didn’t exist, the pace of business would be very slow. … a number of years ago, everything then was done by mail and it was 15 days there and back,” Foshnact said.

“Now, somebody asks for a quote—I can get it to them in three minutes.”

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Information from: Centre Daily Times, centredaily.com

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