Tag Archives: technology

What if Your Office HVAC System was SMART?

By Mike Bivins

Mike Heat-smart system

“Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology,” better known as SMART Technology, monitors and analyzes computerized equipment and lets you know when a problem arises. SMART Technology now exists in Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems and it’s emerging as an extremely efficient way of saving energy (and money) for business owners.

Consider the case of a 2,500-square-foot commercial business in rural Florida built in the 1980s. The owners don’t like their AC bill, but they don’t believe the HVAC system needs an upgrade, despite spending a bundle last month when the AC cut out unexpectedly and the HVAC professional has to be called to repair the system. In the meantime, employees sweltered in Florida heat and humidity for two days until the HVAC was fixed. What could convince the owners that investing in a new system—even if a little at a time—is smart?

Self-Diagnostics

As the acronym suggests, one of the key features of SMART Technology lies in the ability to quickly self-diagnose a problem and then assist you to address it. A SMART system either would have taken care of the above issue or, at the very least, would have notified the owner earlier that service was needed—possibly even placing a call to the HVAC professional for you!

SMART systems are revolutionizing the HVAC industry, controlling and monitoringequipment for maximum efficiency, as well as increased IAQ. Click To Tweet

Change the Filter

Many business owners replace their AC filter annually and then forget about it for another year. But just because a filter isn’t clogged, doesn’t mean it’s efficient. A SMART system, on the other hand, informs you that your AC system is not running optimally.  The SMART system can identify problems as complex as compressor malfunction but also alert you to simpler problems, like a dirty air filter.

In fact, air conditioning filters should be changed every month no matter how often (or how little) you run the AC. The fan causes air to move throughout your business, regardless of whether the air is on or not.  Moving air eventually becomes dirty air, so replacing it each month is always a good idea.

Does the AC Need to Turn On?

Programmable thermostats save energy and money by allowing the temperature to rise in your office while you are away and then lower the temperature to maximize comfort during the peak hours when everyone is at work.

SMART HVAC systems, though, take this concept even further. A SMART system can circulate less air to an unoccupied room than would a traditional HVAC system. This conserves energy, which saves you and your business money.

Are you at work? Are you coming in early or staying late? A SMART system can be programmed to adjust HVAC usage in conjunction with your alarm system.  For example, if your HVAC system was a SMART system, it could be set up to know when you are on your way to the office. Then, say 20 minutes before arrival, it could adjust the temperature (up or down) in the office to just the way you and your employees like it.  

SMART systems have added functionality, allowing for special programming and/or linking to occupancy sensors.  Your HVAC system can be programmed to detect your presence and keep wherever you roam in your preferred comfort zone. This type of SMART functionality also can adjust the thermostat schedule to accommodate a change in business hours, such as holidays or extended/shortened hours.  The ever-growing number and type of new sensors can adjust airflow and temperature as you and your staff work rush around the office late at night, trying to meet a deadline.

Find Better Air

The newest SMART ventilation controllers address perhaps the most overlooked aspect of HVAC—Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). Let’s say an employee is microwaving some popcorn for a late-afternoon snack but accidentally leaves it in too long and it burns. Your SMART system would draw in air from outside, and only in the amount needed, to remove the odor for you—better than opening a window!

Outdoor air quality (OAQ), though, may not be the ideal solution every day. That is why the SMART system filters the air. Balance between IAQ and OAQ is key.  Without proper ventilation—defined as the exchange of outdoor air and indoor air—contaminants such as radon, formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other pollutants can build up, leading to potentially serious health problems.

Business owners should be aware of this cause and effect between ventilation and IAQ. And with an HVAC that is SMART, you are protecting your staff and your bottom line at the same time.

In Closing

SMART systems are revolutionizing the HVAC industry, controlling and monitoring equipment for maximum efficiency, as well as increased IAQ.  And the more efficient your HVAC system is, the more energy—and money—your business will save.

Mike Bivins is an engineer with the Lake Wales, FL-based Natural Air E-Controls, LLC.  Natural Air E-Controls, LLC designs and builds HVAC control systems that enable the building’s HVAC equipment to provide fresh air and remove pollutants by taking in outdoor air in amounts needed to improve indoor air quality while saving on heating and cooling bills. For more information on Mike Bivins, please visit: www.NaturalAir.com.

5 Website Features That May Be Working Against You

By Molly Yurick

Molly Yurick-website feature working against you

Contrary to popular belief, your website is not about the products you sell, the services you provide, or the information you share. It’s actually about the people who visit it and their needs. As a website owner, your job is to turn those visitors into paying clients. But before you can do that, you have to keep visitors on your website for long enough to pique their interest. And that means not scaring off your prospects with features that are annoying or—even worse—that could make you look unprofessional.

With all the web-design elements available today, it’s easy to lose sight of what will work best for your target audience. However, once you shift your focus to serving your visitors instead of your own needs, avoiding these features becomes much easier.

Your website is not about the products you sell, the services you provide, or the information you share. It’s actually about the people who visit it and their needs. Click To Tweet

Here are five website features that may be working against you:

1) Aggressive pop-ups

Pop-ups come in all shapes and sizes. Some are intended to persuade visitors to interact with your call-to-action (“Sign up for our newsletter” or “Take our survey”), while others are paid advertisements to bring in some extra income. But, let’s be honest, pop-ups are quite bothersome, especially if they appear repeatedly. Expect to lose visitors if they have to spend more time closing pop-up windows than exploring your content. If you feel you need to include pop-ups on your site, make sure you do your homework, place them well, and use them wisely.

2) Translation plug-in

Translating your website into other languages is a smart business move if you are looking to expand internationally. It makes your products or services available to more people in more places and may very well increase your sales and online success. While it may seem like a translation plug-in or machine translation service will save you time and money, think twice before taking action. Machine translation systems are great at getting the gist of a text, but often skew the meaning. For example, in some languages, a popular machine translation tool translated “US President” as “Bush” well into the Obama administration. To avoid embarrassing mistakes that scare off global customers, make sure you hire a professional translator who can perfectly craft your message for your audiences abroad.

3) Autoplay video

It’s happened to every Internet surfer out there. They arrive at a new website and an unfamiliar voice or loud music blasts through their speakers. They frantically stop the video, rub their sore ears, shake their fist at the screen and close the tab. Video may be all the rage right now, but the secret lies in knowing how to use it effectively. Autoplay videos—whether for informational purposes or to bring in revenue from advertisers—are annoying and will often push visitors away from your site. If you plan on using video on your website, add a prominent play button instead of having it autoplay. Let users decide whether they want to watch the video instead of deciding for them.

4) A dysfunctional mobile version of your website

Mobile Internet usage now surpasses computer usage. This means that you must have a mobile-friendly version of your website that maintains all the same key functions as the desktop version. If visitors do not have a positive experience when they land on your mobile site, you may drive away a huge portion of potential traffic. So, make sure your website is responsive. Responsive websites include all the same content and information on any device used to access them, but the display changes automatically based on the size of the viewer’s screen.

5) Infinite-scrolling home page

Infinite scrolling is a design technique in which content continuously populates at the bottom of the screen as the user scrolls down the page. This technique can be very effective for certain types of sites, but for most, an infinitely long home page can be distracting and confusing. It increases load time, makes navigation and linking messy, and hides or eliminates the highly valuable website footer. Users often search the footer for contact information, social media links, and privacy or security notices. If you’re not sure what type of home page will work best for you, consult a web-design professional to learn what works best with your target audience.

Whether you are a freelancer or you own a multi-million-dollar company, all you have to remember is this: make your website for them, not for you.

Molly Yurick is a Spanish to English translator specialized in tourism, hospitality and airline industry translations. She is also an active volunteer for the American Translators Association. The American Translators Association represents over 10,000 translators and interpreters across 103 countries. For more information on ATA and to hire a translation or interpreting professional, please visit www.atanet.org.

The Bots Are Coming!

Automated and AI-driven Programs for Business

By Elena Langdon

Elena Langdon- AI

Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are all the rage these days, for good reason. The technology behind once too-good-to-be-true tools like facial recognition and 3D printing has advanced by leaps and bounds. Many of us own or pine for “smart” devices and use dozens of apps a day for personal purposes. So what about business? How far can automation and AI help boost productivity and profit at work? And what are the no-go zones for this exciting area of development?

First, some terms

“Automation” and “AI” are often used interchangeably, but there are important differences. “Automation” refers to processes that can be undertaken through a chain of events that trigger each other, without human interference. We’ve seen it in manufacturing for decades. Simple contemporary business examples would be Hootsuite or Buffer, the programs that help automate a business’s social media participation.

“Artificial intelligence” refers to machines undertaking processes and making choices, on their own, based on their programming and what they learn from it. There are different levels of AI, and the most powerful two—levels at which a machine can understand human thoughts, and be self-aware, respectively—have not been reached. So what can be accomplished now?

The digital-assistant revolution

While C-3PO from Star Wars or Ava from Ex Machina are not in our immediate reality, AI is a driving force behind many business applications.

Personal digital assistants like Siri and Cortana are good examples of AI-driven programs that can boost productivity, save time, and facilitate our lives. With one of these programs you can delegate scheduling, play music, and check the stock market, all without typing, thanks to voice recognition capabilities. Pen, paper, and typing can be eliminated from the entire process.

Google Duplex is a newer digital assistant that takes automation to a whole new level. It makes calls to humans to schedule appointments, request information, and order food. Instead of speaking with a typical robotic tone, Google Duplex mimics real speech patterns and uses fillers like “um” and “hmm.” Plus, this bot interacts with human responses and can carry on a conversation. Probably for this reason, its reception so far has included a mixture of awe and trepidation.

Proceed with care

Caution might be needed for that type of digital assistant, especially from ethical and privacy standpoints. Should a human receptionist know he is talking to a machine? Is he being recorded so that Google can learn from the exchange? Nevertheless, most of the tasks accomplished by Google Duplex involve little personal risk. If your haircut gets scheduled at the wrong time, it would be a nuisance, but probably not a big loss.

However, some types of AI-driven programs must be approached with caution when it comes to business because of the risks involved. For example, in language translation, the technology cannot yet match the human capacity for communication. Automatic translation engines are great for getting the gist of a letter or website, but using them for business can result in embarrassment, misinformation, and even financial loss. Most companies put time and money into writing compelling and clear texts; foreign-language copy requires the same attention. Despite recent advances in deep learning, machine translation is not like Google Duplex—it does not “sound” human, much less eloquent. More importantly, accuracy is seriously compromised with automatic translation—just think of all the menus with indecipherable items like, “The water fries the potato” and signs that say, “Beware of safety.”

The same caution is needed for verbal translation, or interpreting, which has made headlines with programs that combine machine translation with voice recognition. Holding a conversation with someone in a language you don’t know by using “translator earbuds” might work for casual exchanges with inconsequential outcomes. However, if you need to speak to an employee about her performance or to an international branch manager about next quarter’s sales goals, you cannot rely on AI to accurately transmit your message. Between speech recognition flaws, cultural differences, and the incredible creativity behind any human being’s speech, it’s best to stick to a professional interpreter for bilingual business communication.Work patterns and skills are certainly changing, but the bots are not taking over just yet. Click To Tweet

Lawyer up or bot up?

If creative speech is one reason not to trust the machines, what about legal discourse? Does it make sense for a business to rely on automated contract-writing programs or document-reviewing apps? As with many machine-based applications, such programs can work, albeit in a limited context for limited purposes.

AI-driven programs will review legal documents at a fraction of the cost of a lawyer. This review process takes humans significant time, and lawyers take years to master it, yet computers have apparently learned the skill. That said, even app’s websites make it very clear that the apps will not provide legal advice, and that it should be used only for the specific purpose of reviewing documents. The formulaic language and boilerplate nature of legal documents lends itself well to AI, and frees up time and money for actual legal strategy. In some ways, it’s similar to translation—you can get some entry-level tasks done, just not anything that requires tactics or nuanced meaning. And of course, nothing that involves any risk to your business.

Look both ways before you leap

Next time you see an ad for a new app that looks like a miracle cure for what’s ailing your business, by all means, don’t ignore it. There are many good applications for automated and AI-driven programs. Just be sure to research the program and consider its uses. The more complex the task, and the more it involves human reasoning, the less likely it will work for business, at least in an all-encompassing manner. Work patterns and skills are certainly changing, but the bots are not taking over just yet.

 

Elena Langdon is a certified Portuguese-to-English translator and interpreter and an active member of the American Translators Association (ATA). The American Translators Association represents over 10,000 translators and interpreters across 103 countries. For more information on ATA and to hire a translation or interpreting professional, please visit www.atanet.org.

What Do My Employees Need To Know About Cybersecurity?

By Bryce Austin

http://www.bryceaustin.comIf you are not educating your employees on cybersecurity best practices, you are missing the biggest opportunity for improvement in your entire cybersecurity profile. Your employees have business-need access to a lot of important data, and their ability to protect that data—or to inadvertently let it walk out the door of your organization—is strong.

Lack of education was at the heart of a number of incidents of a major security breach. You have probably heard about the new HR employee that got an email from the president of the organization asking for all the W2 information on every employee, so that person sent them exactly as instructed. The employee did not recognize the fact that the email came from a hacker impersonating the CEO, and a major security breach took place. Your employees need to be educated on cybersecurity best practices. Click To Tweet

Entire business models are based on this kind of fraud. Let’s pretend that I am going to build a site with the world’s best collection of cute pet pictures. I’ll give you the first ten for free (and those ten are the most adorable pictures you have ever seen), but to see more, you need to set up a username and password. The access is still free, though.

No big deal, right? Wrong. In this scenario, I own this website and I am a criminal, and my business model is to try to use the username and password you just entered at every major banking website, on all major email providers, on your company’s VPN portal, and anywhere else that I think you might have used the same username and password. I will then extract any valuable information I can from those sites, sell the information for a profit, possibly ransom your own data from you to make even more money, and then move on to the next victim.

Need some numbers to illustrate why educating your employees about cybersecurity practices is important?

  • Per IDG’s 2016 Global State of Information Survey, 48 percent of data security breaches are caused by acts of malicious intent. Human error or system failure account for the rest.
  • According to the Ponemon Institute, 60 percent of employees use the exact same password for everything they access. Meanwhile, 63 percent of confirmed data breaches leverage a weak, default or stolen password.

So where can your company start? Start with a training program. Your employees need to be educated on cybersecurity best practices.   One of the issues that any cybersecurity awareness training program should address:

Implement real password policies:

There’s no easy way to say this, so I’m just going to say it: Passwords stink. They are no fun to create, no fun to remember, and no fun to type in. That being said, passwords are still the most common authentication method today. It is imperative to implement a password policy requiring complex passwords that can’t easily be guessed, and end-user training to go along with it. Microsoft’s Active Directory “require complex passwords” setting is a start, but end-user training is also mandatory.

Many users use the same passwords for every online system they need a password for. This is a problem. If one site gets hacked, cybercriminals will try your credentials at all common websites, and possibly at your business’s VPN. It is imperative that your cybersecurity awareness training program encourage your team members to use different passwords for different sites, and especially for any system that your company uses.

Most companies have some sort of safety guidelines that their employees must follow or be aware of and cybersecurity should be no different.  There are a number of companies that specialize in this type of training, and they may or may not be a good fit for your company culture. Picking the right type of training is critical; having a good cultural fit is more important than the actual content. Be sure to do proper due diligence to ensure that the training content offered by the company or companies you are considering is a good fit for the culture of your company.

The important message here is that you already know you must train your employees on certain things in order to have them perform their job functions. Cybersecurity is one of those things. If you are uncertain as to how to structure a cybersecurity training program, find an advisor that can help you.

Questions to explore this topic further with your company’s leaders:

  • When was the last time you were trained on cybersecurity? What did you take away from it?
  • Do your team members who have access to sensitive data get additional training above and beyond those who do not?

Bryce Austin is the CEO of TCE Strategy, an internationally-recognized speaker on emerging technology and cybersecurity issues, and author of Secure Enough? 20 Questions on Cybersecurity for Business Owners and Executives. With over 10 years of experience as a Chief Information Officer and Chief Information Security Officer, Bryce actively advises companies across a wide variety of industries on effective methods to mitigate cyber threats. For more information on Bryce Austin, please visit www.BryceAustin.com.

Does the Virtual You Byte? Managing Your Digital Twin

By Kate Zabriskie

Kate Zabriskie“We were ready to make him the offer, but then I saw the domestic abuse arrests. With a quick Google search our clients could easily find the same information. I don’t need to ponder the larger risks because this problem alone is a showstopper.”

“Why would I buy from someone who chooses a middle finger shot as his Twitter profile picture? Goodness knows I made some bad choices early in my career, but clearly, he’s not ready to manage an account like ours. It’s too bad. I liked his presentation.”

“I couldn’t believe it when I came across what I did. She works for a great non-profit and I liked what she had to say, but that’s not her only career. The boudoir shots and escort activities are an interesting sideline. Call me judgmental, but I just don’t want to work for her. I can’t be associated with people involved in those kinds of activities.”

A little digging on the internet can reveal of wealth of information. Some of it is true, some of it isn’t, and all of it is out there for the world to see.

Fair? Probably not, but it is what it is. Our digital doppelgangers have tremendous power, and as long as finding information online is easy, it will be found.

So, what’s a person to do to get control of his or her online image without spending a fortune? By following seven simple steps, you can take charge of your digital reputation.

Step One: Understand Your Digital DNA: The first step in managing the cyber you understands who creates him or her. If you use social media, you’re contributing to your footprint. If you have ever owned property, had a land line, donated to charity, sat on a board, or participated in any activity where information is published in an online newsletter, that information is part of the digital you.

You need to understand your digital twin has lots of parents, and some of them are more concerned about presenting him or her in a positive light than others. Google yourself, and make a list of from where information is coming.

Step Two: Choose a Strategy: The key to an effective online presence (or absence) is planning. Without a strategy, you have no plan. To manage the online you, you must decide what you want people to find. You might choose to present yourself as a well-rounded candidate for a job, define yourself as an expert on a particular topic, or align yourself with a cause that means something to you. Whatever the choice, one should have a goal for presenting an online picture that matches your offline objectives.The key to an effective online presence (or absence) is planning. Without a strategy, you have no plan. Click To Tweet

Step Three: Remember, It’s Not All Bad: In most cases, a well-managed digital presence is better than no presence at all. Think about it; if you were in a hiring manager’s chair and could find nothing in cyberspace about a candidate you were considering for an important job, would it concern you? Maybe.

What most likely wouldn’t concern you, however, would be the discovery of a professional LinkedIn page. In fact, the existence of such a page would probably serve as additional evidence of the candidate’s qualifications and suitability for a job.

Step Four: Put the Best You Out There: A picture is worth a thousand words, and a lot of what people say about themselves when choosing a profile photo isn’t too good. The photos are blurry, old, or just inappropriate. Get a professional photo taken and use it.

Your virtual you should be congruent with the real you. In other words, don’t promise one thing and deliver something else. Update your photo every five years or after you’ve had any significant physical transformation.

Next, check your privacy settings on all social sites into which you opt in. Do you really want people knowing what you’ve “liked” online, what your following, and so forth? If your brand strategy isn’t to be political or provoking, think before you comment on anything controversial.

Also, don’t forget that privacy settings change, people share comments, and so forth. In short, what you say among friends may at some point be seen by people you wouldn’t expect to have access to your conversations.

When it comes to social media, be disciplined, and make choices that fit with your strategy.

Step Five: Manage Unflattering Information: If you’ve got information out in cyberspace you wish weren’t there, and you are blessed with a common name, your dark data is probably buried pretty far down in the search results—especially if you actively publish other information about yourself.

If you have a rather unusual name coupled with a bad PR problem, you’ll need to be more proactive. Make site-by-site requests for information removal, and start publishing. Comment on reputable blogs using your real name, leave product reviews also using your real name, publish articles, and so forth. Your goal is to create noise and push negative information to the bottom of the pile. The stronger the sites where you post “good” data, the more likely those items will appear at the top of the results.

For most people, a do-it-yourself approach is sufficient, but if you’ve tried and are still struggling, you can always hire an expert. Prices vary widely, so shop around.

Step Six: Set Up an Auditing System: Online reputation management isn’t a one-and-done activity. It’s ongoing because the internet is fluid. What’s there today could be gone tomorrow and vice versa.

As your own reputation manager, this means you must be on your toes and aware of what’s being said about you. An easy way to stay in the know is to set up a Google alert for your name. Then, as that search engine finds new mentions of you, it will let you know.

Next, search the top engines for your name once a month. Check the first two pages of results for anything troubling. Finally, once a year, do a deep dive and look at every result. It’s time consuming but worth the effort—especially if you’ve encountered problems in the past.

Step Seven: Remember Why You Care: When you work hard to make the real you great, your digital twin shouldn’t be allowed to ruin your reputation. In other words, the online you should be your advocate, not your adversary, and if you don’t manage him or her, you roll the dice and take your chances.

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.