PETS (not those kind, the Rotary kind)

A Rotarian from North Kingston RI commenting about her most recent Rotary experience writes  “PETS, one of those ever-loving Rotary acronyms for President Elect Training Seminar, takes place around the Rotary universe roughly 4 months before the annual changing of the guard.  It is a thorough indoctrination into Rotary: how to run a club, membership, the Manual of Procedure, fundraising, activities, budgets,etc.  The only problem is that all this is crammed into the newbie’s brain in a mere 48 hours.  Not really unlike water boarding.”

I recently attended the same PETS, and my takeaway was that for although for 5 years I’ve attended my Club’s lunches, given out happy bucks, worked fundraisers, done some projects, but never REALLY got the spirit of what Rotary truly is and truly can be until I attended PETS.

 While there I heard stories about Rotarians who have done good throughout the world and their communities.  Of children of Rotarians, who became Rotarians themselves, and who are raising their children in the same mold – to be future Rotarians. 

 A few quick stories:

Dave Clifton from the Sharon Club our own District who was the End Polio Now coordinator told a story about how as a young child he was awakened by his father, a Rotarian to help with a Pancake Breakfast.  “But I didn’t join Rotary, Dad, you did.  And I hate pancakes.”  “Get up, get going, and get in the car.  Today, you’re a Rotarian and you’re helping with the Pancake Breakfast.” 

Brad Howard a founding member of the Oakland CA Sunrise Club, and currently Rotary’s North American Membership Chair, talked about some of his experiences as a Rotarian, (which have included Polio vaccination missions abroad).  He related a story about how on his honeymoon he attended a Rotary meeting, and one of the Rotarians invited him on a “behind the scenes” tour of the city.  He and his new bride later found themselves enjoying parts of the city he never would have seen as a tourist, culminating in a fireworks display from a beautiful rooftop overlooking the river.  He turned to his wife and said can you believe where we are?  (Did I mention the city was Paris? The date: Bastille Day. The river: Seine.)  Brad also related a unique concept: he asked if the business of Rotary is Service, then who are Rotary’s customers?  His answer: the members.  His mission and focus?  Providing better service to Rotary’s customers, which all neatly falls in line with next year’s Rotary theme: Engage Rotary: Change Lives.

 

And lastly, I met a young woman, a single mom, from Maine, who as we related our struggles as parents of young children told me of her own personal struggle with cancer.  Upon hearing her diagnosis for the first time, she collapsed, sobbing in a heap on her kitchen floor.  With no one to turn to, a job to go to hosting an important function, and a boss out of town leaving her no escape valve, she picked herself up off the floor, got dressed and went to open the hall for the function.  Moments after she did, the first person in the door identified herself as a Rotarian.  And an oncology nurse.  Sometimes things happen for a reason.  Do I need to tell you they are friends to this day, and after hearing their story of comradery and triumph, dinner and lunch with them tasted great?

I tell you these stories today because I want you all to know what great organization Rotary is and can be.  Senior members: please take a newer member aside and tell them about projects you’ve done, fun you’ve had, and the friendships you’ve made.  Newer members: Listen to these stories.  Check out Club Runner to get to know our members better.  Visit rotary.org and see what is happening in the world of Rotary.  Go to a district event, another club meeting, or an event outside the club.  Do good.  Feel good.  Be a Rotarian.  Image

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Videoconferencing on the upswing, but who’s watching?

Recently in our conference room one of our associates from the Czech Republic introduced us to his extended family.  They were in their living room.  4000 miles away. On our 60″ HD plasma screen, they looked and sounded as if they were in the room with us.  For the uniformed, that’s typical of the performance of videoconferencing in today’s business technology world.

Anyone with exposure to the early days of videoconferencing is probably not to eager to take a second stab at it. Grainy images, choppy video and dropped audio were not problems, they were the norm. My colleague used to joke “fax them pictures of you sitting at the conference table – it’s less frustrating”. Granted bandwidth issues were to blame for some of the problems (did any SMB have 10 meg circuits back then?). But advancements in CODECs, microprocessor technology, and the emergence of SIP standards coupled with the widespread availability of cheap, high bandwidth connections have not just improved videoconferencing, it has changed it to the point where it can now be considered ‘disruptive’ technology along the lines of smartphones, tablets and DVR’s.

What business users still have a difficult time deciphering is in their initial adoption phases.  The temptation to use free services (i.e. Skype, facetime), when hosted is the right fit, and where do those ubiquitous desktop HD cams come into play.  But the good news is  that withthe advancements in technolgoy and the hassles and costs associated with businss travel, videoconferencing now has GBRFDS (Good Business Reasons For Doing So), as evidenced by this recent stat from the IP Blog NoJitter…

Lowering costs remains one of the biggest drivers for video conferencing in general, and the numbers continue to back this up. For instance, a Polycom study revealed that, on average, enterprises, by adopting videoconferencing, can save 30 percent on travel costs, lower time-to-market by 24 percent, reduce training costs by 25 percent, trim recruitment times by 19 percent, and shrink sales-related costs by 24 percent. Similarly, by embracing collaboration via videoconferencing and telepresence, Cisco was able to achieve T&E savings of 14 to 20 percent for its European Services unit. “Soft dollar” benefits include fewer transportation delays, less administrative time spent planning trips, and a reduction in lost productivity during travel.

 Let’s say you’re a small business with 2 or 3 salespeople traveling abroad and annual sales expenses in the $500K range.  Reducing those costs anywhere near 20% would provide an exceedingly fast ROI of less than 6 months for today’s high end videoconferencing systems.
While Videoconferencing will never replace face to face communications, the time has  come where smart business can use it as a cost saving difference maker to gain an edge over their competition.

Common Misconceptions about VoIP

We recently consulted with a prospect regarding their aging Nortel phone system. They realized they needed to upgrade, they were aware of the technological advances since they installed the (used) Nortel PBX over 10 years ago, but there were many areas in which they were either mistaken or misinformed. First they were afraid that their ‘network problems’ would hamper a VoIP implementation. Second, they were expecting a savings on their international long distance bill “because their calls would be going out over the internet”.

On the first issue they were partly correct: if you add IP telephones to a LAN or WAN with excessive latency, jitter, or packet loss, calls will drop, you will experience poor voice quality and/or a network failure. The problem is, they didn’t NEED to add IP telephones to their LAN.  And, after we analyzed the network, we found the problem was the “Fribble Effect”.  Ever try and quickly suck one of Friendly’s thick, frosty shakes through a tiny straw? What happens? You get a headache. This customer’s 1.5 meg T1 circuit was handling requests from over a 100 users on a (perfectly functioning, btw) 100x LAN. They needed more bandwidth from their carrier. But they didn’t need IP phones.  It would have added cost and complexity for an already overtaxed IT Department (consisting of 1 person). As for the ‘reduced long distance bills’ scenario…well salespeople just need to step up and tell their prospects the truth.  In this case FIVE vendors failed to disclose that the potential customers’ (mis)perception was simply not true!  Never afraid of being the sunk at the garden party we told the prospect they needed more bandwidth, they didn’t need to worry about their LAN, we COULD save them money on long distance (but not in the manner they thought), AND we were going to improve their operations and reduce costs by implementing VoIP.

We proposed digital telephones (still one of the most reliable business technologies available) with Unified Communications for Business (UCB) and won the trust – and the business- of what will be a valued business partner for many years to come.

Check out this link – I thought this NEC Product manager hit the nail on the head.  http://youtube/M9_Y0bCqybc

UC, you see

Back in the day, MDCOM was in the phone system business, then the technology landscape changed to Voice over IP, or VoIP. While there’s still a slew of misconceptions about what VoIP is or isn’t, we now have a new buzzword (or, more appropriately, buzz-phrase) in our business: Unified Communications, or, for those who speak in acronyms, UC.

Unified Communications evolved primarily due to the same forces as voice mail and mobile phones – namely, that successful business people do not sit at a desk, and that they use multiple mediums to communicate. But when you give an average person email, faxes, desk phone, cell phone, chat and other potential means of communications you create a stew of technology that most people cannot digest. Enter UC. UC takes the devices (desk phones, computers, smart phones), and the mediums (email, voice, chat, fax, etc.) and combines them into usable and (more importantly) productive formats for the end users.  For example, your desk phone calls can be ‘twinned’ to ring your cell phone or smart phone. But wait! Do you want ALL those calls following you around to lunch, the gym, or home?  Of course not. UC also allows the user to create different work modes where only certain calls can reach you at certain times. Picture the top prospect or boss being able to reach you during times when you can’t or won’t take a call from anyone less important.  UC helps you prioritize and address important business communications.,  Another example may be instead of having to ‘call in’ to check messages, they get sent to your smart phone, to be played back as a .wav file.  Clearly a time (read: money) saver. These are just a couple of examples of how UC technology benefits the user. 

While most UC systems offer those aforementioned basics, it’s important to investigate how the subtle differences impact your business. You might need salespeople to be able to transfer calls they answer at their cell phones back into customer support. Not all systems may offer that option.

As with most new technologies, MDCOM recommends looking at your business needs and budget first, then consulting with a trusted technology adviser to ensure your needs are met and your investment has a reasonable timeframe for return.

Why should (or shouldn’t) my business switch to VoIP?

It seems not a day goes by that we don’t get a call from a business saying they “need a VoIP system”.  First, we ask them why they THINK they need need a VoIP system, which inevitably leads to asking them “Exactly what do you think a VoIP system is?”  Some reply “Voice over the Internet”,  some reply “Free phone calls”,  and, occasionally, the honest, “I don’t know”.  Truth is, most business people don’t know what VoIP is.  The acronym stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol, and it’s the last word that is the most important. Voice Over Internet is like teaching pigs to sing: it inevitably doesn’t work, (and you end up with a frustrated pig to boot).

You see, the Internet doesn’t have the same routing rules as a private network, and thus your voice call has the same priority as Jimmy from down the street watching a hysterical YouTube video of a water skiing squirrel.  And that, friends, is not good for business.
Voice Over Internet PROTOCOL is a different matter, however.  For many years now phone systems have digitized conversations (converted analog signal to 0’s and 1’s) .  Today by digitizing them in the same manner as other data traffic such as emails, web sessions, etc. (Internet Protocol), we’re able to use the same switching, routing, infrastructure, etc as existing data networks.  And THAT is provides benefits to most businesses.  First, it makes it easy to deploy phones and systems in remote locations.  Second, whenever you move a phone, it finds the control unit and retains it’s identity, usually with no visit to the wiring closet.  And third, by treating voice as another application, it will ‘play nice’ with other computers on your network, making it easier to integrate with company databases, programs like Outlook and more.
Do YOU NEED VoIP?  While there are certainly some benefits, there are benefits to using digital phones also.  They are more reliable, they are self-powered, and they will not compete for bandwidth on your LAN.  There’s also the cost factor, as sometimes you need new cabling, data switches and more to deploy IP.  You can still enjoy many of the benefits of a VoIP phone system without using IP phones in your office.  When in doubt, ask someone who isn’t drinking “VoIP Kool-Aid”, and hopefully you’ll get an unbiased, educated answer.