Here’s to the passing of a bar code influencer

Today I learned that Alan Haberman passed away at age 81. In 1973, Alan was instrumental to selecting those infamous black and white stripes to be used for retail products to be marked. As we all know, today it is involved with nearly every aspect of modern life, providing a means for people to buy and sell things, couriers to track packages, and helps airlines to locate lost luggage.

My history is heavily into bar coding. I owned and operated StrandVision for more than 13 years (now owned by Teklynx) where we produced bar code printing software products like Label Matrix that were marketed around the world. My hat is off to Alan for all his efforts and to his family as they grieve.

Server company changes are not all that fun..

We just went through a server upgrade for our primary web server at www.strandvision.com. Our previous server was on-line for over 5 years and it looks like the company went out of business (although the server ran perfectly). Since we were not able to get support tickets handled at all, we spent the week transitioning to the new one. One big thing that we discovered is that the software from 5 years ago (even though auto-updated) is very different from today’s software. That caused lots of programming issues that needed to be solved. The other thing that I learned is that lots of people on the internet path do not follow the DNS cache rules, so even though it may say 5 minutes, it is meaningless. Fortunately we decided to take the entire month to make the move, so it was easy to keep both systems running concurrently until everyone moved over. Speaking to lots of IT people, it sounds like server swaps are always a major issue that always has a couple hiccups. I am glad that it is behind us now.

People need complete solutions, not just pieces

Over the past several weeks, I am continually reminded that people look for complete solutions, not just a piece of a solution. There are a few innovators out there who will take pieces from lots of places to save money or to get something done. It appears that most people want the total solution. We at StrandVision have gradually been moving that direction by offering pc-2-tv video transmitters and creating pre-configured player pc’s that work well with our digital signage software. We have just recently added network packet switchers and screen mounts. Our plan is to offer content sources, screens and installation for the complete package and perhaps a wizard to help answer customers’ questions and to make quoting easier for our sales staff.

Whatever your product or service you offer, keep in mind that you may be missing opportunities if you do not have the complete system figured out.

Follow through is important!

For the past several years, I have been amazed at how many companies do not follow through with customers. There are some that do a great job and others that do not even return a prospect’s call for information (mine). We firmly believe in (and have seen the benefit of) being responsive to customers in all interactions with us.

During the information gathering (sales) process, we continue to email and call to see if we can answer questions. It is often a frustrating process, since many customers feel that if they have no interest, providing no response will have us go away. In our case, that does not work. We continue the contacts until we hear that there is no interest, or more often find out that another priority has come up and that they want to postpone the process.

Once the sale is made, we continue to ensure that the customer feels our guidance with automated and manual emails along with calls as we discover ways that they can enhance their signage message delivery. We also find ways to help promote our customers to other prospects which improves both of our business. We find that providing consistent contact helps to keep customers happy and a little bit more loyal.

So, the next time you have a customer who calls or emails, make sure that you follow through. You may not get the sale, but you will gain some good will for your company and yourself.

What is legal for digital signage news feeds?

There are millions if not billions of RSS feeds on the Internet. Most are no updated often, but some are. There are many consolidators of feeds as well (search engines being the biggest consolidators). The lesser updated feeds will almost always “love” it if you display their feed to the public (with a reference to them of course). The news feeds that come from paid publications or from consolidators are usually for personal use only.

When using feeds for digital signage in an office environment, it is up to you to verify that the feeds you find are legal to show on your screen. Many feeds are not for commercial use, and finding that statement is sometimes a search for a needle on their web site haystack. If you are just using one or two screens in your organization and you cannot easily see the legal messages, the odds of being sued are probably quite small. If you want to be on the up and up, there are several places where feeds can be subscribed to. Some Internet based digital signage software offers feeds that are provided to paid subscribers as part of the software subscription. You can also get written permission directly from the feed provider. Be sure your permission is written (at least an email) from a VP or higher level person in the company to protect yourself.

Opportunities and change

Have you ever wondered how often opportunities have been waiting for you? I have been on my new job (taking over Amy’s job of sales) for a week now. During that time, several opportunities have shown themselves. I have almost completed a new licensed content deal (should be announced in a week or two). I have pretty much closed a multi-facility university campus with state-wide likely to happen soon. I have started planning for a meeting in December with a worldwide hotel brand to have use our solution for at least the nation. I have had wonderful learning conversations with several of our resellers and customers. Although the change of this new job is painful in many regards, the rewards far exceed the doubts and insecurities that I have. So, it would appear that I am living proof that change brings new opportunities (or at least exposes them).

Change causes change…

I am reminded often of all the change that the world is going through. Change can be seen in everything from the economy to the oil spill to kids growing up to growing older ourselves. Some would have us believe that change is bad. Others would say that change is good. I guess I feel that change is just that … change. And I think that change helps to keep you aware, sensitive and awake to the world around you. Change tends to be uncomfortable which inherently keeps you from having your days mindlessly go by. Being aware of your environment actually causes even more changes – since you see the things that are not as optimal as you would think they should be. If you don’t pay attention to what is going on with your days, you miss a whole lot of opportunities to advance yourself. So, embrace change – which creates more change – which you can again embrace. Have a great weekend to you all.

Mistakes do have a silver lining…

Have you ever messed up in a way that embarrassed you or cost your company money to get it solved? It seems that I do it at least once a month, and sometimes multiple times per day! Although swallowing my pride, taking ownership of the mistake and doing what is right to resolve the situation is painful, I know it helps me grow into a better person. It seems that those painful moments are a strong reminder of what not to do if a similar situation happens again. I love it when my employees go through that process. It may be a bit expensive in the short term, but it is the best way to learn what not to do. We all know that “telling” someone what not to do has limited success.

So, the next time you find yourself in an uncomfortable position, once you follow through to solve the issue, look at it as a growth opportunity that makes you a more valuable person and employee.

Life’s obstacles can help you grow

Have you ever noticed that life sometimes throws you curves that you don’t necessarily like? Those times seem to be the twists and turns that are much like the path that a raindrop takes when it falls from a storm. The big difference is that a raindrop will usually follow the lowest path – and may even break through walls to get there.

I feel that people have the option to go against gravity when we reach an obstacle – and that doing so grows our inner strength and capabilities. There are many times that I get bummed out when life throws me what I perceive to be a negative twist. Those feelings help me to look at other options to the twist (usually thanks to my wife who is sick of me being grumpy). Most of the curves that life has tossed my way in the past have been very beneficial now that I am through them. Most of the time, I decided to take a risk for some events (most were tiny risks) and just let it pass by entirely when it really was not that important. Of course, I too followed gravity on some curves. And for some of those, I burden a little bit of regret.

So, as life throws you curves, I would recommend that you be sure to take the time to look at the past, present and future around it. If it will not hurt anyone else, consider taking a small risk rather than just letting your emotions lead you down your path. Try to go against “gravity” and grow yourself.

Linux is powerful!

We have just announced our preconfigured Linux player devices for our digital signage system. This project took several months to develop because of the intricacies of Linux and the complexity of our system behind the scenes. I have dabbled with Linux for over 10 years with SAMBA file servers, and it seems that each time I built a new server, there were different issues that I had to deal with. For this system, I decided to put a step by step instruction manual together on how to build the Linux box. It is available on our web site at www.strandvision.com/create_linux_workstation.html. This simply sets up the system to work with our software properly. We then needed to adapt our multi-server code that keeps everything synchronized together to provide data to the Linux player. All in all, it is a very powerful setup. We also had to learn how to start and stop the signage player from within a cron job. Pretty crazy commands to make everything happen. Although Linux can be pretty cryptic for some of the tricky areas, there are answers everywhere on the web for just about every situation. So don’t be too scared to dive into Linux for your own project. And if you are looking for a powerful digital signage software system that is free, check out StrandVision and the new Linux player. By using promotion code SDS-SV and completing a test drive before Aug 31, 2010, you get a year subscription for free.

from 20 year business owner Mike Strand