Archive for the ‘Software, Technology, and Wow I Didn't Know That’ Category

Of particular interest to our ALERE (aka TIW Technologies) software is the announcement of their latest release: version 14.  The list of new features is too lengthy to detail here (but you can view it here any time: https://www.tiwcorp.com/downloads/history/new_features_v14.pdf)… So we thought we’d recap just a few today.  If you’re an ALERE user, get in touch with us about installing the new version.

Not an ALERE user?  Well then, you’re missing out on one of the premier PC-based manufacturing solutions out there today.  We’ve been proud to represent this product since its early days, going back about 25 years or so.  If you’re looking for manufacturing solutions, ask us about ALERE.

New features added to the latest release include…

  • A new Service module was added to the ALERE product to support the generation and execution of service jobs. The Service module contains the screens necessary to define the service elements (Service Catalog, Service Site Information, Resource Class, Service Ticket and Recurring Service Generation). Additionally, various service reports were integrated into the module.
  • Dispatch Module – A new Dispatch module was added to the ALERE product to support the scheduling (and reporting) of service jobs. The Service Scheduling segment includes the screens used to define the scheduling of service jobs (Resource Calendar, Dispatch Board and Service View).
  • Adjustable Supplier Item Number Fields – Throughout the entire product, the length of the supplier item number can be adjusted by changing the value in the foreign fields table, allowing for whatever lengths are necessary for an individual company’s needs.
  • Adjustment Notes – The Physical Inventory Count screen has a new field to enter notes for the inventory adjustments being made when the counts are posted.
  • UPS Integration – The product now interfaces with UPS to provide tracking, costing and label creation capabilities.
  • Error Screen for Physical Inventory – The Physical Inventory Count screen will now display an errors screen after posting which contains a list of any items that did not post along with the error message. The list can be printed or exported to Excel.
  • Expanded Serial Numbers – Throughout the entire product, the length of the serial numbers has been increased from 20 to 25 characters.
  • Standalone Appointments/Tasks – The InTouch calendar appointments and tasks can now be utilized without a link to Outlook. The information is stored within the ALERE contact management tables.
  • Copy Document Types – The Copy button on the Purchase Order screen has been changed to allow copying one document type to another document type.
  • Transfer/Purchase Order Support – The Add button on the Transfer Order screen has been changed to allow the creation of a transfer order from a purchase order. This will create a transfer order in add

These are just a few of the more than 60 new features and enhancements added with this new release, published just last week.

But you get the drift.  You can check out the entire list with screen shots via the link at the top of this post… or just contact PSSI for details.

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Rather than our usual business/tech post today we’d like to announce that Productivity Strategies & Solutions, Inc. (PSSI) has at long last launched our new website, which you’ll find at:


Besides a more up-to-date look and feel, we think it speaks more directly to our core strengths in using ERP software as a tool for business improvement – not an end in itself.

We are excited to offer a couple of very strong ERP solutions to our clients.

We are proud to back up our offerings with over 31 years of strategic business counseling experience.

And we are delighted that those solutions can be delivered by a team that has stayed together for so very long and enjoyed so many years of business improvement insights and consulting.

Thank you… And as always, let us know how we can help!

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first search photoDone searching for Christmas gifts by now?  Then here’s a little anecdote about the real first search engine –long before Larry and Sergey became billionaires building Google.

In the fall of 1963, two men send the first known long-distance computer query (this, according to a sidebar article by April White in the September 2018 issue of Smithsonian).  Six years even before Arpanet (the precursor to today’s Internet) and more than thirty years ahead of Google, Charles Bourne, a research engineer who built the first online search engine, and Lenoard Chaitin, a computer programmer, sent the first query (the actually question they asked is, amazingly, lost to history!).

Here’s what we do know.

Bourne and Chaitin achieved their breakthrough at the Stanford Research Park in Menlo Park, California, with funding courtesy of the United States Air Force.  At that time, most information retrieval was physical, where for example data would be stored on punch cards and then sorted by a computing machine.  But the Cold War era demanded a more efficient process, and the Air Force wanted to be able to sort through its treasure trove of literature about Soviet technology quickly and efficiently.

In solving the Air Force’s dilemma, the researchers were ahead of their time, designing a program to work more or less the way Google does today.  A user could search for any word in the existing files – a database of seven memos that Bourne actually had typed into paper tapes and then converted to magnetic tapes.  350 miles away, Chaitin sat at a bulky computer terminal with a 32 character-wide screen and sent a search query.  The request went over the phone lines (that apparently were about 1/10,000th the speed of our smartphones today).  A few moments later, the correct reply was returned from the search of the distant database.

The two had proven for the first time that online search was possible.

Ironically, the Air Force shut down the project a short while later.  The world, apparently, wasn’t ready.  They estimated that an entire file search could be completed in about 30 seconds, but that “it was not envisioned that the user would always have a continual need for on-line computer facilities.”

Today Bourne, now 87, says that “You really couldn’t imagine, at that time, doing a lot of things with a computer.”



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The current top-of-the-line wireless technology, called 4G (for 4th generation cellular technology) ushered in an era of smartphone apps and capabilities like none before.  It also ushered in an estimated $125 billion in revenue for U.S. companies who had the leadership and foresight to embrace it.  AT&T and Verizon were two such leaders, and having this sort of technology available enabled everything from fast video downloads to the advent of Snapchat – simply because the app makers had the network technology to experiment with.

5G promises to deliver much, much more.  And more than ever, to the technology leaders will go the spoils.

5G is what will make the future possible, and will be even more transformative that prior iterations.  From self-driving cars to movies that download to your phone in seconds… not to mention true virtual reality and long-distance (remote) medical operations… all will be made possible by the embrace of 5G.

Consumers will only notice once they’ve upgraded to 5G compatible phones, which won’t become widely available until 2019 or 2020, but when they can, they’ll enjoy nearly instantaneous data travel nearly “fast enough to mimic human reflexes” (to help self-driving cars avoid accidents).

Telecommunication firms could be impacted too when download speeds are so fast that they can legitimately compete with wired systems like cable and internet providers that need to plug wires into homes.

With 5G, peak download times improve by a factor of one hundred times that of 4G, according to The Wall Street Journal.  Thus, important implications like…

  • Downloading a two-hour movie that currently takes six minutes will take 4 seconds
  • Self-driving cars will be able to “talk” to one another with human-reflex responsiveness
  • You’ll get smoother, seamless virtual reality experiences
  • Remote patient monitoring in healthcare can become a reality, as well as remote-surgery through connected health-care devices
  • The IoT: 5G will allow anything from your sneakers to heart monitors to be internet-connected. It is predicted that trillions of devices could be connected in the next decade, enabling smarter homes, cities and energy grids.  (Begging the question among cynics of course of… What could possibly go wrong?)

The key to all this lies with which countries and companies get there first.  According to the Journal’s Stu Woo, the leaders today include the U.S., China, South Korea and Japan. AT&T and Verizon plan city-by-city 5G launches later this year.  China predicts national coverage by 2020.

In the end, the patent holders may be the biggest winners of all.  Qualcomm, InterDigital, Huawei, Nokia and Ericsson are all major players.  Each represents a different nation, and all are vying for dominance.  But it’s safe to say that in the end, all consumers will be winners too.  The pace of change today isn’t just getting arithmetically faster, it seems – it’s getting logarithmically faster.


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Did you know that a trove of personal information about you can typically be purchased on the internet (actually, the “Dark Web”) for about $20 to $130?  That trove is known, in dark web parlance, as a “fullz” and comprises a complete package of everything needed to commit identity theft: your name, address and social security number of course, but also your date of birth, mother’s maiden name, driver’s license number and more.  When combined with widely-hacked credit card number identification, logins and passwords you’ve used and even your individual credit reports, the data set altogether provides a complete picture of you – and all the ammunition needed to steal your identity, or at the very least, wreak havoc on your life and time spent fixing the leaks.

Now, here’s the good news: experts tell us that in 2017, only 6.6% of the adult population of the U.S. were victimized by identity fraud – meaning over 93% were not victimized.  But then here’s the bad news: that was just one year.  Fortunately, there are some things we can do to protect ourselves, and best of all, professional scammers who will reveal their secrets – either because they have flipped sides and now work for the good guys, or because they are trying to ‘cooperate’ their way to lighter sentences – tell us that “even though personal information is everywhere, if you do just one or two things to create roadblocks for the scammers, people [like them] will probably move on.”  Why?  “Because there are plenty of other marks out there who do nothing.”

The fact is, about 5-10% of the internet is the surface internet – the one most of us see and use every day for stuff like Google, Yahoo, Amazon, our various news sites, Medicare, Fox News or MSN or WebMD.

The middle 90-95% consists of a layer of pages that use passwords and are not typically found by search engines, like PayPal, NetFlix, Bank of America, Dropbox, online banking, subscription websites, government records, emails and social media content.

The bottom .01% is the dark web, with sites like Silk Road, AlphaBay Market and, at least until it was shut down, Shadowcrew.  These are the places where criminals and scammers lurk, and where the buying and selling of so much personal information occurs.  This is where your information can be bought for the $20-$130 mentioned earlier – the fee mostly depends on your age and creditworthiness.

We live in a post-prevention world when it comes to our identities and online personae.  Assume much of your personal information is already on the net.  Cybersecurity experts conclude that there are three key things you can do “to make sure that stolen data can’t be used to defraud you,” according Doug Shadel of AARP, who has written on fraud for 20 years.  Those include:

  • Freeze your credit
  • Closely monitor all accounts
  • Use a password manager

Do at least these things, as our cybercriminal noted earlier said: “…because there are plenty of other marks out there who do nothing.”

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The internet is a dangerous place.  You never know who’s watching you.  If you’re in a coffee shop using the public Wi-Fi router there, you’re wide open… to hackers, Google, your internet provider or the person sitting next to you.  A VPN (virtual private network) acts like a curtain on your room.  They’re mostly open with daylight streaming in, but it’s nice sometimes being able to close them, when you need the privacy – or are simply and justifiably worried about unwarranted hackers and pranksters.

VPNs have become a popular tool today.  Once the domain of businesses seeking security and privacy, today it’s all too easy for hackers to infiltrate all of your devices, read your traffic or maliciously insert bugs, phishing efforts or other malware.  When private matters are involved like health, finance and personal communications, a VPN can be the best and cheapest method of maintaining your peace of mind and security.  By turning it on first before browsing, you’re far better protected.

Here’s a great explanation provided by Personal Technology columnist David Pierce of how a VPN works in simple terms:

“A VPN creates a ‘tunnel’ between your computer and the service you’re connecting to, using its software to make your connection direct and private.  Once this tunnel is established, a VPN encrypts all of the data it sends to you and receives from you through the tunnel.  Even if hackers decide to snoop on your data, they wouldn’t see anything they’d understand.

“Because your VPN provider is actually accessing the internet for you, the sites you visit won’t receive accurate identifying data like your location or IP address.”

You may be in California, but if your VPN provider is in New Jersey, your IP address jumps from California to New Jersey, and you’re not likely to be found.

While using a VPN does not excuse otherwise practicing safe computing, like strong passwords and multifactor authentication, it does add a whole new level of internet safety.  Common sense ought to take care of most of the rest (e.g., not using your credit card on shady sites, that sort of thing…)

There are a number of inexpensive VPNs available to any user today.  They typically charge between $3 and $12 a month.  Most claim to store no data, though they may actually store a little, and often not directly attributable to you personally.  Some names suggested by Mr. Pierce include the Hotspot Shield Elite from Anchor Free; Private Internet Access from London Trust Media; NordVPN; and Freedome VPN from F-Secure.  Many of these are part of a broader suite of security products that may include a password manager or other useful tools.

Today, according to a survey by Wombat Security, about two-thirds of users use a VPN on a corporate and/or personal device.  The rest either don’t use one, or (about 20%) don’t know what it is.  That last group might want to read up as VPNs today work on phones, tablets and PCs all across the spectrum.  And their added measure of security just might make them rest easier.


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In our prior post we highlighted the comments of two well-known hedge fund investors as they describe the shift from a world often dominated by software to the new world of the model-driven business, wherein models power the key decisions in business processes, creating revenue streams and improved cost efficiencies.

The co-authors, hedge fund CEO Steven Cohen  and venture capitalist Matthew Granade, both of Point72 Ventures, and writing in August in The Wall Street Journal’s Opinion section, conclude their essay by pointing out five key implications of these models for business in the future, which we’ll summarize below.

First, businesses will be increasingly valued based on the completeness, not just the quantity, of the data they create.  Companies like Amazon and Tencent (cited in our prior post) don’t just collect massive reams of data about their customers, they know how to act on it.  It’s not just breadth of knowledge in other words, it’s also a ‘closed loop’ in which each recommendation a model makes, based on that user data, is captured and used to improve the model going forward.

Second, the goal is a ‘flywheel,’ they state, or a virtuous circle: Models improve products, products get used more, the new data improves the product (and the model) even more.  It’s a nearly frictionless process of continuous improvement.  Pretty close to a business holy grail if ever there was one.

Third, as incumbents (i.e., entrenched, major, competitive, winning companies) they will be “more potent competitors in this battle relative to their role in the software era,” insofar as they will have a meaningful advantage (operationally and profit-wise) this time around.   They have the trove of data competitors don’t, and they’ve learned how to monetize it.  And they keep getting better at it.

Fourth, just as the best companies have built deep organizational capabilities around managing people, tools, technology and capital, the same will now happen for models.  Just as software has become an ‘agile’ process in its delivery, the data-driven companies now on the rise are creating a new discipline of model management that affect the same domains: people, tools, technology and capital.  The models can now deliver, and that creates a critical competitive edge.

Fifth, companies will face new ethical and compliance challenges, according to Cohen and Granade.  With data becoming more comprehensive and important, consumer concerns over use and abuse are bound to rise – in fact, they already are.  Facebook lost over $100 billion in market cap in a couple of days in July because investors became concerned about its data assets in the face of increasing regulation.  That’s not likely to abate, and examples will only multiply.

Still, while software continues to “eat the world” (prior post), yesterday’s advantage becomes, in the authors’ words, “today’s table stakes.”  In the hunt for competitive advantage, the model-driven business will become ubiquitous.  For the average investor, software has been a great place to make money since Marc Andreessen’s famous “Why Software is Eating the World” essay seven year ago.  But in the next seven, the serious money is on the model-driven business.


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