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A Hundred Years of Innovation

By Mike Strand, StrandVision Digital Signage

A few months ago, IBM's Watson has just won the Jeopardy face-off, outdistancing two of the game's biggest winners. Watson was not only fast, it was (mostly) correct in its answers. Sure, it put Toronto, Canada in the U.S. in response to a statement about a U.S. city with two airports, one named for a famous World War II hero and the other for a WW II battle; but even so, the performance was remarkable.

IBM immediately followed the technology achievement with the announcement that it would be applying the verbal input and processing technology behind Watson to help diagnose medical conditions. This is an incredible advance and got me to thinking about the steady march of technology - a march that's never ending and ever increasing.

The Jeopardy competition harkens back to the famous "Mr. Watson - come here." quote that dates back to 1876. Of course, IBM's Watson refers to the company's founder, Thomas J. Watson, but it certainly puts the march of technology into perspective.

Looking back just 100 years to circa 1910, the Model T had just been introduced (in 1908) and Henry Ford was perfecting his assembly line; the neon light bulb was demonstrated; and King Gillette invented the safety razor.

Information technology in those days centered on radio and the telephone. The first live radio musical program, Enrico Caruso from the Metropolitan Opera, was broadcast by Lee De Forest. Bell Telephone already had more than 5,000,000 telephone stations connected and the rotary dial phone was invented.

Thirty years ago in the early '80s the personal computer was a hobbyist's tool and the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) had evolved into the early Internet and was beginning to be commercialized. It's hard to believe, but the World Wide Web was not introduced until 1990 when Tim Berners-Lee created the first Web server. It wasn't until 1995 with the introduction of the Netscape Navigator that the Web became widely used. For many of the "young at heart" people like myself, it's amazing to think that it was "just" sixteen years ago!

These advances fundamentally changed the way I did business in my previous barcode software company, StrandWare. I know that in some ways these advances created the reseller channel and certainly changed channel and marketing dynamics forever. Even over the last eight years that I've been running StrandVision, the technological march has changed the way digital signage (an evolution of videotext, ASCII-based information systems) is being distributed.

When I started StrandVision Digital Signage in 2003, virtually all electronic signage was locally hosted, complex and expensive. We were on the leading edge of Internet-based, self-administered digital signs before there was cloud computing or the term Software as a Service (SaaS). The Internet-based distribution model was seen as a disadvantage back then. One of our challenges was convincing people that the Internet was secure and reliable enough to deliver a 24/7 news/information stream. The days of poking holes in corporate firewalls to update a standalone digital media player PC are quickly being forgotten, and Internet-based digital signage systems have clearly become the best way to distribute marketing messages to one or thousands of screens around the world.

Now, of course, we stand on the threshold of unprecedented technology advances in mobile communications and business marketing that are delivering on the promise to bring even greater changes to the way we communicate, live and work from the U.S. to most remote reaches of Africa.

All of these advances form a mosaic (Yes, Mosaic was a precursor to Netscape.) that advances not only technology but also the ways that humans interact with each other. The fundamental dynamic, however, is that there's no going back. Never again will we communicate by telegraph, and landline phones are already becoming relics. We can only hold on to see what the future brings.

This has all kinds of ramifications for resellers - the most fundamental is that you have to constantly keep up with technology and business marketing advances. The best way to know where to go is to take projects from your most innovative customers that stretch you and your staff's abilities. Take what you learn and introduce new technologies to your customers. Be prepared to constantly retrain yourself and your staff, and adjust your business model to take advantage of new ways of doing business.

The advances also mean that you have to pick the technologies and business marketing solutions that you'll offer since you can't support every technology that comes along. As I've said in the past, it's best to look at evolutionary technologies that build on your expertise and extend your relationship with your current customers. This is the filter that should be applied to all new technologies. Having said that, I, of course, think that digital signage is a natural product line extension for all of you since it's beneficial to most businesses and uses traditional computer and networking knowledge - but that's just one "young at heart" man's opinion.

Mike Strand is founder and CEO of StrandVision LLC, an Internet-based subscription digital signage service that is distributed through resellers. Previously, Mike founded StrandWare, a leading bar code software and AIDC company. Prospective resellers may contact Mike at mjstrandweb at

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