Not since the introduction of the pc in the mid-1970s has technology been poised to play such a prominent role in the way companies do business. For both emerging and established businesses as well as entrepreneurs, the technological solutions of the ’90s can mean greater cost savings, enhanced communications and the opportunity of getting products to market much faster.
Telecommunications, networking, and database and document management are the three key areas to watch for. “It’s not how much money you’re going to make necessarily in these ventures but how much money you’re going to save,” notes Brian Roemmele, president of Multiplex Media Corp., a Beverly Hills, California technology consultancy. What the Internet has done, he adds, is create a relatively inexpensive way for businesses to connect globally by eliminating the geographic barriers to business.
Communications is fueling today’s technological explosion, and much of it is driven by the Internet. E-mail, fax-on-demand services, videoconferencing and Internet telephony are just a few of the array of communications devices and applications altering the business landscape, offering productivity solutions only dreamed of years ago.
Red River Shipping Corp. is an 50-employee, $18.8 million, Rockville, Maryland, owner and operator of seagoing vessels. For most of its 13- year history, Red River has used antiquated methods to communicate with its far-flung crews to help them position vessels, make cargo pick ups and stow plans and do payroll accounting.
Until last April, the company used a fax machine to transmit orders and documents, which was cumbersome and inefficient. “We might try to send 23 vouchers trying to get through a fax machine over 5,000 miles of distance,” says Red River engineering manager Pat Tarrant. “The fax quality sometimes wasn’t there, and we’d have to ask them to resend certain pages.” The solution was electronic mail.
In place of a radio officer on board ship, as required by federal regulations, Red River invested about $125,000 in a communications system that includes primary and backup communications services via radio, digital and satellite bands. The satellite portion is equipped with a digital modem to transmit e-mail. Not only did the one-time fee for installation of the communications system eliminate roughly $100,000 in salary and benefits, it also did away with the arduous manual process of faxing and refaxing.
For us it’s very easy. It’s secure communications in a private mailbox,” affirms Tarrant. “If you send it in writing [via e-mail], you have a tendency to make fewer mistakes because it’s right there in front of you.” Red River pays about $3 per minute for satellite sending time, in contrast to $7 for faxed pages; messages are sent via a laptop computer. Red River’s e-mail system also enables it to transfer full documents such as payroll vouchers and to retrieve data at headquarters in customized mailboxes.
Another key communications technology involves custom fax services such as fax-on-demand. Custom fax services let companies distribute information 24 hours a day from an Internet site, corporate intranet site or a network database at the customer’s convenience. Direct marketing, sales