July 01, 1998
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio July 1998 Current Issue

Net Gains


Technological Dependency

Don't let computer problems throw you; have a backup plan ready

Imagine you are unveiling your newest product, something so huge, it's been covered not only in the trade press, but in the mainstream media as well. Your live demonstration is in front of thousands of people at a major event, and hundreds of thousands more have access to it on the Internet. Now, imagine your computer system crashes as you present your brainchild to the world. This is not a hypothetical nightmare. It happened to Microsoft boss Bill Gates as he demonstrated Windows 98 to the crowd at COMDEX. But what if you're not Bill Gates and don't have a team of techies on hand to rescue you? That's where most of us are, and the thought of a technology meltdown can be crippling.

We've all been faced with technological disasters. It seems Murphy's Law was written specifically for those of us with computers on our desks.

Jean Reposa, information resource manager for Sonesta Hotels and Resorts, wraps it up neatly: "We were never held hostage by our office machinery before. We didn't have to call in the SWAT team when something went wrong, we just changed the ribbon and went on with our work. We're so reliant on technology today, if the computer goes down, we can be toast until somebody fixes it."

The Internet makes the hostage situation worse than ever. Is the World Wide Web a timesaver, allowing us to do our research among amazing resources, or does the World Wide Wait keep us twiddling our thumbs while the Web pages load? E-mail can be another time thief, with all the spam, chain mail, virus hoaxes, joke lists and personal correspondence zipping over the corporate cables. E-mail also has an illusion of immediacy; we receive one and drop everything to respond.

Finally, there's the system itself - hardware, software, training, upgrades and maintenance. Who's ever abreast of the changes? And the worst can happen to any of us. It happened to Gates, and it recently happened to one of us (the guy with the moustache). A system crash took with it weeks of work, devouring a calendar of upcoming and past meetings, and scores of contacts. We back up our files regularly, which saved a tremendous amount of data, but it could not regain the time we lost.

The worst part about the explosion was learning a new term while technical support helped us rebuild from the system files up: JOOTT (just one of those things). It's bad enough these things happen, but the fact that they are expected, and even accepted as part of life, is frightening.

We know what you're thinking. "Hold it. These guys love this stuff. Why are they biting the hand that feeds them?" Well, we do love it. Technology makes our lives much, much better. And we want you to love it, not dread it. We all have to plan for the disasters. When the world of computers threatens to implode your brain, well, pretend you're Bill Gates. He didn't slink off the stage at COMDEX, muttering under his breath about whose heads would roll. He quipped that the program still needed some development and continued his speech, while an assistant fired up the backup unit.

As meeting professionals, we know about having Plan D ready. We need to have the same safeguards in place with these technological marvels we rely on so heavily. To give yourself the best chance of success, learn as much as you can about the systems you use. Read the manuals (gasp!). Take classes. Try to fix something yourself instead of becoming overly reliant on tech support. You may think you don't have the time to devote to these studies, but you don't know what unproductive time is until you've spent hours trying to resuscitate your computer.

Next, invest now to speed up your online access. Faster modems are pretty inexpensive when you factor in the time you now spend waiting for files to load. Look into other technologies like ISDN and cable, too. They may sound expensive, but, again, calculate in the value of your time.

If you fear your employees will waste time on the Net or with e-mail, protect the company with a good policy regarding the use of these technologies. Also, invest in e-mail software that can filter out spam and other time-wasters.

Finally, back up your data carefully. We lost files because we thought we knew where all the data was stored, but a key file was in a different directory - one we hadn't backed up to save time. We learned, and now have a fail-safe system in place.

Just like Bill Gates.

Rodman Marymor, CMP, and Jeffrey Rasco, CMP, are partners in San Francisco and Austin, Texas-based HMR Associates, providing technology solutions for the meetings industry.

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