Friday, March 9

Biomedical Engineers Are In Great Demand

Vincent DeCaprio, now a consultant on life sciences business management, could easily have followed in the footsteps of his father, who was a mechanical engineer. In high school he was strong in math and science and tinkered on the side with amateur radio and automobiles. Still on the same path, he graduated from the New Jersey Institute of Technology with a bachelor of science in electrical engineering.

All well and good, but not the last word. “When I got into electrical engineering,” says DeCaprio, “I was really fascinated by some of the problems in biology. But biology at the time didn’t have a lot of the discipline of engineering design in it.”

At that time fields like chemistry and mechanical design had room for an engineering perspective, but that was less true for biology. Yet, he continues, “the ability to apply engineering principles to problems in biology really fascinated me.” Then he took a graduate course in biomedical engineering, and his future was set.

DeCaprio moderates a panel on “Biomedical Engineers: What Is It That They Do?” at the New Jersey Biomedical Engineering Conference at the New Jersey Institute of Technology on Friday, March 9, from 8:30 a.m. to 1:45 p.m., an event that is followed by a two-hour career fair.

The panel includes Ashutosh Sharma, executive vice president at Vyteris; Richard Caroddo, director of business development at Integrium; Harvey D. Homan, president and chief executive officer of Urovalve Inc., and Charla Triplett, president of the Biomedical Engineering Career Alliance. The conference is sponsored by the departments of biomedical engineering at various universities and the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology. For more information, contact Judith Sheft at 973-596-5825.

DeCaprio received both his master’s and doctoral degrees in bioengineering at the Polytechnic Institute of New York, and at the same time was a research fellow at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, where his research, funded in part by Medtronic, focused on developing systems for cardiac pacemakers.

DeCaprio’s next career move was to Becton, Dickinson and Company (now called BD) in Franklin Lakes, where he stayed for 23 years, eventually managing its intravenous products businesses.

Six years ago DeCaprio left BD to form Vyteris in Fair Lawn. The company develops systems for delivering drugs through the skin electronically. He was the company’s chief executive officer for five years and retired last year to become a consultant. He is a fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering. And on the side he still manages to tinker, now with his model railroad.

Biomedical engineering, which originated in the 1970s, is taking off as a career. “Biomedical engineering has become the single most popular engineering major for newly enrolling engineering students,” says DeCaprio, adding that it is also the most popular engineering program among women. It also works for premedical students, he says, “because they feel they need to have more technical background in high-tech hospitals.”

Biomedical engineers are now making their way into both large companies and small startups, as well as clinical research organizations and academic settings. To develop the new systems, products, and services necessary to promote better healthcare, says DeCaprio, “you need a person with engineering skill who can understand the problems faced by physicians.”

Biomedical engineers have designed all manner of medical devices, from the automatic pump used to deliver insulin to diabetics to machines as complicated as an artificial heart, in which the principles of mechanical and fluid engineering are applied to cardiovascular medicine. And, of course, the machinery that supports real-time imaging of internal organs was developed by biomedical engineers, and it’s no small feat — and a money saver to boot — when physicians can take pictures of the body’s organs without using a knife first.

Companies in New Jersey have developed many products using the expertise of biomedical engineers, for example, insulin delivery systems, drug-eluting stents used in angioplasty, a catheter activated by a small valve for patients who have lost ability to urinate, and artificial blood vessels.

Ashutosh Sharma is executive vice president at Vyteris, a Fair Lawn-based company where biomedical engineers comprise 20 to 25 percent of the research and development staff. Sharma received a bachelor of technology degree in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, India, and master of science degrees in biomedical engineering and computer and systems engineering as well as a doctorate in biomedical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Sharma, who oversees research and development and manufacturing at Vyteris, provides a close-up of one product that required six to eight bioengineers to design and develop, the company’s first product, LidoSite.

This combination product has two components: a controller, which is a medical device, and a patch containing a drug. It functions differently from the traditional “passive patch” that delivers drugs through a diffusion process — from the patch, where the drug’s concentration is higher, through the skin into the body, where its concentration is lower. Instead it pushes the drug across the skin by applying a positively charged molecule to a positively charged drug.

This works much like the magnets that children use with electric train cars, explains Sharma. They put together the identically charged poles of magnets on two adjacent cars so that they repel each other. In this way, one train car “pushes” the other.

The extra energy of LidoSite’s “magnetic” push means that it lacks the two limitations of passive patches, which only work if the drugs are very small molecules and can only deliver small doses.

Sharma compares LidoSite to the other available approach for applying a topical anesthetic — a topical cream for procedures like shots, the removal of vascular birthmarks known as port wine stains, skin biopsies, or the insertion of a catheter or an intravenous drip. LidoSite, says Sharma, works in 10 minutes as against 60 to 90 minutes for the topical cream, and its anesthetic effect is two to four times as deep.

According to Sharma, biomedical engineering programs today expose students to a wide range of specialties rather than focusing on a specific area. To design and develop a product like LidoSite, which has both device and drug elements, Vyteris needed biomedical engineers who understood many areas: the development of new materials that are biocompatible and can be manufactured at a low cost; manufacturing processes, including how to move from the prototype to producing large quantities at reasonable cost; the electronics and mechanical engineering principles underlying controller design; the elements of a clinical study; and the basics of biological systems and drug formulations.

Because bioengineers are exposed to both the fundamentals of engineering and other specialized areas, they are invaluable in a biotechnology company. “They can connect the dots,” says Sharma. When a project involves people from many different specialties, he continues, “they need to see the big picture, how the different pieces of the product being developed come together as a final entity.” Especially in a pharma environment, where much of the new development is in combination products, “biomedical engineers will have a crucial role to play.”

An undergraduate major involves about three-quarters engineering classes and one-quarter in biology, physiology, and life sciences. “Biomedical engineers are trained in classic engineering first,” says Sharma. “Then they are given exposure to solving engineering problems involving living tissues, organisms, and processes in biology.”

A master’s degree means another year or two in applying engineering to life science problems, and studying areas like molecular and tissue biology, and the doctorate involves intense research using engineering principles to solve a particular problem.

In large companies biomedical engineers may find themselves in positions ranging from marketing to engineering to monitoring clinical trials, often serving as an interface between people in different disciplines who don’t really understand one another. Biomedical engineers, says DeCaprio, are “bilingual people who can speak the language of both engineers and doctors and can translate between them.”

Small companies with more limited resource pools can’t hire too many engineers, says DeCaprio, “so they try to look for an engineer who is multifaceted.”

And many biomedical engineering Ph.D.s end up staying in the university to serve what is a growing field.

Some people criticize the cost of the medical machinery produced by biomedical engineers. “One of the problems today,” observes DeCaprio, “is that every action has a reaction. One of the benefits of these technologies is that physicians have many more tools for diagnosing and treating patients, but at a very high cost.”

Yet, he continues, even though some of the technology is very expensive, the benefits also save a lot of money. What, he asks, is the value of looking into a body without cutting? And what about an expensive machine that keeps a person out of the hospital? Reducing hospital time saves money for insurance companies, patients, and hospitals, thereby lowering the total cost of healthcare.

The pluses seem to outweigh the minuses, and biomedical engineering is still in a growth phase. Almost all engineering schools have created a department or program or are in the process of doing so. “Biomedical engineering is the engineering of the next millennium,” says DeCaprio, “surpassing information sciences and computers.”

— Michele Alperin

New Jersey Invests In Biotechnology

Sometimes New Jersey’s growing biotechnology business just seems like the logical outgrowth of the large pharmas with huge facilities in the state. But, according to Debbie Hart, president of the Biotechnology Council of New Jersey, it has taken a supportive state government to develop the financial and institutional infrastructure that has nearly tripled the number of biotechnology companies in the state in less than 10 years — from 80 in 1998 to about 225 today.

Her own organization, the Biotechnology Council of New Jersey, has fostered that growth. Hart was approached by the industry’s chief executive officers in 1993 to help form an industry association. As she tells the story, “in the early 1990s the industry was growing, and a few really smart entrepreneurs said that the state government should be part of it.”

They went to Caren Franzini, now chief executive officer at the Economic Development Authority, and told her they wanted to advocate for state programs and funding to grow the biotech industry. When she advised them to organize themselves, they founded the Biotechnology Council with Hart’s help.

Hart moderates a panel titled “NJ State Support for the Life Sciences Cluster” at the New Jersey Biomedical Engineering Conference on Friday, March 9, at 8:30 a.m. at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. The panel includes Michel M. Bitritto, assistant director of innovation management for Enterprise Development Centers I, II, and III; Michael A. Wiley, innovation zones manager for the Real Estate Division of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority; Gabriel B. Milton, JD, executive director of the New Jersey Commission on Spinal Cord Research at the Department of Health and Senior Services; and Edythe Fineman, associate director of the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology.

In some sense Hart’s whole career prepared her for the challenge of starting the Biotechnology Council. She received a bachelor’s in communications from the College of New Jersey in 1981 and a master’s in public relations from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.

You might say that she learned a bit about relating to government entities at her parents’ knees. Her father was an undercover detective for the Mercer County Sheriff’s office, and her mother was purchasing manager with the Office of Administrative Law for the State of New Jersey. And her personal connections to government didn’t stop there. Her husband is deputy director of the Budget Office of the State of New Jersey. “It makes for interesting conversation,” she says, and adds, “and some conversations that we can’t have.”

Early in her career, Hart worked in public affairs, but otherwise she has been working entirely with associations. She owns and association management company, Association Associates Inc., which has 10 clients and 31 employees. Looking back 14 years when the biotech executives first sought her out, she says, “Who knew then what an incredibly exciting, wild ride we’ve been on?”

Hart shares several initiatives of the New Jersey State government to advance the biotechnology sector:

Edison Innovation Fund. This program, administered by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, offers several different vehicles for funding biotech companies, including venture capital, loans, and grants.

Nearly three years ago, the state put $10 million into the Garden State Life Sciences Venture Fund, with the requirement that the fund match the state funds with $30 million of its own. The $40 million fund, managed by Quaker Bio Ventures, is earmarked for New Jersey biotechnology companies. “It is a way for the state to leverage its funds by delivering more value with the same funds,” says Hart.

The venture fund’s goal is to invest in companies that will provide a big pay off when they are sold, go public, or merge with another company. The state will, of course, get some of this payback, and will also benefit from its side effects: job creation, investment in the New Jersey community, the state taxes paid by the company’s employees, as well as the money they spend in New Jersey businesses.

New Jersey Technology Fellowships. The Commission on Science and Technology is giving companies grants to hire postdoctoral fellows to work in their labs. “This is free employment for the biotech companies’ highly skilled, trained people,” says Hart. The award amount is $65,000 in salary for the first year, $75,000 for the second, and an additional $10,000 each year to be spent on the fellow’s career development expenses.

Bridge loans. For companies that have received Small Business Innovation Research loans there is often a lag between phases I and II of the loan program, and the commission provides monies to support these companies during the lag time.

Support for workforce development. Governor Corzine has developed a new program called the Innovation Partnership Institute and has made $150,000 available to further enhance the workforce for the life sciences.

The major research universities, the 19 county colleges, and others working with the Biotechnology Council of New Jersey and the HealthCare Institute of New Jersey have put together a proposal to develop a life sciences and biotechnology curriculum that will stretch from the last two years of high school through graduate school and better serve business needs by fostering collaboration among industry, education, and workforce partners.

The goal, says Hart, is to create a “comprehensive, integrated program to ensure there is a logical offering for life sciences education in New Jersey.”

Commissions. New Jersey has a number of commissions that support the biotechnology sector. The New Jersey Commission on Spinal Cord Research and the Commission on Cancer Research offer grant money for cutting edge research. Meanwhile, the New Jersey-Israel Commission, says Hart, “is taking an aggressive approach to bringing in life science companies from Israel to establish operations and collaborations here.”

Business incubators. “New Jersey has a well-developed incubator system,” says Hart, and she cites the 50,000-square-foot Commercialization Center for Innovative Technologies in North Brunswick; the 100,000-square-foot Rutgers Technology Incubator on the Camden waterfront; Burlington County College’s 20,000-square-foot High Tech Small Business Incubator in Mount Laurel; and the premier incubator, the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s 160,000-square-foot Enterprise Development Center in Newark.

According to Jerry Creighton, a consultant to the Enterprise Development Center, the mission of an incubator is “to help an entrepreneur commercialize ideas and reduce startup risk by increasing the chance of success.”

The center, he says, offers a “turnkey program,” including facilities with office space and laboratories; expert advisors like attorneys, marketers, and accountants; and collaboration opportunities with the university. Founded in 1988 in a single location, it now has three buildings, with 70 tenants in residence, and it is one of largest incubators in the country.

Companies with less than four years in business, many just starting out, submit an application and a business plan. Creighton emphasizes that “we bring in companies not people.” When the incubator’s management evaluates the business plans of potential residents, they ask questions like: Does the management team understand the technology? Can they make it work? Do they have an idea that can be sold in the marketplace?

“We determine whether they have a viable concept that makes sense,” says Creighton. “If they do, we offer them a spot in the incubator.”

The companies at the incubator use different technologies, focusing on diverse products, from cancer cures to alternative energy sources. He cites a recently graduated company started by two scientists from Bell Labs who were able to secure Small Business Innovation Research loans, government grants, some angel funds, and eventually $8.3 million in venture capital funding.

The incubator has been successful, with 85 to 87 percent of its participating businesses still in business after two to three years. “That’s the inverse of most people who try to start a company in a garage,” observes Creighton.

New Jersey’s effort to promote biotechnology is an evolving one. “The governor is taking a multi-pronged approach,” says Hart, “trying to be creative in providing early-stage funding as well as venture funding and other supportive programs.”

But even beyond the supportive government program, Hart continues, “New Jersey has all the pieces required to form a biotechnology cluster.” The contributing elements include excellent research; more scientists and engineers, in gross numbers, in technology and life sciences than anywhere else in the world; Wall Street across the river; a large number of venture capital firms; and skilled labor.

The presence of big pharma is also a boon, particularly in terms of opportunities for collaboration. There has been more collaboration with big pharma than ever before, says Hart, due partly to the great research in biotechs, and partly to the challenges pharmas are facing in their pipelines. The big pharmas are either buying or acquiring or partnering with biotechs to fill in their pipeline, says Hart. “It enables them to have more shots on goal.” — Michele Alperin

Monday, March 12

Whiz Bang Marketing On the Internet

A website is a daily destination for many people, but the visit isn’t always a pleasant one. Even a well designed site, with excellent and relevant graphics and a minimum of jargon, can make the process of selecting and paying for a product feel like a particularly tricky intelligence.

And that’s not the half of it. James Toms, an Internet marketing consultant whose business is called WSI, We Simplify Internet Marketing, learned the ins and outs of website construction when he developed a site for his consultancy in England, the Change Practice, which his partner still runs. In fact, he learned so much that he decided to move to the United States to open an Internet marketing business with WSI, a franchisor.

Toms speaks on “How to Integrate Internet Marketing into Your Business Strategy,” on Monday, March 12, at 3 p.m. at Berkeley College in Woodbridge as part of the Middlesex Small Business Week, sponsored by the Middlesex County Regional Chamber of Commerce. For more information, check the catalog online at or call 732-821-1700.

Toms offers a number of suggestions to small and medium-sized businesses about how to effectively market with the Internet:

Optimize the company website for Google and Yahoo. Search engine spiders are programs that, in a millisecond, search the Internet for content relevant to the search words entered by a user. These spiders look both at ease of navigation around the site and at content.

The spiders are on the lookout for specific phrases. Take a law firm that specializes in personal injury cases. The process by which the website creator builds in the specific phrases that anyone searching for a personal injury lawyer might use is called optimization. The more effectively you integrate these specific phrases, the more likely your company is to come up earlier on searches than the competition.

The Microsoft Small Business Center offers a number of additional suggestions for site optimization:

Decide which keywords to use. Taking care to stick to the specifics, as Toms suggests, you can use several sources for ideas: first, try to think like your target audience, and if you have trouble with that, ask friends and family what phrases they would use to search for a site like yours. Also check what keywords your competition uses by viewing their HTML source code. You can easily look at the keywords listed in their “meta tags.” When you are on the desired web page, select “View” at the top of your web browser and then select “Source” or “Page Source.”

Design your title tag. Keep the tag between 50 and 80 characters long, and try to include one or two of your most important keyword phrases near the title’s beginning. Make sure the title is both enticing to a web surfer and reads like a sentence.

Include keyword phrases in your page copy. Your copy, while remaining logical and readable, should include as many of your keyword phrases as possible. The web spiders are also looking for at least 200 words of text per page.

Add pages with how-to articles, tips, and tutorials. The Internet is an information machine. Users may well log on to buy a car or a life insurance policy or a treadmill, but when they do so they expect to find lots of information about the product.

Make sure the website is attractive, with readable copy. The first page the visitor will see, whether the home page or a particular product, must have visual appeal and be easy to use. Toms recommends that all his customers “keep it simple sir (KISS).”

While writing copy, he says not to use jargon, but instead to use words as well as a layout that will appeal to the broadest spectrum of potential clients. Finally, the site must include a clear call to action that tells a visitor how to contact the business or to buy the products or services featured.

Enhance exposure with “pay per click” campaigns. Sites can increase their visibility by bidding with Google and Yahoo to guarantee that the site will come up as a sponsored link. “They are paying for keywords to increase their exposure and ranking on the main search engines,” explains Toms. A site might bid, say, $1, for a particular keyword. It is possible to find out how high a bid must go to become a first-listed sponsored link for a particular keyword or key phrase.

Because big companies have two advantages when it comes to optimization — they can pay a lot to have their sites optimized and they often have hundreds of pages, which also increases their optimization — “pay per click” becomes an important option for small sites that want some exposure. For a well-optimized site, “pay per click” can increase exposure in another way — the site can appear both in the normal links on the left and the sponsored links on the right.

Try an E-mail marketing campaign. Federal law provides guidelines for initiating an Internet marketing campaign which does not fall under the rubric of “spamming.”

For your existing client list, you can E-mail newsletters that are “information-giving rather than promotional,” says Toms. They might include either information about the business as a whole or a particular product or service or might highlight a special offer. Lawyers, for example, might provide updates of legislative rulings and case law as well as advice on what individuals should do in the event that they need legal advice.

When marketing to prospective clients, an E-mail is required by federal law to clearly highlight how recipients can unsubscribe if they are not interested. In addition, if someone sends another E-mail after a recipient has selected “unsubscribe,” then the E-mail is considered spam.

Include appropriate web analytics. Web analytics are measurements of the number of visitors to a site, which pages they visit, how long they stay on the site, and whether they engage with a business by sending an E-mail or buying a product or service online.

The Internet gives a marketer a leg up. “This is the key area where websites have an advantage over the traditional forms of marketing — television, radio, and newspapers,” says Toms. “You have a greater ability to measure and analyze how successful your campaign is through an analysis of activity on the website.”

As a child, Toms moved around a lot because his father was a colonel in the Seaforth Highlanders. He was born in Gibraltar, spent a few years in Germany, and then did a number of two-year stints around Scotland until his father retired and the family settled in Southeast England. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English and history in 1975 from St. George’s College in Surrey.

Toms’s career has been primarily in human resources, particularly with large financial services corporations. Although he started out as a sales and marketing representative with Mobil Oil in the United Kingdom, he moved on to a human resources position with the company. He spent four years as vice president of human resources with AIG’s international general insurance division, then returned to the United Kingdom to head up human resources for AMP, an Australian financial services company.

Toms left AMP to set up a consultancy in the United Kingdom, but decided to move back to the United States two years ago to join his fiance and begin working in Internet marketing. He is also using his website skills to launch a new business, called, to work with small and medium-sized restaurant and takeout facilities to support online ordering. As he says, “I’m putting my money where my mouth is.”

— Michele Alperin

Tuesday, March 13

Take Google For All It’s Worth

More than 75 percent of all web searchers find their way on Google, with Yahoo, then MSN, trailing a far second and third. Founded only nine years ago by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, this indisputable giant has seen its proper-noun name transformed into a popular verb.

Investors are awed by this global newcomer’s over $7 billion in annual sales and nearly $1.7 billion in profits. Googlers are amazed almost weekly by yet another new, user-friendly service Google rolls out. Everything from stock profiles on the Chinese market to the contents of your local library are available. To label Google a search engine is like calling Wal-Mart a dry goods store. Yet perhaps Google’s most creative innovation can be found in the company’s fertile workplace environment, which fuels the firm’s constant reinvention.

Computer instructor Joel May sees Google as akin to the human brain in that most of us tap less than 10 percent of its resources. To guide members and guests of Princeton’s Macintosh Users’ Group into Google’s undiscovered country, May presents a free talk, “Things You Don’t Know about Google,” on Tuesday, March 13, at 7 p.m. at Princeton University’s Jadwin Hall, Room A-10. Visit

One of the Princeton Macintosh Users’ Group’s own relatively undiscovered services is its 6:30 to 7:15 p.m. pre-meeting instruction classes for beginners and intermediates. Bring laptops and questions to this event.

More than a decade before computers began landing on desk tops, May was an avid student of their expanding capabilities. Son of a radio announcer, May grew up in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and attended nearby Albright College in Reading, earning a B.S. in economics in l957. He then took his MBA and Ph.D. in economics and statistics from the University of Chicago, and stayed on as an instructor. In l977 he joined the faculty of the School of Public Health at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Later he took on the presidency of the Health Research and Educational Trust in Princeton, until his retirement in l995.

May first began using computers back in l961, and playing with the primitive, inter-academic Internet in l974. “I’ll never forget a big discussion we had in our house in l979,” May recalls. “It was whether to get a VCR system or a PC. We opted for the PC.” Today, May teaches several courses at the Ewing SeniorNet Computer Literacy Center.

Named originally for the googol — a mathematical term for 1 followed by 100 zeros, Google’s quest for the infinite shows no sign of slowing. To handle its billions of daily search queries, the ever-expanding company is constructing a new computing complex the size of two-football fields along the Columbia River in Oregon.

Beyond the basic job of linking an overwhelming number of searchers to more than 1 billion websites, Google continues to debut new services. Among them are the small business applications package, Google Apps, which is being touted as a threat to Microsoft Office; AdSense, a service delivering targeted ad text and images to web publishers; and Froogle, an online shopping guide.

Lava lamps. Thirteen-thousand resumes a week flood into Google from hopefuls desperate to joined its pampered team. But the odds of being selected equal those of landing a draft pick in the NFL. For the 10,674 current lucky employees, both the challenges and the perks are, like everything else Google, enormous.

The stories of onsite masseuses, doctors, mid-day volley games, and ubiquitous lava lamps are actually true. Employees in all offices are fed an endless supply and fine variety of food. At the Googleplex — the corporate headquarters in Mountain View, California — engineers and workers clad in swim trunks and flip flops line up in the cafeteria to taste delicacies prepared by the previous chef of the Grateful Dead. They enjoy these meals in khakis or shorts as Google epitomizes its motto that success can come without a suit.

Yet while not serious about much else, Google employees are fanatical about the challenge of the job. The work week is long. Each engineer is given four days a week to work on assigned projects. The remainder is his “20 percent time” — time in which he can dream up and work up his own projects. This 20 percent time has produced Adsense, Gmail, and Google Maps. The simple philosophy of hiring the very best, and letting their unleashed creativity drive the format, has kept Google on the top with an endless stream of new products.

Service proliferation. Google insists that website linking remains number one, but May points out that Google itself now provides so much of what was once found only at other websites. To gain an initial comprehension of what’s available, click to the Google search page, and above the search slot, hit “More” and check out the menu.

By clicking on “Patents” one can find over 7,000 patent items, including a haircutting device with vacuum disposal. Click on “Books,” then type in the most esoteric topic that comes to mind. Your search will be rewarded with a long list of books, each with its own review, contents, and sample pages. You can even type in your zip code and find out which libraries currently have that volume.

“The same goes with movies,” says May. “Just type in the term ‘movies’ and your zip code and you get a list of all the films within a 15 mile radius and reviews.” Have you landed in Pittsburgh to see your in-laws and need a fine bottle of wine as a house gift? Type “wine stores NEAR Pittsburgh” and a map full of stick pins and directions pops up. The same works with a name and zip code to get a phone number.

At the bottom of the “More” menu, click on “Even more” and an array of products flashes onscreen. “Mobile” allows you to transfer Google capabilities to your mobile phone. “Images” and “Video” provide thousands of indexed, free downloads. “Google Mail” provides an expanded, instant-chat version of E-mail.

May is fond of the seldom sought tricks. For example, type “AU/C-1” and the formula’s answer pops up: 1 astronomical unit divided by the speed of light equals 8.31675359 minutes. Typing in “Thailand currency/ Argentine currency” even without knowing bhat or peso, and Google gives the conversion rate.

Google Apps. This small-business productivity package was introduced three years ago. Now, as of February 22, the company has released Google Apps Premier Edition. This suite of office packages, which costs $50 per account, per year overwhelms Microsoft offerings, according to stories in the computer press.

It includes Gmail and Webmail services, Google talk with instant messaging and voice over IP, a page creator for websites, and an array of spreadsheets and interactive calendars. AdSense is also an option.

The pace of Google-driven change just keeps picking up. May admits that to search all the Google opportunities would leave time for little else. But like a hardware store, it’s fun to browse through and nice to know all the tools are there. And who knows, you may even find the exact one meant for your business. — Bart Jackson

Is Daylight Savings The New Y2K?

Some people may become clock watchers at about 1:59 a.m. on Sunday, March 11, when the newly revamped Daylight Savings Time goes into effect. Forthcoming changes to Daylight Saving Time will have significant implications for organizations worldwide, but few business organizations are prepared to address their potential information technology impacts, according to a new report from Gartner Inc., a Stamford, Connecticut, consulting company

The organization says that the potential threat is not in the same category with Y2K, but that there is a potential for business disruption.

Gartner has found that few clients have a formal risk assessment and remediation program in place to address the potential impacts of the change, which could include disruptions at both the IT infrastructure and application levels.

The changes, which are mandated in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, mean that Daylight Saving Time will begin almost one month earlier, on the second Sunday in March (March 11 this year) instead of the first Sunday in April, and end on the first Sunday in November (November 4 this year) instead of the last Sunday of October.

While Gartner characterized “DST” as a minor problem compared to the big code changes required for past issues like Y2K and the Euro conversion — simple patches for operating systems and infrastructure components will be the answer in most cases — it also warned that if organizations do nothing, significant business damage and liabilities could occur from applications performing their processing at the incorrect time.

What could possibly go wrong? Gartner said the possibilities include interruptions to calendaring and billing applications, security programs, and travel and trading schedules. In addition, bank transaction errors could result in late payments, cell phone and other tariff billing applications could incorrectly charge peak rates during non-peak times, and deadlines could be missed for admissions and other time-sensitive enrollment programs.

According to Gartner, most of the top IT suppliers have prepared, or are preparing patches for supported products, but are downplaying the effect to avoid a repeat of Y2K-level panic.

Not every organization has a lot of time-sensitive applications that also happen to be mission critical, but there will be cases where a standard patch is not enough to safeguard applications. Gartner cited the example of time-stamped data, which already exists in many at-risk applications and is unlikely to be updated by OS-level patches. Instead, they will require an application-specific patch just to make new entries correct, while existing meeting schedules entered before the OS or Java patch is applied, and occur in-between the new DST and old DST cutover times, will still be wrong.

Where patches are not available — for products that are no longer supported — organizations will need to determine whether there are manual “workarounds.” If not, it may be time to speed migration to more current versions.

The changes could be even more profound for international business. Between March 11 and 25 there will be a four-hour time difference between London and New York, instead of the normal five-hour difference, and a seven-hour difference between Frankfurt, Paris, Madrid or Milan, and New York instead of their normal six-hour difference.

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