The new age umbrella

Staff Writer on

This article appeared in the 30th March, 2009 issue of CRN magazine.

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The new age umbrella

After Jerry Jalava's prosthetic USB finger story from a couple of weeks ago giving an entirely new meaning to thumb drive (sorry, I couldn't resist that one), can you imagine some of the requests doctors are now receiving?

I am sure there are now people requesting direct mobile phone installations into various body parts, mothers are asking for cameras in the back of their skulls so they really would have "eyes in the back of their head" and maybe some old men are asking if they could have a new hard disk (I said DISK) installed. It brings the days of Inspector Gadget or Lee Majors just that little bit closer.

Strangely enough, what Jerry's story really got me thinking about was ... umbrellas. Maybe not a logical step? Hear me out.

Do you sometimes get the feeling that parts of our industry create technology just for the sake of technology? I love technology, but what I love more is to see technology used to create products that are going to improve the lives of consumers.

Jerry's story makes me think of umbrellas because umbrellas are the single greatest area in our society where people have taken a really simple idea and added technology for absolutely no good reason - apart from the fact that they can.

Look at some of these must-have umbrellas. Firstly, you can buy an umbrella with a Wi-Fi receiver built into the handle that tells you - with a series of lights on the handle - what the weather forecast is! No sir, you don't need to look at the weather outside your umbrella, you just look at your umbrella's handle to see how many lights are on. If it has five lights, you better make sure your umbrella is open because it is raining. And here I was thinking that you decided on your umbrella usage by looking outside. Silly me.

Then there is the umbrella with a memory slot in the handle and you plug in a memory card with your favourite photo loaded. Then, using electronic paper on the inside of the canopy and the metal structure of the umbrella, your favourite picture is displayed on the inside of the umbrella. It can be windy and pouring with rain, but underneath your umbrella you have your own micro-environment with a sunny day displayed and some nice palm trees in the background.

Wait - it gets better. There are now umbrellas with the top of the canopy made from photovoltaic cells and inside the umbrella there are UV lights. So you take it out in the rain and if you need a little extra light while you are walking along you can turn on the LED lights that are on the inside of the umbrella.

These lights are powered by the photovoltaic cells and, of course, PV cells rely on light to operate. On a dark, cloudy, rainy day the electrical production from a PV cell is about 5 percent of full electrical production. So when you need the lights the most, they probably won't work. On the upside, when it is a bright sunny day, the LED lights on the inside of the umbrella will be at full brightness. Does anyone else see the problem here?

Lastly, and at the very top of my list, is the umbrella with a Bluetooth microphone and speaker built into the handle.
As if there aren't enough Bluetooth headsets already available in every shape and size that simply clip onto your ear, this particular device is only of use when it is raining. And when it is raining, the person you are trying to talk to will probably only hear the sound of rain hitting the umbrella!

Believe it or not, these are all real umbrellas you can purchase now.

My point is that maybe, just maybe, we don't really need some of these brilliant pieces of technology.
Maybe an employee in the R&D department who only has online friends and an office with blackened windows and posters of Xena on the walls (his future wife) came up with these ideas - and they were just too good to ignore. Maybe he thought these were must-haves.

Now I am not going so far as to suggest, as Charles Duell did in 1899, that we close down the patents office because everything that could be invented has been invented. But we, as resellers, need to be sure that when delivering solutions to our clients we are delivering value - not just delivering technology.

I am sure you are familiar with the type of thing I mean. We sometimes become incredibly excited by some new technology coming out. When we sit back and think about the new technology and the reason for our excitement, it really doesn't do much for the end- user who we will be asking to buy it.

I am sure you have seen conversations like, "Well sir, this PC features the ‘Yorkfield', the latest Intel Core 2 Quad processor with 45nm technology and high-k metal gates!" There is a pause while the salesperson sits back to admire how impressive the statement is and waits for the customer to stop drooling and hand over their credit card.

Instead, the customer asks, "So, does that mean I won't get as much spam?" You can see the disconnect.
If ever there was a time to focus on benefits, not features, now is that time. With clients wanting to scrutinise their purchases more and make sure they are receiving full value for their dollar, be sure that you are focusing on what is important to them, not what is impressive to you.

Tell me some of your impressive technology stories that do nothing for the end-user at mathew.dickerson@smallbusinessrules.com.

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