Many Americans Abandon News Outlets, Citing Less Information

Several years ago, newspapers looked at surviving the recession by going from “excellent” to “good enough.”

Given the findings by the Pew Research Center this week, customers are noticing the drop in quality. And it goes beyond newspapers to all news organizations.

Content is an asset in the news business. It should be treated as such. Editorial cuts are deep, and the customer are noticing. 

Note to the news organizations: Editorial excellence is an investment, not a cost. Content draws readers and viewers. Readers and viewers draw advertisers. Enough said.

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A123 acquisition puts a charge into Navitas Systems’ future

NOTE: This first appeared in the Feb. 18 edition of the Daily Herald Business Ledger

A recent acquisition has powered up Woodridge-based Navitas Systems’ business in a big way.
The company, formerly known as MicroSun Innovative Energy Storage Solutions, completed its $2.2 million acquisition of lithium-ion battery developer A123 Systems based in Waltham, Mass. A123, a supplier of lithium ion battery technology to commercial and consumer markets, went into bankruptcy last October and a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge awarded the company’s defense and government businesses to Navitas Systems.
Navitas’ part of the deal includes all of A123’s government contracts, as well as a research and development facility in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Navitas Systems develops and markets large format battery and energy management systems for commercial, industrial and government agencies.
While the government contracts are a nice addition to the business, the research facility and its staff are the real diamonds in the buy, according to Samer ElShafei, Navitas co-founder and business development manager.
The equipment at the Ann Arbor facility and its workforce of about 20 Ph.D-level chemistry engineers will greatly broaden Navitas’ research in battery cell development, ElShafei said.
In addition to the Ann Arbor staff, Navitas also hired 11 engineers from a former A123 automotive and military facility in Livonia, Mich., which ElShafei said will also help the company focus on development for its commercial and industrial customers.
“Our focus will be on advanced research and development, cell technology for military and government, in addition to increasing engineering capabilities for our industrial and commercial applications,” he said.
The new division will be named Navitas Advanced Solutions Group and will be headed up by General Manager Les Alexander, a former A123 employee in Ann Arbor.
Alexander has experience in the lithium battery industry and had been an integral part of the Ann Arbor team since he was with T/J Technologies, a lithium battery technology firm which A123 Systems acquired in 2006, the company said in a release.
Navitas plans on investing up to $10 million into the division this year, ElShafei said, and will be hiring an additional 40 employees, which will almost double the company’s current 75-person staff.
A key focus for the company will be the development of safer lithium ion battery technology, ElShafei said.
He pointed to the recent issues Chicago-based Boeing Co. has had with batteries in its new 787 Dreamliner jets as an example for the need for safe, stable batteries that can be used in a commercial and industrial environment.
In Boeing’s case, its new state-of-the-art aircraft was grounded by the FAA after several incidents prompted emergency landings. Investigations are currently focused on batteries used in the jet as a cause of the incidents. “We have the capability to research and — in a year or two — develop battery technology that is nonflammable … that’s what we would consider state of the art,” he said.
The company, which was founded in 2010 as MicroSun by ElShafei and his parents, Alan and Nancie, sold off its Technology, Electronics and Asia divisions last year, retaining the Innovative Energy Storage Solutions division, which was renamed Navitas Systems.
Nancie ElShafei is the company’s CEO and owner, while Alan is chairman.
Nancie ElShafei was honored by the Daily Herald Business Ledger in its CFO of the Year program last year.
Navitas was not the only company with suburban ties benefiting from A123 Systems’ bankruptcy.
Chinese auto parts manufacturer Wanxiang Group, whose U.S. operations are based in Elgin, was awarded A123 Systems’ nongovernment assets.
Wanxiang America President Pin Ni recently told Bloomberg News that the company is interesting in helping struggling hybrid car company Fisker. A123 was a key supplier of batteries for Fisker’s $103,000 Karma rechargeable-electric car.
“They’re a customer so it will be in our best interest to support them, as a vendor or possibly in a strategic alliance,” Ni said.
He declined to say if Wanxiang America would be interested in investing in the California-based auto company.

#Nuking the competition
The DotNetNuke operating platform is getting some respect. The content management system was awarded the Critics’ Choice award in the small to medium-sized business category from CMSCritic.com. It also received the People’s Choice award in November, making it the CMS for small and medium business in 2012.
“The Critic’s Choice Awards are our selections for what we feel are the best of breed in their respective areas,” said Mike Johnston of CMS Critic in announcing the award. He said DNN was recognized for its “ease of use, support, community activity (of which there is quite a bit), available opportunity for expansion of the CMS and innovation.”
That was no surprise to Don Gingold, managing director of Naperville-based Sprocket websites, whose company focuses almost entirely on the DotNetNuke platform.
“We chose DNN as our web-building framework because of those very traits. It lets us provide small-to-medium businesses with complex websites that might otherwise be out of their reach,” Gingold said.
Sprocket is one of the organizers of the Chicago Area DotNetNuke User Group, which welcomes DotNetNuke users of all levels to its monthly meetings to share technical expertise or learn more about how DNN can work for their businesses.

 

NanoInk folds, and the future in nanotechology education is in doubt

NanoInk, an enterprising Skokie-based company in the growing nanotechnology field, shut down this past week after losing a major chunk of its funding.

While much could be speculated why the company folded, the impact will be felt on the number of high schools and universities that invested in its NanoProfessor curriculum program to train students in the fast-growing field.

The U.S. needs this type of corporate-education cooperation to keep it in step with the world. We hope some other company can pick up where the Skokie-based company stopped.

IEEE Spectrum offers a bit more on NanoInk’s demise.

Why Did NanoInk Go Bust?.

Connecting goes Mondo with new large screen device

mondopad

Note: This post first appeared in the Feb. 4  edition of the Daily Herald Business Ledger

Erik Person wants you to change how your company connects.
As president of TeamLogicIT in Schaumburg, Person and his team have been helping suburban small and medium sized businesses with their IT needs for almost a year. But his company’s latest offering, he said, will definitely change the way small businesses will connect and collaborate with its clients and staff. TeamLogicIT is one of a few local companies that’s authorized to sell the Mondopad, a large touch screen videoconferencing solution built by Portland, Ore.-based InFocus.
Person describes the Mondopad as a low-cost business solution that combines conferencing, collaboration and sharing tools into one device. Resembling a large-screen television, the Mondopad features a full 55-inch or 70-inch touch-enabled screen with an HD camera mounted at the top and a 50-watt sound bar beneath. It’s heart is an Intel PC processor and, combined with software built on the Windows 7 operating system, the Mondopad can handle videoconferencing, presentations, and meetings using video/audio, whiteboard, PowerPoint, and any data sharing programs used in business.
“It’s filling a space that’s pretty much empty right now,” Person said.
He stresses the device is an all-in-one solution, allowing businesses to conference, collaborate and share anything that can be done in a Windows-based environment.
“You can switch to a whiteboard, use the web browser, highlight and annotate Web pages or pictures on the fly,” he said. “The people viewing can see your screen the whole time, so they can see what’s going on.” What’s discussed and annotated on screen can also be saved to a PDF file and distributed to the participants, he added.
And since it’s Windows-based, it can run the same business software currently running on your PC, like Word, Excel or PowerPoint.
InFocus is no stranger to the business world, as the company is best known for building LCD projectors and other audio/visual accessories. The company’s target for the Mondopad are small and medium sized businesses that need a comprehensive conferencing solution at a reasonable cost, according to Abigail Rath, InFocus business development manager.
Rath noted what makes Mondopad unique is, even though the device is loaded with its own conferencing software, it is still compatible with existing conferencing systems, such as Cisco or PolyCom, and can also use web-based conferencing software such as GoToMeeting or Skype.
“When you think about it, it’s just a beautiful PC with a touch enabled device,” Rath said from Portland during a recent conference call on a Mondopad at TeamLogicIT’s office. “So anything that your customers are using that are proprietary, they can load it as a third party app on the Mondopad.
Person notes that’s particularly attractive to businesses that already own an expensive system but don’t want to throw everything out to move to Mondopad. And because of that flexibility, you don’t need to be on a Mondopad to confer with one another. Person and Rath note people in the field can connect with Mondopad through notebooks and tablets.
Person sees the ideal Mondopad user as a small or medium sized business that either has multiple locations or a number of its employees in the field. One of their clients is a construction company with offices in Chicago and Texas.
The cost of the Mondopad starts at $5,949 for the 55-inch device and $10,499 for the 70-inch model, which includes hardware and software, Person said the price is about three to four times less than purchasing the device’s functionality separately. TeamLogicIT also provides installation and support services, he added.
For more information on the Mondopad or TeamLogicIT services, contact Person at (847) 925-8400 or eperson@TeamLogicIT.com.

Tablet users say they multi-task better, are more productive

NOTE: This originally appeared in the Jan. 17 edition of the Daily Herald Business Ledger

It goes without saying that more people are using tablets at work. You probably didn’t need a professional study to tell you that.
But a recent survey conducted by Vernon Hills-based CDW highlights just how tablets are changing they way people work. CDW surveyed 610 professionals who use tablets in medium and large businesses, health care, higher education and state and local governments to gauge how they use them in the workplace. The survey found that tablet users at work:
• Spend 2.1 hours daily on their tablet for work purposes
• Gain 1.1 hours in daily productivity by using their tablet
• Spend 26 percent of their total computing time on their tablet
• Especially like email, calendar, and note taking on their tablets
• Say tablets make them better multi-taskers
The vast majority said tablets make work more enjoyable and helps them better collaborate with co-workers. Only 6 percent felt they were “pressed for time,” according to the survey.
Joe Woods, CDW’s director of mobility solutions, said the respondents believed tablets made them more efficient in their jobs. In addition to tablets’ portability, Woods said instant access to information and co-workers were also key benefits listed by the respondents.
“Eighty four percent said they thought tablets made them better multi-taskers,” Woods said. “A lot of that goes around collaboration and getting information on the go.
“If you can’t reach someone or can’t get information right away, that gets in the way of getting things done,” he added. “If you can use multiple devices and multiple vehicles in your tablet to accomplish these things, you can get a lot of work done.”
Respondents saying they gained more than an hour in daily productivity was a significant find, Woods added.
“It certainly talks to the value of the tablet as a workplace tool to get that kind of productivity,” he said.
The integration of tablets in the workplace is even more significant given the short time that tablets have been available (remember, Apple introduced the iPad to the world in 2010). The survey found 56 percent of users have had their tablets for a year or less, while 32 percent have owned them for two years and nine percent used a tablet for three years.
“The rate of adoption of how people have used tablets has really exploded,” he said. “It really demonstrates how deeply ingrained tablets are becoming at work.”
And it’s the employees — not business owners — that’s been leading that integration. Fifty nine percent of the respondents said they use their personal tablet, while 34 percent use company-owned devices. Seven percent used both personal and company-supplied devices.
What do they use it for? The “can’t live without” features, according the survey, are email and web browsing. Tops on the “it helps” features are office/productivity programs, such as word processing and spreadsheets, and file storage. Features that weren’t popular, surprisingly, were photo and video editing.
Even more surprising, social media applications ranked low — at number 6 — in the “can’t live without” list.
Multi-tasking is big among tablet users, as only two percent of those surveyed said it is the only device they use at work. The majority still use desktop and laptop computers in addition to tablets (68 percent and 62 percent respectively). Fifty-three percent said they use their smartphone in conjunction with tablets, while 22 percent they use their cellphone.
“What we’re seeing is that workers are not replacing their laptops or PCs, but are using multiple devices,” Woods said. He added that 74 percent said they use three devices, and 29 percent use four.
“I think about my own day. When I’m in my office, I’ll sit here and use my laptop,” Woods said. “When I go out to lunch, I’ll probably only bring my phone and my tablet. They’re just easier to interact with, so it depends on where you are and what you’re doing.”
One thing the survey did not reveal, he said, was any diversity in how tablets are being used between the different industries.
“By and large, people use their devices in the same way and in the same rate of penetration” in each industry surveyed, Woods added.

 

Is small business ready for Windows 8?

Note: This first appeared in the Dec. 24 issue of the Daily Herald Business Ledger.

It’s new. It’s flashy. And it’s the next big thing, according to its maker.

But is Windows 8 the must-have operating system for your business?
Since it’s release in late October, Microsoft’s latest version of its flagship operating software has flooded the consumer market and received warm reviews from critics. The Seattle-based giant is hoping its newest incarnation will keep it competitive in the computing marketplace as the growth in smartphones and tablets has led rivals Apple and Google to whittle away at its dominance in the OS market.
The new Windows’ most striking difference is its radically redesigned user interface, which gives it the flexibility of running between PCs, laptops and mobile devices. The new interface is designed to be used on new touch screen computers, smartphones and tablets, as well as traditional PCs and laptops.
But if you’re an average business, you’re most likely running your system on a Windows predecessor, such as Windows 7, Vista, or even XP.
So is it worth the time and cost to upgrade your system now?
John Samborski, CEO of Ace Computers in Arlington Heights, doesn’t think Windows 8 will take the business world by storm the way its predecessors did. While Samborski believes Microsoft’s latest version is a good operating system, he says the radical changes in the way a person uses the software will keep many businesses from switching to it.
“The business crowd has not really moved to it. They’ve been pretty static. They need a good reason to move over,” Samborski said.
Ace Computers, which builds high-end desktop and server systems for businesses, has seen less than 10 percent of its clients ask for the Windows 8 platform, with the majority preferring to stay with Windows 7, according to Samborski. The reason, he notes, is the change in the user interface, and while other Windows 8 features make the software very efficient, the fact that it’s radically different from Microsoft’s previous incarnations will make business owners more hesitant to embrace it.
“Even though you can run it without touch, it really is emphasizing touch,” he said. “Very few of our customers request touch screens, even those who are buying Windows 8.
“Most people still want to use a keyboard and mouse, and most people would still rather type on a real keyboard than a screen,” he added.
Microsoft’s commitment to Windows 8 looks to develop a new user trend, Samborski said, in the same way when it introduced Windows 95 almost two decades ago. He notes it will be interesting to see in a year if Microsoft’s strategy pays off and the public embraces Windows 8 as the platform of choice for their computing needs.
“It’ll be interesting to see if Microsoft can change user expectations from what they want in their hardware,” he said.
But for now, he sees a limited future for Windows 8 in the workplace.
“Windows 8 will succeed in niche places, especially those focused on touch or maybe more for presentation type machines, where it lends itself more to touch,” Samborski said. “But I don’t see it being the operating system everyone is going to have on their desktop.”
Kevin Doyle, president of small business technology company 3Points based in Oak Brook, also thinks Windows 8 won’t be invading the workplace in the near future, mainly because third party applications that most businesses use are not compatible to the new system yet.
“The touch screen stuff is all fine and dandy, but the biggest thing that is going to have to bake in is that Windows 8 is going to need to be compatible with the software applications that run a business,” Doyle said. “The majority of third party applications are not compatible with Windows 8.”
Doyle noted that his clients who buy hardware that is shipped with Windows 8 must have it downgraded to Windows 7 in order to operate with their existing applications. However, he added that’s not such a bad thing as those third party developers work to upgrade their applications to work with Windows 8.
“This is great for a small business because when their third party applications are ready, they already have the (Windows 8) license,” he said.
But while Windows 8 may not be right for the workplace, Doyle notes businesses that are moving their employees toward mobile devices may find it a viable tool. He believes Microsoft main focus for Windows 8 is to bring the company into the mobile technology market, especially with making it the OS for its new tablet, Surface.
And Doyle notes Surface has the potential to be a major player in the business tablet market, rivaling the dominant Apple iPad.
“It’ll definitely be an alternative,” he said.
The big advantage Surface has over the iPad is its ability to save and share documents back to a network, Doyle said. In addition, the tablet is able to run Microsoft’s biggest business tools, such as the Office suite of Word, Excel, OneNote, Outlook and PowerPoint, which allows it to connect with the PC world, according to a recent 3Points blog posting.
“I think it’ll be the user preference at the end of the day, but I do think the Microsoft Surface will make a definite impact in the marketplace, especially as it relates to business,” Doyle said.

Elgin Technology Center on course with ‘115 by 2015’ goal

NOTE: This was first published in the Dec. 7 edition of the Daily Herald Business Ledger

While the suburban business climate remained fraught with uncertainty this past year, the Elgin Technology Center has continued to edge toward its goal of turning the city on the Fox River into a tech hub.
Since its formation in March 2011, the nonprofit venture has slowly inched toward its goal of creating 115 small tech companies in the city by 2015, according to ETC founder and mentor Lasse Ingebretsen. Based on the second floor of the historic Elgin Tower Building, the center is focused on bringing the area’s technology talent and companies together to develop an interactive relationship.
Since its launch, ETC has grown from about 80 to more than 250 members, Ingebretsen said. More than 25 small technology companies are also a part of the group.
“We are accomplishing our main objective, to attract more start up tech companies to downtown Elgin,” he said.
“We have seen more than 300 people drop by ETC in 2012,” he added. “By putting on more events in 2013 for programmers, developers, tech entrepreneurs and nonmembers,
 we should see a more vibrant tech community and more visitors next year.”
One of the key goals is to develop an IT “ecosystem” in the city, whereby members can use the ETC to find work and local businesses can
find the tech talent needed for short or long-term projects. Ingebretsen said that ecosystem is beginning to thrive.
“People are finding new jobs, projects, and business partners,” he said. “This summer, five of our tech members who started at ETC in the Elgin Tower Building began doing business together. They outgrew our facility and moved to a 7,000-plus square-foot facility in Elgin.
“That means we now have a few spaces available for new tech companies that want to move to downtown Elgin,” he added.
The remodeled second floor of the Tower Building holds 11 offices that can be rented by small tech companies. Rents are subsidized by the nonprofit Stickling Foundation and go for $150-175 a month. All ETC members have full, free access to a tech library, conference room, cafe and training facility. They can also attend sponsored events, as well as have opportunities to meet and network with other members.
“Ninety percent of the small tech companies that have passed through here so far reported a substantial increase in their revenues as a result of ETC’s networking as a support system,” Ingebretsen said. “Our tech members are doing more work for larger companies.
“I do remain very optimistic about attracting larger companies to Elgin within the next 3 to 5 years,” he added.
While support for the center from the city of Elgin and other local groups like the Downtown Neighborhood Association continues to be strong, funding the organization remains a challenge, he mentioned. While the Stickling Foundation and local companies like Pittsburgh Paint have provided help — and organizations like the Motorola Mobility Foundation have helped in the past — the center continues to look for partners that can help further its growth and development.  
The ETC membership recently elected a new board of directors and named Michael Copeland as executive director. One of Copeland’s roles will be finding new funding partners for the center, Ingebretsen said, and the new board members have extensive experience in nonprofit organizations.
“They are quite capable of taking ETC to the next level,” Ingebretsen said.
Copeland said he and the new board are hitting the ground running with new ideas and improvements. Additional user groups and events are in the offing, he said, and a new logo and improved website are in the works.
“With so many members, we want to institute a way to search their specific skills,” Copeland said. “For example, ETC may be contacted about a project needing a PHP developer, or an IOS developer. With a searchable database of members, we’ll be able to inform those members of these income-earning projects.”
He said one of the biggest take-aways of the recent board election meeting was the number of
ideas from members, which the board will prioritize and follow through with.
“Ideas are great but action is better,” Copeland said. “We’re helping to facilitate that action and collaboration to make the Elgin Technology Center an even better place.”
With Copeland taking on the reins of the organization, Ingebretsen will be stepping back a bit to focus on other areas where he can bring
value to the center, such as teaching classes and helping new technology startups.
“I’m a builder and innovator, and I’m used to handing off a project or an organization once it is up and running,” he said. “I’m quite comfortable passing control to the new team. Bringing ETC to the next level requires new skill sets, and the new board has extensive knowledge from larger nonprofit organizations that help secure ETC’s longevity.
“With everybody walking in the same direction, toward the same goal of ‘115 by 2015,’ we have gained momentum and created a good movement,” he said.