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Guest View: The information superhighway and the future of Lake Tahoe

Jeff Irvin

In Bill Gates’ “Business @ the Speed of Light: Using a Digital Nervous System” (1999), we are treated to a tour de force of anecdotes about companies using information technology to maintain or increase their competitive business edge.

One of the most immediate benefits of technology is the virtual realization of “zero inventory management” using EDI, or Electronic Data Interchange. This is when a company and its suppliers are able to communicate in real time to maintain a flow of inventory from one company to the next, avoiding the cost and need of maintaining large inventories to meet production.

It would be a mistake to think this only works for manufacturing or large companies. For example, Harrods of London is able to track the sale of popular sandwiches it sells at its counters, allowing them to order fresh sandwiches the same day from their local supplier. Service shops like Jiffy Lube are able to monitor their daily sales in real time, allowing them to respond immediately to increasing demand or a drop in sales.

At the end of the 1990s, the “information revolution” appeared to be poised to revolutionize business and our everyday lives. We were told that the “new economy” would change all the rules of business. It might even lead to what Bill Gates in an earlier book, “The Road Ahead” (1996), termed “frictionless capitalism.” However, after the Y2K apocalypse failed to materialize, and many realized they were ill-equipped to take advantage of the information revolution, technology’s luster began to fade. This was unfortunate, because it meant that many would forego the potential for growth and for maintaining a competitive edge in business.

Technology’s ability to transform a business or organization has been proven to me time and time again over the past two decades. I have witnessed the small businessman double productivity with the purchase of a single software package. I have seen colleges and universities implement online teaching tools like Blackboard, bringing educational opportunities to those previously unreachable. Technologies can have a transformative effect, but it requires that those in positions of leadership – in both business and government – make the right long-term decisions.

One of the major issues facing Tahoe relates to my own recent experience of trying to get an adequate high-speed Internet connection for my business. Even though my office is in a prime residential and commercial area, I am unable to get adequate DSL service. My neighbor has a DSL line but is barely achieving half the speed of a standard DSL connection – completely inadequate for his five office computers. I am presently waiting to find out if I can get a cable modem, but it has been five weeks since I began looking into this prospect, and I still do not have an answer.

Without the digital infrastructure to support a more diverse economy, the Tahoe community cannot hope to compete in the 21st century. We will be persistently drained of our best and brightest students as they go on to university and never return.

Fortunately, there are many business and government leaders concerned with the issue of economic diversification and its relationship to our digital infrastructure.

I recently attended the inaugural meeting of “IT @ LT,” sponsored by the Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce. At that meeting, a dozen IT professionals discussed the need for creating an environment attractive to those in the high-technology industry, and one that would help existing Tahoe businesses transform themselves into 21st-century operations.

We will be meeting again from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Thursday at the chamber’s offices in Stateline. We would like to invite anyone involved directly or indirectly in the technology field to attend. If you cannot attend, please send me an e-mail, and we will try to discuss your concerns with those who attend.

– Jeff Irvin is a Microsoft-certified systems engineer and a certified Lotus professional. He can be reached at jeff.irvin@igtahoe.com.


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