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IT Best Practices: Rent vs Buy Technology for Projects?
Jun 09, 2016 by Phil Dunn

Direction choices and decisions for thoughtful businessman with left and right directional arrows

If you’ve ever had to scale up an IT project on short notice, you’re probably familiar with the following dilemma. You need 100 laptops by month’s end, so you tap a national computer distributor for a big, juicy purchase.

You’ll soon be the proud new owner of a mountain of equipment, you’ve delighted the distributor’s sales rep, and it seems like your staff is ready to sit down at the keyboards once the equipment arrives. (The project could be anything, really – like a major document review project at a law firm or a temporary training session. Think Salesforce.com or CiscoÒ certifications.)

Not so fast.  There are lots of important points to consider before deciding which way to go:

  • Question #1: Who within your organization is going to approve $50,000 or even $100,000 of spending on the spot? How is that going to go down, and how many signatures and approvals do you need to make it happen? How long will it take?
  • Question #2: Are you set up to receive 100 laptops? Where will they be stored? Who’s going to manage that?
  • Question #3: Are you ready to image this big batch of machines with the software required for the project? This is not a small task, and you’ll need a lab space and some significant resources and time to get it done. This could easily take one to two weeks.

This is the classic trap companies experience every year. On the surface, the equipment appears to be a real asset, something you’ll want to keep once the project is over. You’ve got an internal IT department, so you’re confident you can take on the extra work of imaging and configuring the equipment. And maybe, just maybe, you didn’t consider alternatives to this buy scenario.

So what is the alternative? Affordable scalability via short-term equipment rental. (Short term could be anything from one month to nine months.)

With a rental option, you can scale quickly with expert assistance and tightly manage expenses in the process. Instead of taxing your internal IT team with a massive new project, you offload the work and allow the rental outfit to become an extension of your team. If you’re like any typical organization, your IT department already has a mountain of work to do anyway.

There are some drawbacks to the rental scenario, however. You need the process to be as seamless as possible. Some rental companies – especially the discount bidders – will just deliver the equipment and hand over the reins. That puts you right back into the position of the earlier buy scenario. You’ve got a full-time job, and coordinating the rental drop-off and configuration process isn’t part of that.

What you need is a national outfit that’s experienced with scaling up short-term projects and keeping the costs within reason. Ideally, you line up one point of contact so you don’t drive yourself crazy, and your equipment is delivered once it’s completely ready for the users to sit down at the keyboards.

This is what we do at SmartSourceÒ. We understand the pressures you’re under, and we’ve seen dozens of instances where clients aren’t aware of these challenges until it’s too late. And remember, this isn’t just about laptops. The above scenario could apply to temporary servers, desktops, scanners, printers, Wi-Fi installations, or any other technology solution that needs to be in place for a short-term project.

If you have a big project coming up, call us today for a free consultation 800-888-8686. We’ll review your project objectives and provide you with a scalable solution that makes sense.

Best Practices: Apps vs The Cloud, Which is Right for Your Events?
App
Apr 19, 2016 by Michelle Bruno

When you’re setting up a temporary work environment in a meeting space or an office, software is critical. But whether you choose a native application, commonly referred to as an “App,” or a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), aka “Cloud” software, solution depends on your security demands, data storage requirements, output (reports, survey results, documents, etc.) goals, and budget constraints. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of both options can help you make better software decisions.

Hint: read the translations below if you’re not into details but want some great information.

Native apps must be installed on rental devices in advance. Users can access SaaS solutions immediately via an internet browser (when Web access is available). Theoretically, a native app delivers the equivalent “basic” features as the same software accessed through a URL. But, software-as-a-service functions differently depending on whether it is isolated from the internet (and other devices) or not.

Translation: Native apps live on your smartphone or tablet. SaaS solutions live on a remote computer accessible through an internet connection.

Degrees of Security

Generally, native apps—Microsoft Office, for example—are more secure than SaaS solutions when they’re not connected to the internet. While they can be connected to the internet, native apps function fully either way. This is an important distinction for clients who require that confidential data made available or created during the meeting or rental period “never leaves the room.” When the devices aren’t internet-enabled, the app works and the data stays secure.

Translation: Select a native app on devices without internet access to better protect your data from web hackers.

SaaS solutions are, arguably, more vulnerable to data breaches than native apps (although it’s possible for a rogue user to steal information from a device running a native app by using an external storage device). Because they cannot function without an internet connection, more substantial security measures—at the device level, network level, and cloud level – have to be considered when software is being accessed from the cloud.

Translation: Ask about security if you go with an app in the cloud.

How data comes and goes

What’s possible with data (access, number crunching, insights, action steps) differs between native apps and SaaS solutions. The data being generated from native apps can only be accessed in real time if the smartphone, tablet, or laptop on which the app resides is connected to the internet. SaaS solutions, on the other hand, are always connected to the internet, so it’s possible to have real-time access to data whenever they’re being utilized.

Translation:  Data (comments, notes, evaluations, survey results, responses, or documents) collected from a native app can’t be shared or exported automatically. You need wireless internet, or you have to manually transfer the data from the device with a thumb drive or a cable. It’s an extra step.

Data byproducts—reports, infographics, content—are possible with either native apps or cloud-based solutions. With apps, the data has to be extracted from the devices first and then manipulated, analyzed, or reformatted using other software after the fact. With the cloud, the byproducts can be produced immediately if the solution allows. For example, if the SaaS offering is a polling solution, the results can be tabulated and delivered instantly to the audience.

Translation: The cloud lets you get sophisticated real-time reports, content, and insights in real time.

Information wants to be free

Where data is stored is another issue. With a native app, the data is stored on the rented laptop or tablet until users elect to remove it or delete it. With a SaaS solution, the data is stored in the cloud where it can be accessed, repurposed, shared, and combined with other data. The amount of data you can store and what you can do with it is limited by the capabilities of the native app and the device. In the cloud, the amount of storage and potential for the information in the short- and long-term is virtually unlimited.

Translation: In general, SaaS solutions offer more automated data processing (comparisons, trends, benchmarks) and storage options than native apps.

Nothing in technology is cut and dried. Even a native app configuration can have a cloud component and the ability to transfer data back and forth. For example, the Microsoft Office native app integrates with Microsoft 365, its cloud-based sister software, and either version can store user data in the Microsoft Azure cloud. Furthermore, there’s a school of software thought that says in the long run, cloud-based software will replace native apps anyway.

Translation:  You can also have a hybrid software solution. It’s not always an either/or decision.

It takes a village

With native apps, all you need is the device loaded with the app and you’re good to go. The device rental company will provide technical support for both. With a SaaS offering, you’ll have to arrange internet access (provided by the venue or a purpose-built local area network in the room). The rental firm will provide assistance with the devices and, possibly, the local area network, but help and troubleshooting for the SaaS solution may have to come from the software provider.

Translation: When you choose a cloud-based app, you have to also arrange internet access and (sometimes) additional technical support. It could cost you more money.

Native apps and SaaS solutions operate differently. Whether you choose one or the other (or something in between), you’ll want a solutions provider, integrator, or consultant to explain the options, help you through the transition from app to cloud, and provide support on some or all of the moving parts of the software machine.

Translation: Native apps work with or without internet access, data is secure, and users have to pay attention (no web surfing or Facebook check-ins allowed). With software in the cloud, access to data is instant, storage and computing power are vast, and data can be shared and crunched in real time. Get help if you need it.

Apps vs Cloud Software

Feature Native App SaaS Solution
Pre-installation required X
Accessible via browser X
High level of security* X
Requires more security X
Data export manual* X
Data export automatic X
Data storage limited* X
Data storage virtually unlimited X
Reporting limited* X
Reporting unlimited X
Hybrid possible X X
internet access required X
Real-time data access possible X** X
Additional technical support required X

*When not connected to the Internet

** When connected to the Internet

5 Things to Know About WiFi for Outdoor Events
Wifi1
Apr 18, 2016 by Cynthia Corona

In the last year, WiFi has gone from being a “nice to have” to a necessity. But you have probably already figured that out, along with the fact that getting WiFi for an outdoor event is way different than getting it for an indoor event. Here are 5 things you need to know about WiFi for outdoor events that may help bring bigger success to your next event:

  1. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to WiFi. How the WiFi is being used dictates which technology option is best and most affordable.
  2. Most outdoor event production companies use WiFi only for production purposes, leaving attendees to rely on their personal data plans for virtual communications.
  3. Everything from payroll to medical services (VoIP communications), RFID ticketing to vendor transactions require stable and secure WiFi at an outdoor event.
  4. It is possible to offset the cost of WiFi by creating sponsorship opportunities using Captive Portal and Voucher marketing tools at events with a high number of attendees.
  5. There are three primary vehicles for distributing WiFi bandwidth at outdoor events: Cellular, Satellite, and Microwave. Which technology works best depends on how you’ll use it and the landscape and remoteness of your event.

If you are interested in learning about real-life applications of WiFi technology at outdoor events, we invite you to listen to our podcast, “WiFi Options for Outdoor Events.”

PodCast


To learn how SmartSource Rentals and our team of WiFi Architects and Engineers can bring stable and secure WiFi to your next outdoor event, please contact Milko Figueroa at (877) 266-7725 or email mfigueroa@smartsourcerentals.com for a FREE WiFi CONSULTATION.

Industry News: Museums Turn To Technology for Immersive Experience, Raise Engagement
RadicalMedia-March
Mar 23, 2016 by Cynthia Corona

Earlier this month at the SXSW Interactive Media Festival, experiential marketing pros gathered to discuss the changing landscape for museums. AV Network, a leading industry publication, covered the seminar titled “Tomorrow’s Museum: Designing Engaging Experiences,” where case studies were shared and hypotheses about the future were discussed. Read about it here.

We have experience in this space, having worked with Radical Media on a breakout museum installation called the Museum of Feelings, which happened last year in New York’s Battery Park. Over 60,000 people attended the pop-up museum that ran for three weeks. If you have a similar project and are interested in learning how we can help, please contact our expert on museum technology, Andrew Bassin, of our Manhattan office at 718-361-4542, Ext 3608.

RadicalMediaDisplays

How the FCC Rulings Can Help Planners Get A Better Deal on WiFi
Mar , 2016 by Milko Figueroa

Late last year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a ruling on a controversial practice of some hotels and in-house convention center Internet service providers. Jamming the signal of a mobile hot spot or personal wireless device is apparently a no no in the eyes of the government. While the ruling is considered a win for exhibitors and hotel guests, it also paves the way for event planners to have more choices and negotiating power when it comes to venue-wide wireless access.

The FCC was pretty clear in its decision stating, ”No hotel, convention center, or other commercial establishment or the network operator providing services at such establishments may intentionally block or disrupt personal Wi-Fi hot spots on such premises, including as part of an effort to force consumers to purchase access to the property owner’s Wi‑Fi network.  Such action is illegal, and violations could lead to the assessment of substantial monetary penalties.”

So, now that a clear precedent has been established for third-party providers of Internet access—the MiFi users and the companies that sell or rent hot spot equipment—there is little (legally) standing in the way for planners to entertain proposals for venue-wide wireless Internet access from outsourced and independent providers of temporary event WiFi. In fact, there are some very good reasons why they could benefit substantially from doing so.

FREEDOM OF CHOICE

The first, and most obvious, benefit of being able to work with a third-party wireless WiFi engineering firm is the ability to source competitive bids for the service. For so long, planners had only two choices for wireless Internet access:  to use the in-house provider or forego offering wireless Internet access to exhibitors and attendees. That has changed. Planners may now openly (as far as the government is concerned) choose from among several companies, which enhances their bargaining power with the prospective providers and the venue.

That’s good news for planners because outsourced WiFi engineering companies can often deliver capabilities that many in-house providers can’t:

Pricing consistency. There is no consistent WiFi pricing model for hotels and convention centers. Some charge event planners based on data consumption. Others charge based on the number of devices or number of users at the event. One outsourced provider used consistently across multiple events and venues (more on that below) can bring organizers a level of pricing consistency that is predictable and manageable.

Service customization. Every event is different. Many require various levels of customized access—for example, separate subnets for production teams, attendees, and event management. Others need more sophisticated local area networks to support activities such as webcasting or live streaming. Experienced third-party providers can configure network access to accommodate very specific requirements.

Location flexibility. For the most part, venues have fixed infrastructures of hardwired routers and access points.  Premium WiFi architecture teams, on the other hand, bring their own arsenal of WiFi equipment to a project in order to enhance or expand on existing WiFi infrastructure or to distribute a fresh source of Internet bandwidth, like Microwave, as a job requires.

Backup.  Many hotels have only one source of Internet service from outside the building. If that source becomes suddenly unavailable or congested, the event can suffer. Third-party WiFi architect teams typically have multiple sources for Internet bandwidth at their disposal, so that if one external network goes down, they can switch to a backup provider seamlessly and instantly, without interruption of service.

Advanced technology.  Wireless technology moves fast. Convention centers—even those that partner with large companies to provide fixed infrastructure in exchange for a profit share of revenue—find it difficult to keep pace with advances in wireless technology. Third-party WiFi architects, however, upgrade equipment often and stay at the forefront of WiFi best practices to stay competitive in the marketplace. For meeting planners,  this can bring peace of mind, when stable and secure WiFi is mission critical to an event.

GOING ONE BETTER

There is another aspect to this growing freedom of choice. Event organizers with a regular portfolio of events, even if the events move to different cities, can rely on a single third-party wireless architect to support all of their events year round. That capability comes with its own set of perks:

Institutional knowledge. Having to reinvent the wheel every time an event locates in a new venue is burdensome for the planner. Working with one company who knows the requirements, participant profile, and Internet usage habits of a group’s exhibitors and attendees reduces the workload and can lead to better service for the event participants.

Analytics. Most venues can provide usage analytics to event planner customers. Many outsourced companies though can take analytics a step further and benchmark usage metrics against other clients or even against the group’s other events. They can also customize reports based on a client’s preferences.

Advocacy. In-house providers, while accountable indirectly to exhibitors, attendees, and event organizers, work primarily on behalf of the venue. Third-party wireless engineering companies are retained directly by the event organizer and are accountable directly to him or her. When organizers work consistently with one partner company, it deepens the relationship, as does the service provider’s ability to anticipate the needs of the planner.

Economies of scale. Another benefit of working with a single partner is package pricing. Even though every event is configured differently, multiple events often qualify for pricing and/or service concessions so that overall costs are reduced.

What started out as the necessary need for exhibitors and hotel guests to take Internet access into their own hands has paved the way for free market competition and elevated service capabilities. The FCC filing confirmed what many third-party WiFi engineering companies already knew. Convention centers and hotels may not override an individual’s or an organization’s ability to choose its own mode of Internet access. In a seller’s market, it’s nice to finally see planners getting a break.

To learn more about how WiFi can be used to optimize your next indoor or outdoor event, please click on the link to our podcast featuring myself and April Moore, a former planner and leading special event account manager here at SmartSource Rentals.

PodCast


About the Author

Milko

With more than 20 years of event technology experience under his belt, Milko Figueroa is more than a tech geek. He’s a tech geek with personality. He also has a deep understanding of customer needs and a library worth of real-life knowledge of how to execute technology in complex and sometimes unorthodox situations. Milko is the expert on WiFi technology at SmartSource Rentals and leads a team of seasoned WiFi engineers who have produced events at indoor and outdoor venues across the country for Fortune 100 companies.  He can be reached at mfigueroa@smartsourcerentals.com

The Sharing Economy: Leveraging Short-Term Technology Solutions to Drive Business
March-SharingEconomy
Mar , 2016 by B. Maitland

There has been a time-tested recipe for business growth.  By making cash-intensive investments, businesses have sought a defensible market position by leveraging anything proprietary they can develop or buy.

It has worked this way:

  1. Identify a market need
  2. Innovate or acquire
  3. Invest in the technology and capacity to produce the product
  4. Serve the market profitably, as only you or few others can

It was an approach that worked for a few decades, until the recession that began in 2007.  That period spurred an innovation in the way we do business, in our personal and professional lives, that is now commonly known as the sharing economy, or collaborative consumption.

It has changed the way we use transportation (see Uber). It has changed the way we live and vacation (see AirBNB). And now it has changed our approach to conducting business.

The sharing economy was first introduced to the business world through what is now known as cloud computing. Cloud computing is a new software model where software is available as a service (SAAS). It has been instrumental in allowing businesses to innovative rapidly with significantly lower upfront costs, compared to proprietary software solutions.

While computer software drove the first wave of this paradigm shift to collaborative consumption in business, a trend toward the same for computer hardware and office equipment is rapidly emerging.

It makes sense. Computer technologies are the perfect assets to rent versus buy. They depreciate quickly, there is a high upfront cost, and they require specialized labor to perform and maintain.

Renting hardware also enables entirely new business model opportunities – in the same way renting software does.

Just as the sharing economy reset the way people work and play, collaborative consumption enables organizations to innovate. Workforces that under traditional business models have been stuck in fixed office space are rapidly being replaced by remote deployment models of staffing, especially in the instances of product training or short-term project work.

Additionally, more and more we are seeing businesses deploy staff to remote locations for execution of services or assessment of market opportunities.

In instances like these, having consistency of equipment performance and equipment configuration, not to mention security, is essential. A professional temporary technology solutions company can fulfill this need by making access to the latest technology and software easy, consistent, and affordable.

Renting depreciating assets is simply too effective a strategy to ignore, and the applications are diverse.

Post-recession history is proof that once a market becomes sharable, it is unlikely to revert to the old paradigm. We can only anticipate the same will be true when it comes to computer and office technology as more companies move to leverage the advantages of the sharing economy by renting, and not buying, computer hardware and services, leaving only one question:

With scalable computer and office technology, accessible on demand anywhere, anyplace, without the typical up-front investment, what exciting new business opportunities will your company explore?

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