May 19 2008

Dashboard: May 2008

Road Warriors: Please Don't Drive and Call

Dashboard: May 2008
Photo: Pixland/Jupiter Images

Consider this the next time you’re tempted to call the office as you fight traffic: Listening to a cell phone call can impair brain function and lead to dangerously erratic performance behind the wheel.


Common remedies intended to make on-the-move calling more safe, such as voice-activated dialing and hands-free headsets, don’t get to the source of the problem. Just listening to a phone conversation reduces the amount of brain activity normally devoted to driving by 37 percent, according to a study by Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging (CCBI).

The 29 volunteers who participated in the study were placed inside a magnetic resonance imaging brain scanner equipped with a driving simulator. They were then asked to negotiate a winding road at a steady, “challenging” speed, either without distractions or while answering true-or-false questions. The simulator results showed that while the drivers were listening to the questions, they were more likely to swerve across lane lines or crash into simulated berms and guardrails.

“Comprehension of a spoken language that you understand is the highest level of cognitive processing a person can do, and you can’t stop it,” says Marcel Just, CCBI’s director and professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon.

Conversation from a passenger in the vehicle could have a similar effect, but passengers are typically aware of competing demands on the driver’s attention and suppress conversation when the situation requires the driver to concentrate.

“Everybody multitasks sometimes, but you have to choose when you do it, especially when speech is involved,” says Just. “Driving through an intersection is not a good time to multitask.”

Beware the Millennials

Workers born during or after 1980 — the so-called millennials — bring habits and attitudes to the job that expose businesses to security risks, according to a March 2008 survey sponsored by Symantec Corp. of Cupertino, Calif.

Results were gathered from 600 respondents, including 200 millennial workers, 200 workers born before 1980 and 200 employees from IT departments.

The responses of millennials indicated they were much more likely to blur lines between personal and work technology than other, older workers. A substantial portion of the under-28 workers say they regularly store corporate data on personal electronic devices, such as PCs (39 percent, compared with 24 percent of other workers), USB drives (38 percent, compared with 14 percent) and their own smart phones (16 percent, compared with 6 percent). Just 45 percent of millennial workers say they limit themselves to company-issued devices and applications while they’re on the job, compared with 69 percent of other workers who say they do.

Eighty-nine percent of the IT managers surveyed say they have seen an uptick in risk in the past five years. But the word isn’t entirely negative on millennials: While 47 percent of IT respondents say younger workers present a security-management challenge, 12 percent say millennials are more risk-savvy than older workers.

About 63 percent of IT respondents say they monitor employees’ online activity to see if they are following company policies.

Spam Wars Rage On

Victory remains elusive in the ongoing war against unwanted e-mail, according to a report released by Webroot Software in Boulder, Colo. The study estimates that businesses will get 116 spam missives for every legitimate e-mail they receive this year.

Webroot surveyed 1,500 information technology managers from seven countries: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. More than half the respondents indicated that their companies were the recipients of spyware and virus attacks from e-mail, while more than 40 percent reported phishing attacks on business e-mail addresses. Yet, less than one-third of those surveyed say their companies have e-mail security policies in place.

From Zero to Sixty

In a recent study of 555 small-business executives with 5 to 99 employees, CDW discovered that high-growth companies are most often led by tech-savvy principals who view IT as a strategic investment that’s important to a company’s success. For example, among respondents who reported 10 percent or more average annual revenue growth over the past five years, 68 percent “consider IT a strategic investment,” compared with just 36 percent of respondents who say they are “conservative and stick with technologies that are proved useful.”

CDW’s Small Business Driver’s Seat Report also found that 66 percent of respondents agree or strongly agree that IT is a key contributor to their business’s ability to succeed and grow, while the most common regret, voiced by 26 percent of respondents, is that they have failed to take full advantage of the technology they already own. The belief that IT is a strategic investment increases significantly across all segments as companies expand toward the 100-employee milestone.

When it comes to technology topics that are top of mind with executives, the study showed that data security, wireless and business intelligence were leading interests; executives also reported that the top technologies that they wanted to learn more about were business intelligence, e-commerce/interactive marketing and server optimization/virtualization.

SMBs Just Say No — to the Web

More than 46 percent of small- to medium-size businesses in the United States still don’t have a Web site, according to International Data Corp. (IDC), a market research firm based in Framingham, Mass.

“The Internet may be supplanting the phone book as a source of information about where to find all kinds of goods and services, but many small businesses are skeptical of the value of either form of outreach,” says Ray Boggs, IDC’s vice president of SMB research.

“You have to wonder if the shoe repair shop in your neighborhood is ever going to have a home page, and that’s just an obvious example. Some midsized [companies] lag behind as well,” says Boggs.

Still, about 200,000 SMBs put up a home page each year. So, how can a company tell if it absolutely needs a Web site?

“When someone walks through the door and says, ‘I looked for you online and couldn’t find you,’ it’s time to think about all those other people who can’t find you,” Boggs suggests.

If two products were comparable, but one was more environmentally friendly as well as more expensive up front but offered potential cost savings, which would you choose?

  • 49% Buy the more environmentally friendly product only if a solid ROI could be shown
  • 34% Buy the preferred product; being environmentally friendly would not affect the decision
  • 11% Buy the product that costs the least today
  • 6% Buy the more environmentally friendly product without reservation

SOURCE: CDW poll of 377 BizTech readers

Solar Bag Charges Mobile Notebooks

Voltaic Systems recently released the first solar-powered equipment bag capable of charging a notebook computer. The bag’s high-efficiency solar panel takes one full day in direct sunlight to generate the 14.7 watts required to charge a portable computer. Priced at $599, the 4.5-pound bag includes a lithium-ion battery pack to store the charge and deliver it to the notebook. According to Voltaic Systems, the solar bag’s battery can also be charged the old-fashioned way: by plugging it into a wall outlet.