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Recession Regardless, It's an Exciting World in High-tech

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Alex Carrick

Positions:
Alex Carrick is Chief Economist for CanaData, Reed Construction Data’s Canadian economic forecasting and statistical service.

Economists

No question, this is a tough patch for the economy. But not all sectors are performing poorly or have the same prospects. For example, the high-tech sector is exploding with creativity. Not that it hasn’t gone through this before. But this is not a potential dot.com bust kind of scenario. The changes that are coming flow out of technology that is well established and many of the biggest and most well-known companies are involved.

No question, this is a tough patch for the economy. But not all sectors are performing poorly or have the same prospects. For example, the high-tech sector is exploding with creativity. Not that it hasn/'t gone through this before. But this is not a potential dot.com bust kind of scenario. The changes that are coming flow out of technology that is well established and many of the biggest and most well-known companies are involved.

The following is a synopsis of what I have picked up about some of the key high-tech developments that are underway and in the works. Much of this is based on what has been appearing in business and economics magazines. It also comes from visits to computer stores and paying attention to what IT people are saying. Please forgive any inaccuracies. It is the overall sweeping nature of the advances that I am trying to convey.

International Scope

For starters, there is the international scope of the high-tech sector that needs recognition. Earlier this year, Business Week magazine rated the top 100 technology firms in the world. I was impressed by the fact that five of the top 15 are based in Taiwan. Lenovo of China is the fourth largest maker of personal computers in the world. Acer of Taiwan is third, but not that far behind number three, Dell. Hewlett Packard is number one.

Moving away from hardware, Microsoft has launched a challenge to Google with its new and well-reviewed Bing search engine. Stung by criticism, Microsoft is also replacing its Vista operating system and is about to launch a Windows 7 suite of software products this fall. Thanks to the open-source products available from competitors, the cost will be kept to a minimum. Microsoft knows that the future lies in data streaming over the Web.

Cloud Technology is the New Thing

The personal computer may be on its way out. At least, in terms of what sits on its hard drive. The next wave in personal computing is “cloud” technology. This is where applications and software reside somewhere other than on a PC. Computing functions and files are increasingly being stored on server space rented from others. This is why some business executives are now able to run their companies in the field from their cell phones. They simply dial into their own company/'s records for sales and finance figures.

Cell phones have evolved into smart phones and they are approaching the status of laptops. At the same time, laptops and netbooks are taking on the characteristics of smart phones. Software such as Skype allows one to make free phone calls over the Internet to anywhere in the world. Plug-in “sticks” for laptops allow wireless transmissions, coming and going, from anywhere a cell phone operates, including a rowboat in the middle of a lake.

Retail is being Turned Upside Down

Retail is being completely altered by the Internet. It isn/'t just bricks-and-mortar stores. For example, video outlets are being slammed hard. South of the border, Netflix is a means to order movies by mail over the Internet. Of course, there is also movie downloading that is the natural follow-up to music downloading for your iPod. Shopping through Amazon, eBay and craigslist are helping consumers cope in these difficult times.

All manner of current and archived television shows are available over the Internet. Televisions sets are currently available that will show video acquired over the Internet on TV screens, but the cost remains high. There is a difference-in-resolution problem between computer monitors and TV screens that needs to be resolved. In a reverse twist, video programming that started on the Internet is being picked up by cable TV operators.

The latest version of the Kindle wireless reading device from Amazon is expected to alter the book publishing industry. It makes available a huge library of material and displays text on a video screen designed to mimic the printed page. It may also change the way that newspapers are disseminated. For a subscription fee, your local or national daily will be downloaded overnight for you to access with your morning coffee.

The Internet Keeps Changing the World

The Internet is revolutionizing everything about the world. Social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) have grown into business promotional and information-sharing sites, as well as job-search sites. At the same time, Twitter displayed its humanitarian applications during the most recent political upheaval in Iran. It was a primary means for the population at large to disseminate to the world dissatisfaction with the way the religious elite apparently manipulated the election results.

As a further example, China has just backed down on requiring PC makers to install web-filtering technology on all computers sold in the country. “Green Dam-Youth Escort” − the name of the filtering software − has been officially touted as a means to protect the public, especially children, from porno and gambling sites. But human rights activists have been suspicious about political monitoring and censorship that might accompany the software. The delay in implementation has been termed only temporary by Beijing. Hopefully, this is a face-saving gesture and the plan will be dropped altogether.

BIM will Alter Construction Work-flows

In the construction industry, BIM (Building Information Modeling) is about to change the way buildings are designed and constructed. People simply understand things better when they see them in 3D. This is as opposed to the two dimensions that static blueprints utilize. In 3D, it is much easier to spot design problems and fix them before they reach the job site. It helps all participants visualize better, leading to more useful input. Such a full team approach, from architects through subs, will yield improved construction results.

Canada is at a Disadvantage

There is a problem in much of the foregoing for Canada. A MACLEANS magazine article of a couple of weeks ago pointed out that the newest technology products are not coming to Canada as soon as they are available south of the border. There is often a delay of a year or more. This might not sound like much. However, this puts our developers at a disadvantage. For example, something like 25,000 applications have been written for the iPhone. Canadians firms were held back from participating right from the get-go.

There are a limited number of telecommunication delivery services in Canada. Some products can only be provided over certain wireless systems. This limits access. The U.S. market is more open and consequently the cost to subscribers is a lot less. There is a forward-propelling and self-perpetuating relationship between generating interest, stimulating research and delivering greater revenue returns that leads to more success.

Alex Carrick

Find Canadian construction-related economic articles in Canadian Construction Market News and in the Economic Outlook section of Daily Commercial News. Mr. Carrick also has a lifestyle blog that can be reached by clicking here.

by Alex Carrick

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