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By Michael Schiavetta (M.A. '07)
Ramon Ray (B.S. ’07) is, as they say, connected.
That is not to confuse him with being a 21st-century Don Corleone, but when this NYIT graduate speaks to business owners about the benefits of communications technology, it sounds like an offer they can’t refuse.
Ray is among a new breed of tech professionals—the technology evangelist—whose goal is to empower business executives and assist them in understanding the benefits of modern global communications.
“I help people understand that communications technology is simple to use by energizing and exciting them,” says Ray, who also serves as editor of Smallbiztechnology.com, a website devoted to the very topic he preaches. In addition to several years of building networks and helping companies see the wisdom of adding Twitter, Facebook, and other media tools to improve their bottom line, he has written articles for major technology and business media such as CNet and Inc. magazine and has been quoted in the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, WCBS radio, and numerous other outlets.
Ray’s method of growing businesses centers on consulting a group he calls “practical technologists,” or professionals who know their business field but haven’t quite made the leap to fully taking advantage of modern technology. “I like to push them a bit,” he says. “Show them how to run their business from their Blackberry or help them videoconference with Skype using a broadband connection.”
Like thousands of NYIT alumni, Ray understands how communications technology plays an important role in how we work, live, and interact with friends, family, colleagues, and the entire global community. But in a world with more than two billion tweets per month, more than 400 million active Facebook users worldwide, and more than four billion text messages sent per day in the United States alone, even a technology evangelist says that physical interaction is something that will always hold unique value. “I never stop networking in person,” Ray says. “Nothing beats shaking people’s hands and looking into their eyes.”
And besides, he adds, “Texting mom isn’t going to work.”
But for people separated by great distances, new technologies—such as those fostered by Steven Ermmarino (B.S. ’91) and his colleagues at Cisco—are helping businesses maintain a personal touch. As channel services development manager for the San Jose, Calif.-based communications provider, whose clients include AT&T, Sprint, Microsoft, Intel, and other global firms, Ermmarino oversees the technology services discipline of Cisco’s partnership with Verizon. This includes bringing his company’s telepresence technology to advance his client’s global communications capabilities.
“Telepresence is the closest thing to bridging the gap to a person-to-person meeting,” says Ermmarino. Unlike current videoconferencing technology, which uses standard definition video and audio output, Cisco’s tele-presence incorporates multiple high-definition video screens, proprietary lighting, room aesthetics, and real-time voice technology to present what he calls a “next generation meeting experience.”
“Now you can look people in the eye halfway across the globe and observe more detailed mannerisms,” says Ermmarino. “Attendees are all presented life size on high definition screens.” The seamless interaction supports multiple rooms simultaneously around the world.
Ermmarino invited a group of NYIT students to his New York City office on March 31 to witness telepresence in action. The demo featured Andrew Slavinsky (B.S. ’97, M.B.A. ’09), project manager for Cisco, who was working from the company’s offices in Raleigh, N.C. “They were amazed,” says Ermmarino. “It was a great, hands-on look for students at the future of communications.”
This emerging technology, he adds, has the potential to transform how companies conduct business. With telepresence, there will be less need to travel for business meetings since the equipment provides the opportunity to re-create an actual conference room. In addition, the technology has other applications beyond the business world. In the medical field, for instance, doctors can conduct an entire exam without being in the same room as their patients using telepresence and local nurses.
As for bringing the technology into homes, Ermmarino expects this to happen within the next several years. “Many people already have broadband access and high definition TVs,” he says. “After that, all you need are a camera and some supporting technology.”
For a technology manager who admittedly can’t get enough of all the new communications tools available today, Ermmarino is amazed by how connected and accessible the world has become. “When I started in technology sales 18 years ago, I had a green screen terminal and no e-mail,” he says. “To see where we are today, it’s incredible. I see it as positive and enabling, with new business models made possible by the Internet and new modes of communications multiplying and accessibility increasing through mobility.”
It’s this “anywhere, anytime” accessibility that defines communication in the 21st century. And while there is unprecedented opportunity in how this unites new ideas and cultures, there are potential downsides.
“There is no question that all of these tools are creating a tremendous increase in utility, but there still is that impersonal side to some of it,” says Bill Zerella (B.S. ’78), chief financial officer of San Jose, Calif.-based Force10 Networks, a global telecommunications provider. “It’s very hard to disconnect from the world. You have to really go out of your way.”
He, like Ray, says communications via e-mail, text messaging, and social networking should never be a substitute for human interaction. Rather, Zerella believes in using these vehicles to expand existing business communication. He says the social networking offered through websites such as LinkedIn, for example, is “a tremendous utility from a business perspective and one of the best tools out there in finding the right people to hire.”