Tech Talk

One of the top challenges for businesses and organizations today is keeping up with advancements in technology. From communication to productivity to measurement, technology has radically transformed the way we conduct business. We asked local leaders to weigh in on how technology has changed their industry and how their company has adapted with the advancements in new technology.

Mike Costa

General Manager, Sinclair Broadcast Group

Technology continues to transform the media industry at a pace that grows exponentially each day. For television broadcasters, a new broadcast standard is launching. It is known as ATSC3.0. It has recently been approved by the Federal Communications Commission and was developed by the Advanced Television Systems Committee, and Sinclair Broadcast Group played a large part in the creation of the new standard. Among other advantages, programming will be able to be viewed in 4k or ultra-high definition on compatible phones and tablets, not just on their TVs. Currently, video viewing on phones and tablets is limited to streaming. This new standard will enable reception of broadcast signals and will enable, among other things, ad targeting. It will be possible to send different TV ads during the same program break to different homes based on their demographics and buying preferences. In short, this is “next generation television.” It is a bigger game changer than when TV went from black and white to color. 

Jan Keys DNP, RN, FACHE

Chief Nursing Executive, Erlanger Health System

Technology has changed the way that nurses and doctors communicate. Increasingly, electronic communication is becoming the norm over paper. In most situations, the use of technology ensures patient safety by sharing real-time information that can be used in diagnosing and treatment. The ability to accumulate lab results, record vital signs, and access patient records in one place drastically enhances clinicians’ work life. Real-time data fosters accuracy and efficiency for providers and, in turn, patient treatment. From the patient perspective, a greater degree of transparency occurs with electronic medical records, and the patient can become a more active participant. Erlanger spent months preparing to implement electronic medical records. All end-users were involved with the system development and evaluating old and new processes. Change is inevitable, and to best prepare for the upcoming changes, health care industries must include the end-users in each process. However, it’s imperative to realize that bad processes will not improve just by implementing technology; process change must occur first.

Puneet Bhasin

Chief Information and Digital Officer, Unum Group

Between the generational shift in today’s workforce and the instant access that customers expect, the employee benefits industry is changing. At Unum, a Fortune 500 company that protects 36 million people and their families, we are focused on using technology to enhance the digital interactions our customers have with us and providing greater value to them. Leveraging technology and data has allowed us to expand our capabilities beyond our traditional product offerings, dramatically streamline the experiences of employees and employers, and provide easy-to-use online and mobile tools. In short, we put the digital customer experience at the center of our thinking and use technology to provide the best customer experiences in the market. We plan to remain alert and prepared to utilize changes in technology, especially advancements in automation and artificial intelligence, which allow our employees to respond with agility, accuracy, and most importantly, empathy.

Carla M. Askonas

Executive Director, Chattanooga Technology Council

As a nonprofit membership organization, the Chattanooga Technology Council (ChaTech) sees how changes in technology impact our member companies which range from sole proprietors to large enterprise organizations. The constant change provides both opportunities and challenges. New software and hardware paradigms require companies to make decisions about when to adopt new technologies, how to integrate with current systems, and whether/how to phase out the old. Invariably, there are new threats along with new conveniences. For example, the Internet of Things (IoT) now allows companies to control building systems (lighting, HVAC) in a new way. However, there is now concern that these could be exploited to turn off air conditioning or shut down lighting – effectively shutting down operations or putting assets at risk. Each of these new advancements sets up an evolution of learning and defense that takes time and resources away from a company’s core focus on products or services. Each company has to think critically about how new technology will affect their business.

Dennis Gendron

Chief Information Officer, The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

As technology has changed just about every industry from farming to finance, higher education has dramatically reinvented every one of its core activities. At the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, constantly evolving technologies permeate every aspect of campus life. For attracting and enrolling students, we use state-of-the-art marketing software. Predictive analytics flag at-risk students, triggering appropriate intervention. Classroom audiovisual technologies support campus as well as global collaboration for students and faculty. Our SimCenter supports big-data research that makes UTC a smart university in a smart city. Every office on the campus uses integrated financial and reporting software assuring cost-effective management of state dollars.

Kathleen Nelson

Board Of Directors, CBL Properties

From increased competition from online retailers to shifting expectations from our customers, technology has dramatically impacted every facet of the retail industry. At CBL, we have responded to these opportunities by adding consumer-facing WiFi across our portfolio, allowing our customers seamless connectivity as they use their mobile devices to research purchases while in-store. WiFi is not only an invaluable amenity to customers, but also as those customers authenticate into the network, it provides CBL information about customer dwell time and areas of high traffic and traffic flow. This information, coupled with information available from traffic and demographic cameras and sensors, can be shared with retailers through CBL’s new retailer services program to close the gap between common area traffic and store conversion. CBL is launching this retailer services pilot with a select group of current retailers as well as e-commerce retailers looking to expand into physical retail.

Katie Espeseth

VP, New Products, EPB

EPB serves customers in what would seem to be two distinct industries as an electric power distributor and a communications company, but product offerings in these two businesses are converging rapidly. For example, EPB’s Smart Grid utilizes Chattanooga’s community-wide fiber optic network to allow us to manage electric distribution in real-time and reduce outages by 55% or more (saving our customers about $55 million annually by helping them avoid lost productivity and spoilage). Combining advanced electric infrastructure with fiber optic network technologies also empowers our customers to take greater advantage of the growing number of new products in both industries. Customers face a bewildering array of choices among streaming video providers, home automation devices, voice-enabled technologies, and cutting-edge, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles. Choice is a good thing, but with rapid change and too little information, it’s easy to become uncertain. Increasingly, EPB is filling that gap by providing our energy and technology expertise to give customers simpler, more informed choices.

Steve Frost

President, Tuftco Corp.

In these past three decades, Tuftco Corp. has evolved from a machinery manufacturing business to a true technology company. In 1986, 32 years ago, Tuftco was promoting a new generation of carpet machine controls known as Videotuft to produce patterned carpet.  Videotuft was one of the earliest computerized controls for creating multi-color, multi-textured patterns on tufting machines. Tuftco’s current generation of technology is known as TuftWorx. TuftWorx includes a comprehensive suite of custom-written software, including iBalance, iQuantify, and TuftCom. These programs are used for creating, not only carpet design, but also predictive analysis of yarn and color consumption, along with machine operating output and efficiency. Today’s patterned carpet is being produced at unbelievable rates of speed. Yarn can be fed into each tuft of carpet at the rate of 30 times per second, in pile heights that vary to 1/1000 inch, with as many as 2,000 yarns being inserted into the carpet each time. As technology has advanced, Tuftco has adapted in order to be on the forefront of creating customized, customer-driven software. 

Michael Mathis

Chattanooga City President & Executive Vice President, Regions Bank

Technology is constantly transforming how we serve customers, yet we must never lose sight of the human touch that is so important in banking. At Regions, we find most customers use a blend of services. When they need to deposit a check, transfer money, or pay bills, they’re doing so through our digital channels. But when they are preparing to make a big financial decision, such as buying a house or creating a long-term savings plan, they tend to prefer the personal insights offered by our local bankers. That’s why we’re focused on both technology and offering experienced bankers with strong financial backgrounds. This allows us to serve people when, where, and how they want to be served. Local bankers are complemented by cutting-edge technology that puts the power of Regions in the palms of our customers’ hands. For example, our new Virtual Concierge service uses mobile platforms, email, chat, and LinkedIn to provide individualized attention to people in a way that prioritizes their time. And when they need local insights, we’re still here to provide those services as well.

Denise Rice

President, Peak Performance Director, Tennessee  Manufacturing Association

Technology changes are affecting all areas of business from HR systems and marketing methods to product development and customer delivery. The major changes affecting Peak Performance is in how we deliver workforce development training to our clients. While instructor-led, application-based training is the preferred method, there are a number of technology advancements that have been incorporated to improve the customer experience and ensure the greatest transfer of knowledge. In addition to the methods used to deliver the training, the content continues to evolve keeping up with the rapidly changing technology in the manufacturing industry. The manufacturing employee of today is more highly skilled as plants continue to improve productivity and reduce cost by implementing improvements and streamlining processes. We participate in trade organizations such as the statewide Tennessee Manufacturers Association to keep informed of trends that are affecting our industry. We also partner with high schools, community colleges, and universities to have first-hand knowledge of what is trending in educating the next generation workforce.

Jason Rothenberg

Director of Development Services, 3H Group, Inc.

Nearly every aspect of the hotel and tourism industry involves technology. Specifically, it has radically changed how hotels operate and interact with their guests. This includes making reservations online, checking in via the web, and even unlocking the guestroom door all without seeing or speaking with a real person. The number one hotel amenity is high-speed internet access. That wasn’t the case 10-15 years ago. It is extremely important that guests are easily able to access wireless internet and achieve the speeds they are accustomed to at their homes. Evolving technology with computers, iPhones, and other electronics require a proactive approach to hardware and software replacement. This includes providing guests with plentiful bandwidth and high-grade networking equipment such as tri-band access points with beam-forming technology and switches with powerful throughput. One method used to stay ahead of the curve is by placing hardware and software in the cloud with providers that have the resources to stay up-to-date.

Dr. Rob Headrick

Thoracic Surgeon, CHI Memorial Chest and Lung Cancer Center

Until now, most of the technological advances in health care have been in pharmaceuticals, imaging, or robotics. We are now seeing software tools, such as machine learning (a form of artificial intelligence) and natural language processing (NLP), used to perform large scale data mining to improve outcomes. CHI Memorial is the first in the world to use these software tools from MedMyne, and is using them to improve lung cancer survival. NLP is how computers understand the content and meaning of what we are saying. When combined with NLP, computers are programmed to look at large amounts of unorganized data and make advanced, very accurate predictions. Utilizing the vast amount of patient information stored in electronic health records, this software is able to help predict who is at risk for lung cancer and get them enrolled in a screening program, saving many lives in our region.

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