Technology plays role in Austin business

Published 8:30 am Monday, November 22, 2010


Meeting the bottom line, creating favorable and comfortable conditions and striving to be the most efficient — both with time and money — are the goals of most businesses.

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In recent years, the means to achieve such standards have been accomplished through the use of evolving technology — and the situation in Austin is no different.

Generally, technological advances allow businesses to run more efficiently, cutting back on time spent performing tasks that otherwise require a great deal of attention.

Customer service technology

For businesses in the customer service setting, technology works to help not only employees, but customers, as well.

HyVee’s new thumb print scanner time card is example of just that.

“Now the employees are no longer a number,” said Todd Hepler, Austin store director. “Now they’re identified by finger print technology.”

Hepler said the new device saves time for employees and eliminates room for mistakes, which often end up causing headaches for everyone involved.

“Before, if you punched in a four-digit number and hit someone else’s number, you didn’t get paid,” he said.

HyVee also recently changed the way it handles checks. Previously, the store would cash after the close of business. Now, checks are automatically processed at the counter, eliminating extra time and money spent on sending checks.

“It saves time in the accounting department,” Hepler said. “From the front end, we don’t have a loss of a check anymore.”

That same practice has been adopted at businesses throughout Austin, including major retailers such as Wal-Mart.

While technology is largely seen in larger companies, local businesses are also forging ahead with technology on their side.

Steve’s Pizza has simplified its ordering system in the past few years through the use of a computer system called touchpoint.

When servers take orders, they’re now able to enter them in through the computer, which relays information to the kitchen.

The new technology eliminates miscommunication between the front and back end of the restaurant.

For the most part, that makes the job of the server a little less hectic — if all the computer programs are working, that is.

“Sometimes it makes your job easier, sometimes it makes your job harder,” said Rod Stuckey, one of the restaurant’s managers.

Stuckey said that when it comes to calculations, having the computer on hand is key, as it eliminates mistakes previously made through those trying to add up checks, while waiting tables as the same time.

In the kitchen, several new ovens have been added to the restaurant, which allow cooks to bake more pizzas at once, ultimately allowing them to serve more customers.

“We can cook four times as many pizzas than we could with that older oven,” Stuckey said. “Overall, it’s better for business.”

Advancing at hyper speeds

Not only have area businesses been cashing in on technological advances, but Austin city officials have also been making strides to bring new internet technology to town by applying for Google Fiber.

Earlier this year, Google announced its plan to offer a one-gigabite-per-second fiber internet network to connect each home in a community of between 50,000 and 500,000 people. Google will choose four winning communities in the country to which the services will be offered.

Craig Hoium, community development director, handled much of the application process and said Google will be making its decision by the end of 2010.

Hoium said the fiber network would benefit the community in several ways because of the immense speed it would offer.

“We watched a video on this and one of the videos was a person squirting a syringe using that as an example of current internet service, and the next video was a fire hose squirting wide open (as an example of the fiber network),” Hoium said. “It’s unimaginable the difference it makes.”

Fiber Internet proponent FiberForAll reports that Austin is 9th among all city applicants in level of community support, as measured by dividing the number of people connected with an applicant’s largest social networking base — in Austin’s case, a GoogleAustin Facebook group — with the total city population.

Austin was in 11th place as of July but has since then moved up in the rankings. Over 1,000 communities have applied for the fiber services.

Hoium said Google’s decision is not solely based on community support, but that it does play a role.

The high-speed internet service would not just be convenient, but would open many doors for organizations and institutions in the area.

Hoium said Austin Medical Center could use the super-speed service for consultation during surgeries.

“For instance, there could be a team of doctors in Phoenix or Florida who could watch the surgery conducted in Austin through the internet,” Hoium said. “The capabilities that we have now with internet service are somewhat limited.”

As the race for Google Fiber continues through the end of the year, Hoium said he hopes community members will regain interest in supporting the program.

“We’re thrilled that we’re currently rated as the number nine community,” he said. “It would be a huge asset for every company and industry in Austin.”