Marketing to Seniors By Phone? Keep It Clear and Concise.

I work a part-time job where I have the opportunity to listen in on customer services and marketing to seniors delivered via phone.

For the most part, I’m not impressed. Aside from the obvious frauds (and I’m glad to report that many seniors smell a rat pretty quickly), far too many businesses are missing an opportunity to attract a group that has money and are probably more polite and patient than other age groups.

Seniors Have More Money to Spend Than Ever Before

Today’s seniors have more money today than they did a few years ago. According to a 2017 Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances, households headed by someone age 75 or older saw their net worth increase by 60%—more than other age groups.

I won’t get into the specifics but you can read an excellent summary on “the graying of wealth” from Forbes contributor Neil Howe.

One item that stuck out to me is that wealth is also much more evenly distributed among this generation. Marketing to seniors as a group is in itself a pretty good lead. Plus, they like to shop, if not for themselves then for grandchildren and other young people in their lives. And according to the American Marketing Association, research from AARP shows they’re brand-loyal as well. One sale can lead to more.

Marketing to Seniors? Slow Down the Fast Talk and Speak Plainly.

I noted in an earlier piece that people who make a living doing sales over the phone need to slow the hell down with their speech! At some point, only they will be able to understand each other.

It’s funny because these calls often begin at a nice pace. “Hello may I speak with Mr./Mrs. Smith?” Once they connect with the right person, these telesalespeople seem to go into speech overdrive: “IhavesomeexcitingnewstosharewithyouaboutournewskincareproductdevelopedjustforTheGreatestGeneration!”

Honestly I don’t understand many of these callers and I have several years in front of me before I collect Social Security or wave placards warning the government to keep its hands off Medicare.

Seniors love to take notes from phone conversations.

Marketing and salespeople who slow their speech to an accessible level will get some interest even from normally skeptical seniors. I admit they probably won’t make a sale right away because seniors love to take notes so they can “look this up” later, probably to make sure they aren’t being sold a scam. And if a senior isn’t interested, he or she will politely inform you before hanging up.

I have a friend, a guy in his late 50s, who sells e-commerce services via phone. He’s lucky in that he doesn’t make cold calls and only calls people who ask to be contacted so he’s already dealing with interested parties. But he has many elderly customers who not only renew the service year after year but specifically ask to speak only with him.

The reason? He’s got a great phone manner. He’s friendly, knows the product extremely well, and speaks clearly. He’s also very patient and doesn’t allow himself to get annoyed by repeated questions.

He’s created a great recipe for successful marketing to seniors.

He works on commission so it’s in his interest make quick sales. But he understands that not all selling can be done at a rapid pace. So he paces himself for those that take more time, even scheduling a time to speak with older clients when he knows the office will be quiet.

Live and Automated Customer Service Need Consistent Speed and Volume

One thing that amazes me is how people who make a living on the phone as customer service or IT reps seem to talk without breathing. How do they do that? 

Anyway, remembering to breathe will slow down your speech. Which is good for you: lack of oxygen will eventually make you faint. And it will make you a better customer service rep because I’ll bet you get a lot of calls from seniors. Keep a steady speaking pace, and don’t worry about long pauses: most seniors listening to you on the phone are writing everything down.

This is critical when it comes to people who work in financial services. Don’t rattle off numbers one after another. Say them slowly and be clear about which account you’re reporting.

In addition to live agents, there’s a lot of automated information seniors obtain via phone. Many times, these recordings are inconsistent with volume and speed. This is a terrible way to treat customers. Automation has already taken away jobs but why turn away real and potential customers? Talking fast to cram in a lot of “options” isn’t working. Seniors will just hang up.

The worst offenders seem to be physician offices, where voicemail is often set up by women with soft, higher pitched voices. Their voices are fine one-on-one in an exam room but not for an older person, likely with hearing aids, who’s trying to understand a long outgoing message. So they might hang up, but that means they will call again, tying up the lines. Or they may press any button to get to someone live.

And what’s with the volume variance in customer service call centers? There’s no good reason to screech up the volume to inform callers that you may be recording the conversation for “training and customer service purposes.”

And finally, does your service ask callers to participate in brief customer service surveys?  Well guess what? Seniors do participate. Amazingly, they give middling scores to some pretty awful practices. Be nice, be clear, slow it down, and you’ll get higher marks.

Providing Tech Support? Give Seniors Clear Definitions.

Marketing to seniors includes answering their computer-related questions.

Seniors are online for email, shopping, and researching everything marketers tell them.

Tech support people have long dealt with clueless customers. I remember hearing back in the day about how the “cupholder” on a new computer broke or worrying about giving the computer the flu virus.

People have caught up quite a bit. Still, tech support staff should be cognizant that many seniors don’t understand a lot of their language.

People often confuse browsers with search engines. It’s so rote, they don’t think about it.

Ask many non-tech people (not just seniors) what browser they use, and they’ll probably answer “Google.” This does not mean Chrome. This means they get to your company’s website through Google. Many people really don’t know the difference between a browser and a search engine. Or they forget: these functions are so rote, so automatic, that they don’t really mean much to the non-techies among us.

It also doesn’t help, as one tech support guy said, that Google and Microsoft use a similar color scheme.

So before you ask what browser someone uses, ask if they use IE, Firefox, Chrome, whatever. Some might even be using Safari.

Finally, understand that seniors want to use computers. They really do like them and they absolutely love email, Facebook, and online shopping. And while they don’t freak out like their younger friends do when the Internet isn’t working (they do things like read and chat on the phone), they deserve high levels of service. Because the services and products they’re buying might be from you!

 

 

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Speak Clearly, Please!

“Can you repeat that?”

I find myself asking this a lot. It seems I encounter more people who don’t, or can’t, speak clearly. Many are of a certain generation who are just as stereotyped as the Baby Boomers with whom I am supposed to identify.

(Actually, I was relieved to read that I can also claim to be part of Generation X with whom I identify more closely. I don’t feel like I have much in common with those lucky hippies who got to see The Doors and Cream and Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.)

As I ask “can you repeat that?” I realize I am stereotyping myself into the Baby Boom, who have been retiring since 2014 and who I bet has a lot more hearing loss than I since they got to see all those great acts before the era of stadium concerts.

Please Speak Clearly, Dammit!

As one who works within marketing, it bothers me that I have to ask someone who makes a sales call to me to repeat himself or herself. I can tell by speech patterns that this is almost certainly a person at least 15 years younger than I. So dudes, please slow down a bit and speak clearly.

I mean, I wouldn’t write an article or blog that doesn’t define its jargon.  I know what it’s like to not be hip or tech enough. Thank God for magazines like Wired and sites like TechCrunch and CNet. Without them, I’d feel very alienated because I grew up pre-Internet. I mean, we got cable TV relatively early and that was when I was in high school.

When I’m speaking with the general (read: younger than me) public, I find I’m asking that question to please repeat what you said more often than ever. It could be due to natural hearing loss that comes with age.

But there’s more: it’s been floated in a couple of places that technology has downgraded the necessity for clear speech. Certainly, it’s been blamed for messing with written speech—just look at the last couple of texts you sent or received. But there’s something to be said for brevity where it’s appropriate. I think more people are growing up speaking more rapidly.

Research shows people are speaking more rapidly today.

I came across a 2011 article in which Wichita State University speech expert Ray Hull explains his research that shows people increased their vocal speeds from 145 words per minute (wpm) to 160 – 180 over a decade. But most people comprehend the spoken word best when it’s down at 124 – 130 wpm or so.

Moreover, in a more recent (2016) article about slowing down speech for young children, Hull also noted that the central nervous system reaches its peak effectiveness in the early 20s. But it starts to slow down in the 40s, particularly in the area of speech processing.

No wonder so much strife has been noted between Millennials and GenXers/Baby Boomers. We/they literally can’t stand to talk to one another!

It’s Even Harder to Repeat Spoken Words

I have a part-time job with a company that provides telephone captioning services over the Internet for people with hearing loss. It’s really opened my ears to speech patterns, including speeds and accents.

Caption employee trying to understand spoken content.

What did he say?

Instead of typing out live speech, we are trained to listen and repeat using speech-to-text software. This is thought to provide more accurate translation, and so far I’d agree in general.

But it’s not easy to repeat spoken words verbatim, particularly when you are an invisible middle person and there’s no body language to observe.

I have been surprised to learn that it isn’t just fast talkers I find most challenging: it’s fast talkers with accents I don’t often encounter. I never lived further south than Northern Virginia, just outside Washington, DC. And while I heard a lot of accents over the many years I lived there, most people I associated with sounded more or less like me.

It’s said that Southerners speak more slowly. Well, that isn’t so when they are talking to one another. Try to caption a Texan relating exciting news to a fellow Lone Star resident. I find it’s easier to keep up with New Englanders on a conference call.

I was curious to see if fast talkers dominate the Mid-Atlantic States so I did some research.  A couple of years ago, The Atlantic reported on a study that ranked states by the number of fast talkers based on actual phone calls.  Somewhat surprisingly, New Yorkers were not found to be the fastest speakers. They weren’t even close: the state ranked all the way down at #38—far behind my native New Jersey, which came in at #19.

Oregon was home to the fastest talkers, followed by Minnesota—a little startling to me—and Massachusetts, which wasn’t so surprising.

I then compared this list of fast-talking states to a map that ranks states by their populations’ youthfulness to see any correlation. Oregon is a bit older than the national median age (37.9, according to the Census Bureau) at 39.2 years, not much younger than Massachusetts at 39.5. Utah has the youngest median age at 30.7. It’s also ranked #31 for fast-talking, perhaps because it has a younger population that’s still in their developing years.

I didn’t find a correlation between a state’s median age and how fast its residents speak.

Texas, though, is a youngish, 34.5 median age state. But it’s at #44 on the fast-talking list. Maine has the oldest median age in the nation at 44.5 but ranks #21 on the speech list.

So there isn’t much of a fast-talking/median age correlation.

Customer service centers with live operators can be challenging to repeat because many of their employees are young and talk quickly. Many are instructed to keep calls under a certain number of minutes in order to process more incoming calls.

Some of our customers will inform service reps that they use a captioning phone so their responses will be delayed a few seconds. That does tend to slow down some of the reps, or at least stop asking “Can you hear me? Can you hear me?” over and over.

Even more frightening are outgoing voicemail messages where the only discernable sound is that of the beep. Even voicemail greetings from doctors’ offices can be very difficult to follow because of their speed and the amount of information the caller is asked to leave: date of birth, name, the time you called, which doctor you see, and oh yeah: why are you calling?

Be Kind and Speak Clearly: The Nation is Aging

Eventually, the fast-talking Millennials will get older (I hope!) and will ask people to slow down for them.

I don’t mean to Millennial-bash. Some of the nicest people I know are of this generation. But if we’re all going to get along and do meaningful things, we need to slow down the way we communicate. Most Americans are approaching 40 or past it. With age comes a caution to understand everything that’s being said!

As Hull notes, slowing down your speech is good for everyday conversation. You’ll sound more articulate. Your speaking style will sound more natural as well. “The next time you’re talking to someone,” he told Wichita State’s NewsWise service, “remind yourself to slow down. Your listener will thank you.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Woo-Hoo! WooCommerce for E-commerce!

Over the past several months I’ve been working with WooCommerce experts who work with e-commerce businesses.

WooCommerce, a popular e-commerce software that's also open source.

WooCommerce is the most popular open-source e-commerce software.

For those who aren’t familiar with WooCommerce, it’s a plugin from WordPress that turns a website into an e-commerce powerhouse. The Australian firm BuiltWith, which provides website profiling, lead generation, analysis, and other support services for e-commerce, reported that 12% of all e-commerce sites use either WooCommerce or use the WooCommerce Checkout tool.

On its own, WooCommerce powers nine percent of all e-commerce sites, just behind market leader Shopify and just ahead of Magento, two other popular e-commerce options.

WooCommerce Is Open to Developers Who Create E-Commerce Tools

Like WordPress, WooCommerce is a free, open-source platform, meaning that people who do things like develop website applications can easily integrate their products to work with WooCommerce. (For more information about how application interfaces work, see this article from ModeEffect.) While it offers plenty of free and paid or fee-based tools (called extensions), being open source means it’s easier for developers to create customized solutions for e-commerce site owners. I think this benefits both developers and e-commerce businesses.

WooCommerce is so extensive, it’s easy to forget that it’s a WordPress plugin so it can run other WordPress plugins as well. However, many WordPress plugin developers have developed extensions specifically for WooCommerce. Yoast, an SEO tool that virtually all WordPress users (myself included) consider vital, has a WooCommerce extension.

WooCommerce Is (Almost) as User-Friendly as “Closed” Platforms

I don’t have any direct experience maintaining a WooCommerce site myself but I’ve seen enough to be confident that as a longtime WordPress user to know I could learn it pretty quickly.  I had the opportunity to leaf through a pre-launch WooCommerce site a few years ago and liked what I saw.

WooCommerce generally scores points for being user-friendly although reviewers often point out that sites like Shopify and Etsy are friendlier. They probably are, especially for e-commerce business owners who “don’t use” computers. Shopify, Etsy, Weebly, and other “instant websites” are all-in-one website builder packages that also include hosting in their costs. I think this is why they are seen as more user-friendly than WooCommerce and Magento, which put the hosting decisions on site owners.

Moreover, WooCommerce requires first building a WordPress website, adding another step to the process.

However, setting up a basic WordPress site is pretty easy. Once you decide on a host—WordPress endorses BlueHost and SiteGround, the host I use—you have access to WordPress for free, and many hosts will help you set up a site as well. You aren’t limited to these hosts, either: there are tons of other excellent WordPress hosts including GoDaddy, which I personally think has the best customer service anywhere, of any business.

Like most website services, WordPress has an installation wizard that makes setting up a basic site a low-stress task. Your host can also help with setup, and there are lots of videos on YouTube and WordPress itself that can guide you along as well if you’re doing it on your own. Frankly, there’s nothing like working hands-on with a new tool to help you find it less threatening; remember, you’re not launching warheads or anything!

Once WordPress is set up, go to the Plugins menu and look for WooCommerce. Once you upload and activate it, you can use its setup wizard to guide you through it.

WooCommerce Hosting and Domain Registration

Hosts can also transfer an existing e-commerce website from another platform to their own, even from “closed” sites like Etsy. A clever host will know a few tricks like downloading a CSV file or figuring out an application interface (API) solution. At the very least, a CSV will preserve the content.

Domain registration works the same way for WooCommerce as it does for any other website. In the early days of the web, this was often done by separate companies but more hosts are providing domain registration as well and closed, all-in-one services take care of this as well and may be another reason why WooCommerce and Magento are written off as requiring “expert” knowledge. But today, many hosts like BlueHost and GoDaddy, do both. I work with clients who use GoDaddy for both hosting and domain registration.

I use GoDaddy to register and keep my domain. It didn’t offer WordPress back when I started my own website, so it didn’t make sense to use it for hosting. Plus, I got free hosting from a friend for many years—a sweet deal for which I will always remain grateful

I’ve read that it isn’t a good idea to use the same service for both hosting and registration. But if it’s a reputable site, with good reviews from places like TechRadar, I don’t see why there would be a problem. If you’re using a really cheap host who’s new or is small but you personally like the people behind it, it may make sense to separate hosting and registration just in case something does go wrong. At the very least, you want to hang on to your website registration!

In addition, some hosting sites are starting to specialize in WooCommerce. Large WooCommerce sites may want to look into these options as there are differences between hosting a WordPress site and a WooCommerce site, particularly where traffic management is concerned.

Tips for Launching a WooCommerce Website

I haven’t actually set up a WooCommerce site but I know people who do!

I also had the opportunity to sit it on Chris Lema’s presentation on setting up WooCommerce at Phoenix WordCamp in February 2018. Lema is an e-commerce expert and works extensively with WooCommerce. He literally set up a dummy site and showed the highlights seen in the setup wizard.

Interestingly, WooCommerce is a little less logical than WordPress. Here are a few tips Chris shared with us:

  • Be sure to go into the settings section because the wizard skips over most of them. US-based e-commerce businesses are required to list a physical location so be sure to ask your client what address to use. You can also use a fake one and change it later. Do not, however, list your address as you will then start receiving all kinds mail you don’t want or need!
  • The first content section you see in the software (right under the page title) is not where you add content about the product! This is a major stumbling block and the guy next to me at Lema’s presentation told me this cost him a lot of time. Look for the product description section, a small area which is what Google will see first as it conducts searches. The large content area is for details you may or may not want to add, but will probably help with search engine optimization.
  • Always choose PayPal as a payment option. Not only is it wildly popular, Chris says, many people view money in their PayPal accounts as “free” money to use for shopping. I know that I often leave a few bucks in my PayPal account for inexpensive purchases like pizza or discounted books/ebooks.

Chris’ presentation was quite entertaining and was well worth the time and extremely affordable cost to attend WordCamp even in my case for just one morning. To see Chris’ favorite WooCommerce extensions, check out his slide presentation Launching Your WooCommerce Store Workshop.

WooCommerce is Great for Blogging!

WooCommerce is its own little world but it’s still a WordPress plugin and retains the blogging DNA.

Blog on WooCommerce just as you would on WordPress: create a new post, add categories, tags, media, and metadata. Yoast, a popular SEO tool (I used it all the time) has an extension for WooCommerce that builds upon its WordPress version. It supports Pinterest and ties in with the the WordPress version to coordinate and boost breadcrumb trails. There’s also a Local SEO version for those e-commerce sites that also have a local brick and mortar presence.

What should you blog about? Well, what do your customers care about? Look at your emails for clues. Typically, they are interested in:

  • New products
  • Product care
  • Special offers
  • Staff introductions
  • Customer testimonials
  • Photos and videos

Depending on your customers, it’s usually ok to share a little personal information such as how you dealt with a Noreaster (something we don’t worry about here in Arizona), a kid going away to college, a new puppy. As the great big shoe company says, just do it!

And if you can’t find the time—hire a professional writer!

 

 

 

 

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Donald Trump and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday

Donald Trump in 100 Facts, by Ruth Ann Monti. Copyright 2018.

Here’s a bittersweet irony: my book Donald Trump in 100 Facts was released in the UK on the US holiday honoring  Martin Luther King, Jr. Just days ago, Trump was reported to have used one or another similar insult to describe Haiti and African nations.

Donald Trump in 100 Facts He Doesn’t Discuss

My book on Trump, written somewhat tongue-in-cheek in line with the rest of Amberley Books‘ 100 Facts series, was an attempt on my part to identify actual facts about the man. I didn’t research rumors or suppositions that had yet to be proven or disproven. Instead, I looked for verifiable items I hoped would provide more solid insights into the man. I didn’t rely too much on his tweets and pretty much ignored outbursts reported from within the walls of the Oval Office. After all, we were advised throughout 2017 that we shouldn’t take what Trump tweets or says too seriously.

That left out words from Trump’s own mouth although I did look at a few of his books to note where he seemed to go out of his way to mislead. The most egregious, I think, comes from his first book (and I might add, a “yoog” best-seller) The Art of the Deal. Here, he repeated the family fabrication created by his father Fred Trump Sr during the Second World War that the Trumps, who hail from Germany, were Swedes. (Fred worried how his Jewish tenants would react if they were to learn of his own father’s German birth, as I discuss in Fact #19.)

Later, Donald participated in a documentary of his father’s hometown, Kings of Kallstadt (mentioned in Fact #16), where viewers are introduced to a cousin who serves as the family historian. By then, of course, Trump was no longer hiding his ancestry. His daughter had converted to Judaism upon her marriage to billionaire boy Jared Kushner. Speaking to a group of Jewish Republicans in 2015, he attempted to link himself to them: he was “a negotiator, like you folks” (Fact #38).

Racism Comes From Within And Can Be Disarmed

Is Trump a racist? I honestly believe he is and that he’s ok with it.

That said, I also believe that most people harbor some racism inside, whether it’s racial, ethnic, even geographic. I certainly know I struggle with this and I was not raised in an outwardly racist environment. Sure, there was pushback against any discussion to integrate the nearly all-white public schools in my hometown with the majority black schools the next town over. But from my point of view, and I was routinely criticized for being “too sensitive” and “too serious,” the few nonwhite kids at school weren’t singled out because of who they were. They were classified like the rest of us: jocks, AP class material, drama/artsy, etc. But again, that’s my point of view. I certainly can’t speak for anyone else.

I’ve worked my entire adult life to catch myself when I realize I’ve seen, heard, or read something that sets off internal alarms that veer toward racist thoughts. I believe most Americans conscientiously work to correct these near-instincts. I say “near,” because racism is learned: at school, at home, on the job, while looking for a job. Certainly, there are circles of “deplorables” who encourage racism and insist it is an instinct, even a protective one. I reject that notion. If we are indeed the creation of a God, higher power, or cosmic conception, we are, as my friend John Kiriakou says, better than this. We are meant to evolve intellectually as well as physically.

Donald Trump has not done so. He explicitly rejects any attempt at self-improvement, believing he is already as close to perfect as one can get. (He may even believe he is perfect!) There is no off switch on The Donald, or an internal editorial board. He “tells it like it is,” people said early in the Presidential campaign. Which we learned means he ignores whatever self-restraint he may have once had and let loose the demons most Americans were working to overcome or at least contain in public. It’s OK, he told a violent minority, to be racist. He even tried to equate neo-Nazis rallying in Charlottesville, Virginia with nonviolent counter-protestors, one of whom was run over and killed by a so-called “alt-right” enthusiast.

I Tried, And Failed, To Find Much Good About Trump

The more I researched and uncovered, the more alarmed I became and I was already pretty high-strung over the concept of President Trump. I made a conscientious attempt to identify a certain number of “positive” facts and fell short of my goal. There just aren’t many such instances to report on the man.

For example, I recalled hearing back in the 1980s that Trump was paying for medical treatment for the young AIDS patient Ryan White. Upon researching this, I found several interviews with White’s mother denying this and a concurring rumor that Trump also offered his private jet to speed White to whatever treatment center he needed to access (Fact #54). I ended up writing about how Trump was sympathetic to AIDS patients at a time when much of the nation was thrown into hysterics—certainly a positive fact—but I wonder how open-hearted he would be today if HIV/AIDS had emerged in, say, 2015.

In 2014, he tweeted:

Trump said in 2014 that helping people with Ebola is good but has consequences.

“The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back. People that go to far places to help out are great-but must suffer the consequences!”

It’s OK to do the right thing but be prepared to suffer the consequences. How unlike Dr. King, who traveled far and wide to lead marches, speak out, and risk arrest (and he was arrested many times) and of course made the ultimate sacrifice—along with countless others like Medgar Evers, Rev. George Lee, Herbert Lee, Rev. Bruce Klunder, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and far too many more.

Arizona Voters Rejected, Then Approved MLK Day

I’ve known for years that Arizona refused to observe the MLK holiday. What I didn’t know until today is that citizens forced two referenda on the issue.

The holiday itself was established in 1983 as a Federal holiday effective 1986. States, including Arizona, went on to approve it. But in 1987 a new governor, the infamous Evan Mecham, rescinded it saying his predecessor, Bruce Babbitt, did not have the authority to declare a state holiday. The state legislature couldn’t agree on whether to re-establish the holiday.

Citizens stepped in to voice their opinions, as Kaila White reminds us (or in my case, educates us) in her article that appeared in The Arizona Republic on MLK Day 2018. 15,000 Arizonans marched outside the Statehouse on MLK Day in 1988, a few months before Mecham was impeached for campaign finance violations (he was later acquitted of criminal charges).

In 1990, the question to observe MLK Day was put to the voters, who overwhelmingly rejected it. Voters got a second chance in 1992 and approved the holiday by a comfortable  37% margin. Arizona is the only state to approve the holiday via a voter referendum.

I like to think that in the end, goodness wins out, or as Abraham Lincoln put it, the “better angels of our nature” take over.

 

 

 

 

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Powering the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (I0T) is here and it’s hungry. Right now, a lot of brainpower is being used to figure out battery and energy solutions so that Alexa never fails to respond and the FitBit doesn’t overlook the stairwell you climbed coming back from lunch.

Consider, too, that IoT needs computer processing power as well to function. Assuming our chips survive Spectre, will IoT users get the power they need?

IoT and a New Approach to Supercomputing

IoT devices are the ultimate in wireless, on-the-go technology and its numbers are growing. Last year, Gartner forecasted there would be 20.4 billion IoT devices by 2020. More than 60% of current IoT applications are in the consumer market, but businesses will no doubt identify new uses for it and make more demands for IoT power, including processing power.

Supercomputers are the first solution most businesses and industry enthusiasts will think of. But supercomputers are expensive and consume a lot of energy. They would place IoT out of reach for many consumers and small businesses. But guess what? There is a better way: leashing the power of idle and underused processors.

The Phoenix area where I live and work is a hub of creative technological thinking, particularly in mobile and IoT.  Two years ago, I caught a presentation by Chris Mattheiu, then with Citrix, at the annual Phoenix Mobile Tech conference. He spoke about sharing unused processors to power anything that requires computing— not just IoT—although that’s what initially sparked his interest.

A new supercomputing platform uses idle or unused processing power.

Giving and taking computing power, as needed and as available.

Even to me, a non-techie who writes about mobile and IoT tech, this made sense: Create a supercomputer that doesn’t generate more processing power but uses excess power that’s just sitting around unused. IoT itself, Mattheiu pointed out, is idle 80% of the time. It doesn’t need a steady supply of processing power, but it does need a reliable one.

Mattheiu had already created the website computes.io to deliver processing power to those who need more than they have on hand. In January 2018, he announced its formal launching as a new business. Computes serves businesses and nonprofits that need additional computing power that would otherwise require buying additional resources. It can run on the cloud and deliver to any device, on any browser and through any operating system.

It’s already got one impressive customer: the University of Wisconsin, which is using Computes to find patients with early onset Parkinson’s Disease for clinical studies.

This approach to get supercomputer power without spending a lot of money is great news for smaller companies and startups, which are powering a lot of Phoenix-area tech businesses these days.

Who Needs Additional Computing Power?

In addition to the impressive size of IoT users, there are plenty of others who can use additional computing power. For me, the most obvious one is in graphic design.

As a dedicated WordPress fangirl, I am painfully aware of the amount of sheer memory graphics take up on a website. There are solutions for this terrible problem (!) but what about the folks who are creating those graphics? Artists are not generally overflowing with excess cash to buy into more Amazon cloud space, particularly for short-term projects.

Computes works for them, too, and I suspect local Phoenix-area artists and videographers will love this solution. The same goes for those working with machine learning (formerly known as artificial intelligence, or AI), another small but strong industry in these parts. Not everyone has access to the supercomputing services at ASU!

Computes is also looking to attract a “cryptocurrency” market to leverage from idle gaming systems, cryptocurrency mining—a popular activity on campus these days—and to support applications like fault tolerance, which ensures websites remain active even when there’s an issue that would normally bring a site down.

IoT devices and machine learning/AI aren’t trends anymore: they’re as permanent as data collection and mining. Even cryptocurrency keeps marching on. Their presence, and that of the next thing on the horizon, will make more demands on power, even if they don’t need it all the time.

Most of us hate wasting resources. This “mesh computer” as Computes calls it, works in a way similar to how solar power customers sell excess power back to utilities. Plus, it’s good to see a technological advance that will actually help small businesses and nonprofits better manage their resources. The fact that this great idea was hatched right here in the Valley of the Sun makes it more than a little sweeter.

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