Mandy Prior and Zen Piotrowski

Mandy Prior and Zen Piotrowski

While attending the 1967 world’s fair in Montreal as a youngster, Zen Piotrowski was mesmerized by a certain forward-looking exhibit.

“They had a kind of a glass-enclosed booth that you’d go into, and you could talk to another family or whoever was at another glass-enclosed booth. You could have a conversation and you could see them, and that was really wild,” the Upper St. Clair resident recalled. “And they said, ‘This is going to be something of the future.’”

The prediction proved correct, as anyone who uses FaceTime will attest. But making the ability to do so practical took decades.

Since then, the time frame for scientific advancements has shrunken considerably.

“Technology is changing in the world today faster than ever before,” Piotrowski said. “And then it’s very difficult sometimes to understand how those changes are going to impact business.”

As president of CMIT Solutions of Pittsburgh South, which focuses on information technology, Piotrowski provided a considerable amount of insight for the first presentation of the South West Communities Chamber of Commerce’s new speaker series. His Feb. 7 talk, “How Technology Is Changing Business in 2019,” took place at the Hampton Inn in South Fayette Township.

“The biggest change that I think makes a huge difference to lots of clients is something called software as a service,” he said, citing SaaS examples such as Microsoft’s Office 365, Google’s G Suite and QuickBooks Online.

All provide the services of storing, managing and processing data remotely, in the so-called cloud.

“The value of it is, you don’t have to install it on your computer. It’s installed somewhere else,” Piotrowski explained. “If you think about everything that you have to do to run programs and support your infrastructure, it really takes away all that hassle.”

With advances in information technology come increasing amounts of data that businesses can store and, optimally, put to good use.

“It starts off with what’s called descriptive analytics, which is operational information about your business and perhaps outcomes that have occurred,” Piotrowski said. “And depending on how much of that you store, you might be able to make some predictions about what’s a good thing to do.”

He gave the example of operating a retail shop.

“You’re trying to figure out what products are moving better, and if there are certain types of advertising you do, is there a higher propensity for customers to buy them. And how can you maximize profit?” he said. “Companies like Walmart utilize that kind of software. They use predictive analytics from operational information that they store.”

Piotrowski also discussed search engine optimization with regard to business’ online visibility.

“You can pay to have your searches come up, but at least you can tell who’s doing that because you see that it’s an ad,” he explained. “But those organic searches, it’s a little trickier.”

Working with a company that specializes in such assistance could be an option.

“As a business owner, you can think about how much time you might need to spend just to optimize this,” Piotrowski said. “And you’ll never get it perfect, because Google changes it every once in a while. They put little tweaks in there.”

Regarding the downside of advancements in technology, he spoke about problems pertaining to cybersecurity.

“They can be prevented, but they’re not really simple to prevent,” he said. “You have to do an analysis of what’s going on in your environment and how your environment is structured to figure out how to make it really hard to get through.”

Keeping systems current is key, he asserted, referencing Equifax’s 2017 data breach that disclosed information about nearly 150 million people.

“It was a really simple operating system patch that was missing on the system,” Piotrowski said, “and it exposed every one of us, probably everyone in this room, to have our information out there that anyone can now steal as a result.”

Mandi Pryor, chamber of commerce executive director, pointed out that problems also can occur locally: the chamber’s website was victimized by hackers that took over its domain, and correcting the problem was costly.

“They just sit online, waiting,” she said. “So make sure you know when your domain is up for renewal and pay attention.”

For more information about the South West Communities Chamber of Commerce – serving Bridgeville, Collier, Heidelberg, Scott, South Fayette, Upper St. Clair and surrounding areas – visit southwestcommunitieschamber.org.

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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