Aligning Your Technology Stars: Lessons from Astronomy
At Inertia we believe that we’ve built the most complete online solution for selling direct to the consumer (and to the trade)—and we’re constantly dreaming up new ideas to enhance that solution even further. We’ve been busy building the next generation of our software platform, and so this is an exciting time for our company and its future.
However, as good as our solution is (and will continue to be in the future) we recognize that the typical winery has employed a variety of other technologies to help them run their business. These include solutions for vineyard, production and warehouse management, tasting room point of sale, and accounting/financial reporting, among others. Throw in the need to manage a wine club, perform state compliance, and send order ship notices to a third party logistics company (like WTN or Copper Peak Logistics) or a common shipping carrier (like FedEx or UPS), and you have a complicated web of data and processes. Each system has its own set of data and operational processes to manage.
Given the complexities of the individual systems, and the underlying data required to support them, many wineries are forced to resort to systems integrations patched together by the various software vendors—or even worse, manual processes to move the data from one system to the other. It’s quite a dilemma for most wineries, but it’s something Inertia has dedicated itself to helping our clients manage. My job is to live and breathe integration—to facilitate connecting our core systems with the technology of as many other partners as possible. Our goal is to reduce the burden wineries face in managing their technology—to allow them to focus more time on their core business—making and selling wine.
The dilemma of technology integration reminds me of something I’ve recently encountered in a hobby of mine, astronomy. While I’ve owned telescopes for many years, all of my experience has been in visual astronomy—out under the stars, looking through the eyepiece of the telescope. Until recently, taking pictures through a telescope was a difficult and daunting task, often requiring years of experience and dedication to produce acceptable results. The introduction of digital cameras (and CCD cameras specially designed for astronomy) has changed all that. Now, fantastic results can be obtained more quickly, and with a less steep learning curve.
My journey down the road to astrophotography began when I started renting telescope time via a network of remotely operated telescopes called Global Rent a Scope (GRAS), www.global-rent-a-scope.com. These telescopes, housed in remote desert locations in New Mexico, Israel, and Australia, are controlled completely via the Internet. This is very similar to the process professional astronomers use to control the world’s most powerful telescopes, like the University of California’s Keck Observatory in Hawaii, or the Hubble Space Telescope.
It’s simple. Buy telescope time with your credit card, select the appropriate telescope, choose the celestial object you want to image, provide parameters on the length and types of exposures—and poof, within a few minutes you have a series of raw images you can turn into a beautiful photograph. It’s amazing. Specialized software, like Photoshop, is required to process the raw images—but the techniques for doing that are within reach of the amateur astronomer. And despite their relatively small size, valuable science can be performed with these telescopes, and some ambitious amateurs are assisting professional astronomers with their projects. The most obvious example is searching for NEO’s (near earth objects) which one day might collide with the earth.
After using the GRAS system for awhile I was completely hooked. Thinking it would be more fun to do my own CCD imaging, I quickly decided to buy the equipment necessary to do it in my own backyard. It’s certainly been an adventure. While I recognized this going in, I quickly encountered first-hand the complexities of the entire process that the GRAS system had hidden from the end-user. Those complexities are many, including pointing a telescope at a very small patch of sky, focusing the CCD camera (which is much more sensitive than the human eye), accurately tracking the celestial object for minutes (or hours) as the earth rotates, managing an array of colored filters, dealing with a mess of wires and cables, etc. Whew!
The folks at GRAS have done what we at Inertia are striving to help our clients do—reduce the complexities of managing an interconnected set of technologies. They have stitched together into a seamless interface an amazing array of astronomical hardware and software. The “manual” processes that I must do now with my own CCD imaging rig, e.g. pointing the telescope, focusing the camera, etc, are akin to those manual business processes that many wineries now must do to operate their own array of systems.
My own personal goal is to help Inertia build a technology infrastructure that can help hide the complexities of the needed system integration from the winery—and to forge strong and cooperative relationships with other like-minded companies. We know that the wine industry in general and our own clients specifically, have been asking for solutions to connect their systems, and believe me, Inertia is listening!