Blake Dowling, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 of 7

Blake Dowling

Blake Dowling is chief business development officer at Aegis Business Technologies. His technology columns are published by several organizations. Contact him at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com or at www.aegisbiztech.com

Tech, food and disruption: Hotels on the front lines of innovation

Like Ryan Lochte at a Rio gas station – 2017 is on.

We are 100 percent set for takeoff. Engines are roaring and what should we expect from technology in this grand year? There are three things you can always count on, breaches, innovation and disruption.

Let’s dive into innovation, shall we? (More swimming puns, ha!)

The hotel industry is usually on the front lines of innovation. The W in DC encourages you to use your smartphone as your room key, the Grand Bohemian in Orlando texts you about all things in regards to your stay. The Epicurean in Tampa takes it to the next level. We wheeled in around 6 p.m. and the young man who took our luggage took us to what I thought was the front desk; it was a wine station.

This development was greeted with genuine appreciation from Mrs. Dowling and me as we just got out of evening traffic.

So, pinot noir in hand, I followed the hotel staff member onto the elevator. He told us all about the property and after exiting the elevator, we went straight to room 333.

He produced a tablet from somewhere and zing, mobile check-in; giving us our keys from the comfort of our room. Innovative and awesome. No lines, no hassle, no delay. If lodging is needed on our next visit to Tampa, The Epicurean is the spot.

We had to be at our Outback Bowl tailgate early the next morning for breakfast Budweisers (don’t buy aluminum bottles) and Chicken and Waffles (courtesy of Chef Iverson), but upon our return to the property later in the day we noticed some other innovative twists.

The Epicurean Theater on the ground floor offered guests actual cooking classes with a room looking like a Food Network set, with theater-style seating for attendees.

What a unique experience to dive into the foodie world.

Speaking of culinary delights, the hotel was literally built around food, as Bern’s Steakhouse is across the street. The goal was to provide out of town dining guests a genuinely overnight dining experience. Bern’s offers cut-to-order steaks (in a class of their own), and they have the largest privately held wine collection in the world.

I checked into a property a few days after the recent presidential election and within the mirror in the bathroom was a small, built-in flat-screen TV.

So, you can watch CNBC, Fox News, CNN or Sanford and Son while getting dressed. I must have this for the house very soon. Too cool.

As you travel around the great state of Florida and visit wonderful properties like the Vinoy in St. Pete, Hotel Duval in Tallahassee, the above-mentioned Epicurean, or the Grand Bohemian (check out the art there), make sure you are enjoying the technology at your disposal; it will only enhance your experience.

Happy New Year!

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Blake Dowling the CEO at Aegis Business Technologies in Tallahassee and he writes columns for several organizations. You can contact him here: dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

 

Blake Dowling: Hacking, weaponized artificial intelligence, ransomware and other fun just for you

Breaches, hacking, ransomware, cyber threats, weaponized AI, smart toothbrushes are but a few examples of scary tech out there to make your day less than fantastic.

Weapons systems that think on its own are in production, with governments racing to catch up on how to regulate these fast-paced advancements.

Police and military already use drones and robots to eliminate threats, but (as far as we know) it’s hardware controlled by humans.

For example, in the Republic of Texas, police this year loaded a robot with explosives and — in true Lone Star State fashion — blew a sniper from whence he came. Who knows how many lives this effort saved?

That robot was controlled by a human. What happens when the robot can think on its own?

Maybe it decides it does not identify with being a robot, turning off the explosives?

Even if governments of the world (minus North Korea, Yemen, California, and Russia) enacted bans on this type of tech, what would stop rogue nations from creating their own? What vicious circle will we see here?

If such rouge nations start deploying them, we might have to implement them ourselves as a countermeasure.

Around and around we go. Scary stuff.

Maybe Stephen Hawking knew the 411 when, back in 2014, he said: “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

Moving on to ransomware.

The first CryptoLocker threat was devious. Click on a fake UPS or American Express site, and your files are encrypted. The originator of the threat then offers you the encryption keys — if you pay a ransom.

Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.

The latest version of ransomware, however, moves from devious to “Emperor Palpatine” mode. This one is called Popcorn Time.

Popcorn Time follows the same pattern as CryptoLocker, but with a twist.

In a true Dark Side manner, Popcorn Time creators also want to recruit you to become a loyal member of their version of the Sith. Once your files are encrypted, they ask you to pay the ransom or send a link containing the same virus to two people that you know.

If those people download the virus, they will give you the keys to unlock your files.

Whoa.

Talk about playing on people’s dark side (the trail of puns just keeps coming).

Security is only as good as the weakest link in the chain; generally, users have weak chains (who hasn’t come across a phishing email ever?). Ransomware is resolved relatively quickly, by relying on data backups.

It should go without saying, although you may be shocked by how many people fail at this.

Backups should also be redundant, copies of anything important both in the cloud (though a lot of malware can look for any drive associated with your computer, even Google Drive) and burned to a disc (surefire method).

Or you can go BC and chisel it into rock tablets in cuneiform (Moses knew what he was doing).

Cyber threats are out there, and if backed by a nation state with almost unlimited resources (like Russia), they will get you. Just ask former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

It’s like hitting the town with Johnny Manziel — sooner or later, the cops are going to get involved.

As mentioned above, backups are essential. Make sure they are redundant, keep passwords long and complicated (like a letter from the IRS); use two-factor authentication with financial institutions, and don’t send anything in an email you don’t want people to see.

Also, keep your anti-virus and anti-spam solutions up to date; have an enterprise-level firewall deployed at your office. We set ours (and our clients) to block any traffic not coming from the U.S. This is a great front line of security as so many cyber threats originate in Africa, Russia, China, etc.

Be safe out there, and Happy New Year!

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Blake Dowling is CEO at Aegis Business Technologies. His technology column is published monthly. Contact him at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com or at www.aegisbiztech.com.

Blake Dowling: Amazon Go storefront, the next big disruption in retail, society

When it comes to the home theater experience, we used to rent movies from Blockbuster and Movie Gallery. VHS came and went. Then DVD, which is gone (for the most part).

In regards to transportation, there are still taxi cabs out there, but everyone I know contacts Uber to get a ride.

Have you bought a CD lately? I know plenty of music execs who wish they could turn back the clock when there were huge margins on tapes, LPs and CDs.

And in the world of politics, Hillary Clinton was all set to become President, but here we are.

Granted the last one isn’t so much about technology but, for whatever reason, the experts didn’t see it coming.

Disruption can take on many forms.

We now have a new one, which is about to ruffle some serious feathers and it won’t just affect grocery stores, but retail in general.

Imagine a grocery store experience where you just walk into and grab what you need and leave. It’s opening in 2017. It’s called Amazon Go. It’s real, so to all the experts out there, take note.

Here’s how it works: After entering the store, you scan an app. Select items to put into your cart and the store tracks what you pick up. You already have an Amazon account, so it’s just a matter of sensors tracking you correctly.

The Amazon Go storefront is small; it is not a Wal-Mart type of set up. It has essentials and — for downtown residents of a major city — it seems like a perfect fit.

For example, I was shopping at Publix on Spring Street this past weekend, just before the SEC Game in Atlanta. If you could take the lines and congestion out of that place on a busy day, it would be wicked.

The ways in which this type of disruption would affect retail (and our society) seem to be endless. Where to start on the domino effect? Let’s see there are over 3 million cashiers employed in our country making minimum wage. With that wage about to go up, retail execs are bound to be thinking can’t we automate this? The self-checkout kiosks were just the beginning of a labor issue for the cashiers.

What about criminals? Those who misbehave with tech are drooling over this as well. Credit card numbers and personal info are being zapped around rampantly.

Or what about someone just walking into the Amazon Go store without scanning the app. In that scenario, I could imagine some rambunctious teens stealing beer. In this kind of world, I suppose you must have a significant security presence.

How will other stores catch up? Publix, for instance, doesn’t have your credit card info on file. And, personally, I don’t want them to have it.

In the past four years, I have had two credit cards digitally stolen. The first time it happened, American Express did an excellent job notifying me via the AMX app. Once I declined the purchase through the app, I soon received a phone call with details.

In hindsight, it was kind of funny: “Mr. Dowling, are you in Milan attempting to purchase a fur coat?”

That would be a negative, boss. Thanks for the heads up.

The other incident was more recent; the local bank involved was just as meticulous.

Hopefully, these types of stores will offer anti-skimming devices throughout the location to block the possibility of digital theft.

This is going to be a significant movement, and all eyes will be on both Amazon and this Seattle storefront to see where they succeed and where they fail.

Disruption never stops; who knows what’s next?

Personally, a grocery store with no line sounds like heaven. Clean up on aisle 4, LOL.

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Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies in Tallahassee; he writes columns for several organizations. You can contact him at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

Blake Dowling: Apps for everything

dowling-11-30I think I have downloaded more apps in the past five years than anyone in the southern United States. When the kids were younger, new game? Done. Five a day, we would play incessantly, then delete.

The gaming app 100 Balls took over two weeks of our life; Stack took a few weeks. Jet Pack Joy Ride might have robbed our family of actual months. Anyway, as the kids got older, it’s more about functionality these days.

Although Zombie Highway still pulls me back in sometimes, I try to get out, and they pull me back in (as the saying goes).

As far as must-have solid apps, here is my go-to list: WatchESPN, Xfinity (I can change the channel while on the road, the kids wonder why they are suddenly watching Air Wolf … Ha Ha!), dowling-11-30_2AMX, The Bible app is great, Delta, The Score, Twitter, and Insta.

For political junkies out there, make sure to check FloridaPolitics.com first for your news (duh).

After that, check out Politomix, which streamlines all political news worldwide 24/7, or Pocket Justice, which details over 600 constitutional law cases (they should have called this “party time,” because it sounds like the fun doesn’t stop).

iCitizen is another cool app for all things politics.

I have football season tickets with some fraternity brothers from back in the old days. The old days are defined as a time before smartphones, email, and social media – BT (Before Tech) for short.

It was a glorious time to be digitally anonymous. Those days are over now, and – for better or worse – tech is here to stay.

dowling-11-30_3In regards to my season ticket holding group we use an app called SplitCost, which comes in handy 4 dividing up expenses: New generator costs A, dinner out was B, 4 cases of gin costs C.

You create a group name in SplitCost and enter each members name and costs accordingly. It defines who owes in red and who is owed in green. This app can be used for anything requiring a shared bill. Check that one out, for sure.

As for professional messaging apps, Slack seems to be the up-and-comer with the most noise around it, with users who really like it.

Slack is a solid replacement for internal organizational email; it is also searchable, so you don’t lose any functionality. Slack is also free, making it certainly worth a look.

In the kitchen, you should check out BigOven. It is like most recipe apps but takes it to the next level.

Select a recipe and, like magic, the app sends you a grocery list – taking some of the chore out of cooking up something new.

Sometimes, exercise can get tedious – straight up boring – so download Zombies, Run!, which turns your daily workout into an all-out run-for-your-life-type experience.

OK, we have covered apps for politics, entertainment, messaging, gaming, cooking, exercise, travel, religion and finance. That’s all she wrote, man.

Hopefully, you find a use of one or two of these.

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dowling-11-30_4Blake Dowling is CEO at Aegis Business Technologies. His technology columns appear in publications for several organizations. Contact him at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com or www.aegisbiztech.com.

 

Blake Dowling: This Halloween, tech can be really scary

ernest-movies-halloweenTechnology can be scary.

That said, my Halloween column focuses on some frightening examples of tech gone awry; some you might find scarier (dumb scary) than an Ernest movie.

Who remembers those? AWFUL.

Others are disturbing in a more realistic way.

I recently noticed an email alert about a fake “blue screen of death.” An email comes in looking like it’s from Microsoft. You click on the icon that looks very close to the Microsoft Security Essentials Icon. It immediately runs malware that takes over your computer, complete with a blue screen and a phone number at the bottom to call for support. If you call the number, they remote access into your machine to “fix” the issue.

But in fact, they are just liberating your data as fast as they can.

self-driving-cars-halloweenSelf-driving cars can certainly be scary.

Imagine an automated car rolling down the highway at 85 miles per hour. And it gets hacked; a luxury item instantly weaponized.

Russians and other nation-states are constantly looking for weaknesses in our technical infrastructure; this could certainly be a natural space to target once (if) this tech becomes mainstream.

Opportunities to wreak havoc are endless.

Ever hear of Shodan?

shodanShodan is a search engine that allows a user — through a variety of filters — to find specific types of computers (webcams, routers, servers, etc.) connected to the internet. Scary enough.

Shodan also can identify devices with weak security settings, the perfect target for criminals. It could show the user, webcams, routers, air conditioning units (as in last year’s Target hack), or any other nontraditional network entry point.

Granted, Shodan was not designed as a tool for criminals, but neither was the computer. By identifying vulnerabilities, a hacker knows where to get in — the next step is how.

A complex password is a move in the right direction. There are a dozen solid password management and creation tools, which can make this task easier and more secure.

Check out LastPass; it is robust and very cool.

What is scarier than killer robots? Nothing really.

The military and police use robots for bomb disposal to avoid putting our brave men and women who serve in danger.

This summer, at a peaceful demonstration in Dallas, a sniper appeared (seemingly out of nowhere) and began shooting police officers. After a long standoff, a police robot was dispatched to “terminate” the shooter. It did so with extreme force. In fact, that was done by delivering a large payload of explosives to end the situation.

I am glad this happened: it ended the standoff with no additional lives lost.

However, what if such a robot — with that kind of skill set — was hacked?

In a more day-to-day fight; how about your phone blowing up in your pocket?

samsung-note-7Welcome to the short-lived world of the Samsung Note 7 smartphone.

In the wake of multiple cases of a Note 7 emitting smoke, exploding, etc., a flight was canceled, and the plane evacuated, because of one of these bad boys. Long story short, Samsung no longer makes them anymore.

Know what’s scary … really scary? Samsung has no clue what caused this to happen.

It’s a frightening world out there, full of hackers, drones, AI, robots, Ernest movies, exploding phones, and all sorts of other shenanigans.

I leave you with two pieces of Halloween advice: update/change/enhance your password, and don’t dress like a scary clown — you could get shot.

Thankfully, I believe the world responded accordingly, and is over the spooky clown craze.

Happy Halloween.

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Blake Dowling is CEO at Aegis Business Technologies. His technology columns are published by several organizations. Contact him at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com or at aegisbiztech.com.

Blake Dowling: Artificial intelligence — curing cancer, or world domination?

watsonI made a strategic decision Sunday — to sit out the second round of presidential debates.

Instead, I enjoyed a fascinating expose on artificial intelligence (AI) on “60 Minutes.” We all have pre-conceived notions about AI.

Stephen Hawking has said when machines are smarter than us, it will bring about the end of the world. Specifically, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

Most of us are familiar with the fictitious Terminator film and television franchise, unfolding the saga of John Conner versus Skynet, which follows Hawking’s thinking.

In these stories, AI does indeed bring about the end of mankind. Or does it? In the final episode, with so much time travel, it’s difficult to really know what happened.

Then there are other forms of AI that are much less dangerous, like driverless cars (less dangerous behind the wheel than my teenage stepson), and my pal Siri — who, I am afraid, is a long way away from doing anything intelligent, much less damaging. Although she has the weather question down. That is her go-to question, and it’s a home run every time.

Are you familiar with Watson? IBM’s monster super-computer is named for IBM founder Thomas J. Watson.

Watson combines artificial intelligence with analytical software to create the ultimate question-answering machine. Watson runs on over 90 servers, making it a workhorse of a machine. It lives in a space the size of about a dozen refrigerators.

Featured on Jeopardy in 2011, Watson became a star that evening. Keep in mind, however, Watson is not connected to the web, so answers came from its knowledge base, which has been slowly built over time.

By the end of the night, Watson meted out losses to the other contestants and punched the winning ticket with over $77,000 in prizes.

So, now that it has conquered the game show circuit, what is a world famous rock star AI supercomputer to do with itself? Retire to a Tahitian data center and work on a digital tan? Sip Cyber Daiquiris on the beach?

Not this machine;  the ball has just started rolling.

In 2016, Watson is tackling the most difficult medical and legal cases, paired with the world’s top (human) minds. Estimates put 8,000 documents on cancer research coming out globally each day.

Not a doctor in the world can process that much information. They might be able to receive all of the updates, but the keyword in this scenario is “processing.” Watson can comprehend research, apply it to real-life cases, and help with the ever-so-difficult task of treating cancer.

At the University of North Carolina’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, Watson analyzed over 100 recent cases and, in 300 patients, the computer found clinically actionable information the human team alone had missed.

So — in round numbers — Watson brought new insights to 300 cases; and in some cases, new hope.

What we are seeing with Watson is only the beginning. The IBM team predicts that the platform is in its infancy, and Hawking’s fears are way out of bounds.

Because none of us want to bump into this guy anytime soon:

terminator

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Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. His columns are publishing by several organizations. You can reach him at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com

 

Blake Dowling: Expert advice on navigating the social media universe

Who remembers the short-lived site, Friendster?

friendster-dowlingSix years ago I was asked to sit on a panel at a conference to give “expert advice” on social media use at work.

I wish someone had shot some video footage; in the lifetime of social media, six years is an eternity.

Just think … in 2008, Myspace peaked. Myspace was the most visited social networking site in the world, attracting during that time 75.9 million unique visitors a month.

Now, in 2016, we have a slew of options for social media; none of them are Myspace.

At work, we have an Instagram account, Twitter feed, and Facebook account. Our Facebook page consists (mainly) of 600 friends in the community; Tallahassee being a small market, our personal and professional lives overlap quite a bit. Social media should be part of your daily routine, no matter what line of work you are in.

If you aren’t out there, you can bet a gallon of peach schnapps your competition is.

Granted, you don’t have to be garrulous and post every five minutes about what you had for lunch, what you are reading, what you think of the service at the car palace. Keep your messaging and content fresh and make sure you pay attention carefully to the difference between personal and professional posts.

It’s a gray area, but an important one.

I was talking to social media expert Ryan Cohn of Sachs Media Group, and he had the following to say about social media: “You can’t 100 percent separate personal life and professional life, so for those interested, all my own social platforms also have professional content. I’m active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat — but I prioritize Twitter and LinkedIn for business content.”

Ryan went on to say this about the general state of social media: “The cardinal sin of social media: Businesses that wait too long to respond to a crisis. When businesses stay silent, they turn over control to consumers. In only a few hours, you’ve got thousands of people spreading misinformation because the market didn’t value them enough to share the truth.” ‘

Do you remember SeaWorld and the documentary “Blackfish,” about whales in captivity? It cast the amusement park in a negative light. So to try and refresh the brand.

They launched the #AskSeaWorld hashtag campaign.

Guess how that went over? Like a non-alcoholic beer at Madis Gras.

People flocked to it, calling them an “abusement park” and other clever names.

Perhaps the best advice would be to take Ryan’s advice — respond quickly but don’t open it up to Q&A for the world. That is, unless you are ready for the backlash.

gerry-hamilton-twitterWe all multitask these days, having several windows open at once. College football analyst Gerry Hamilton was tweeting about our nations’ top football recruits, and he accidentally included a link to an adult site.

Unlike most fails, Gerry pulled a new one and never even acknowledged it — no apology to ESPN and fans of college football. I would not recommend that approach, but the heat went away pretty fast for Gerry. However his name is forever damaged, the internet never forgets as screenshots were taken before he could take it down. Like this one.

Even the government is not immune to mistakes; when you give someone control of a social media account, you are literally putting your reputation in their hands.

I personally manage our social media presence to try and balance the content with humor and information, and, most importantly, getting the Aegis name out there.

justice-dept-twitterA U.S. Justice Department employee tweeted this year — “CNN is the biggest troll of them all.”

Whoops; that was an error. They meant to send that to their personal account. Silly humans!

Social media is a tremendous responsibility to manage. When used correctly, it can bring excellent brand recognition. There are experts on social media like Ryan, so reach out to them if you need to find your way.

Also, make sure not to assign social media responsibilities to the youngest person on the team. Sure, they might understand the tech the best, but they might not have the experience to manage your image.

Along those lines, Cohn also added the following: “Social media is like an iceberg: Most conversation takes place below the surface, private and outside the view of businesses. The conversations that change minds and purchasing behavior most often occur between friends — recommendations are used as social currency. Identify and empower your leading advocates — especially employees and clients — to talk about your company and share useful information. You may not always be able to see their conversations, but you’ll see the impact at your cash register.”

I would like to thank Ryan for contributing to this piece, and I look forward to seeing everyone out there in the social media universe.

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blake-dowling-twitterBlake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. His columns are publishing by several organizations. You can reach him at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

Ryan Cohn is vice president of Sachs Media Group.

 

Blake Dowling: With rising cybercrime, it’s good hearing bad guys get caught

Over the years, I have composed dozens of columns on cyberthreats, skimming credit cards at the pump, boss-phishing, crypto locker, and identity theft. In a lot of those stories, you don’t hear about the bad guys getting the hammer.

The Department of Homeland Security has an enormous task of defending government agencies from nation-state cyberattacks, as well as criminals on our own turf.

They usually don’t have time for Joe-Bob average citizen.

Same for identity theft. If you have your identity stolen, and the criminal makes bogus purchases in your name in another state, local authorities might tell you to report in that other state, which is about as helpful as a microwave lasagna during a power outage (#Hermine).

However, the FBI is the head agency for investigating and defending us from cyberattacks. But again, they are generally after looking for the big threats, and not so much worried about the little guy or gal.

A story over the weekend shows the citizens of Florida getting some help at the state level. Attorney General Pam Bondi took down a tech company called Client Care Experts based out of Boynton Beach that was defrauding “clients” out of millions of dollars.

The alleged fraud consisted of the following scenario: They would infect a user’s PC with malware, and a pop-up message would alert the “victim” to call tech support immediately. That call would be routed to the Client Care Experts’ call center where the sales people would charge them $250 to clean the computer.

Unfortunately, as with a lot of scams, these individuals are more than likely targeting our large elderly population, making the situation even more dastardly.

A court order to shut down the company is in place, which should keep any future victims safe while the matter is thoroughly investigated and the hammer of justice pummels these fellows (if guilty, of course).

“Floridians rely on computers to communicate with family and friends, make purchases and conduct business, and when scammers target these devices they can scare and frustrate consumers, especially our seniors. That is why we are working diligently to identify and stop tech scams targeting Floridians,” Bondi said.

Online threats are becoming more and more persistent, so it’s nice to hear about someone fighting the good fight and some of these criminals getting caught.

As a reminder — if someone calls you about remotely accessing your computer, hang up and consult your IT professional. Do not click on links or files in emails that look suspicious; keep your security products (firewall, anti-virus, and anti-spam software) up to date, and utilize two-factor authentication with financial institutions.

And — last but not least — keep your passwords complicated. Stay safe out there.

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Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. His columns are publishing by several organizations. You can reach him at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

 

Blake Dowling: Hermine rocks Tallahassee; scenes from the hurricane

Hermine rocked Tallahassee in a big way.

Florida’s capital city is still reeling with thousands of businesses and homes without power. I awoke Friday morning at 6 a.m. to a scene from the set of “The Walking Dead.” My home had no power.

As I attempted to leave, several downed trees were blocking the driveway. So tree removal became Chore 1 of the day. Next, on to the office.

I drove down Sixth Street avoiding trees and power lines and pulled into our debris-ridden lot. I grabbed my flashlight and made a to-do list; we forwarded all phones to emergency lines and began checking on staff.

Everyone reported back (with one member MIA), as we went about trying to get some work done.

Then I decided to walk down to Whataburger for breakfast for staff members at the office; It was my third indication that it was going to be a long next few days.

Dowling Whataburger 09.06No taquitos — a fact I posted on Twitter, which was picked up by ABC News (more on that another time).

Now that it was light outside, I returned to my house to assess the damage.

Everywhere in the yard, limbs were down, some missing the home by only a few feet; others were rocketed a foot into the ground — like King Arthur’s legendary Sword in the Stone.

Then I saw my neighbor’s house, where a huge tree landed right down the middle. Yikes. Destruction was everywhere.

I received a call from the MIA staff member, who was a little freaked out. He told me a tree crashed into his home. I said I would be there in a minute to check on him.

A tree had ripped through his bedroom as he slept, tearing a massive hole in the roof. Amazingly, he was not injured. He was extremely fortunate, as one of the tree branches crashed into his bed right by his head. As we stood in his yard to discuss the events of the evening, you began to see neighbors and strangers helping each other clean up and offer assistance.

The staff member whose house was destroyed even shared a funny story.

Dowling Hermine 09.06A police officer knocked on his door at dawn, asking: “Sir, are you aware there is a tree smashed into your home?”

“Yes, sir,” he replied.

We all had a good laugh at that one. But no insult was intended to anyone during this time. First responders were on the scene all over town checking on the well-being of our citizens.

As I returned to the house, the neighborhood was out in force, cleaning up yards and streets.

I have not visited with my neighbors much over the years. Everyone was asking if others were OK, and if anyone needed any help.

It was pretty cool, among all the chaos, to see the good side of human nature and the power of the human spirit. The staff member I mentioned earlier — whose home was destroyed the night before — stopped by my house with an extra case of water. What a heart of gold.

Tragedy can bring out the best in people; in this instance, that is exactly what happened. Thank goodness, we did not hear many stories of looting or other troubles.

I think the only negative story I heard during that time is the feud between the governor and the mayor (save the anger and bickering guys, we need you on the same page during a crisis, not pointing fingers in public. Keep it behind closed doors).

Technology really helped us make it through the storm with our clients. With only a few tablets and mobile phones, we were able to keep several balls in the air simultaneously Friday for those needing technical support.

Beer distributors (beer must flow), insurance, roofers; businesses that needed to be open, stayed open. Then came Saturday, and the power was back. We continued to provide service for those needing help.

On the homefront, I was able to hitch my smartphone to the TV, watching in full high-definition our local football hero John Burt and the Texas Longhorns whoop up on Notre Dame. What a game.

And, of course, with limited tech at home, we had endless amounts of family bonding. Now, we are all caught up on everything in each other’s lives. For anyone with teenagers, you know this kind of opportunity is rare. And we all worked together all weekend, hand-in-hand, to clean up the debris covering the yard and roof.

Back to the business world.

Sunday, I spoke with Paul Watts, whose company, Electronet, provides internet. He was checking in on some mutual clients, and let me know they had been running a generator for three days. By burning a lot of diesel, they kept our customers (and his) up and running. Nice job, sir.

When preparing for the next crisis that could face our community, make sure disaster recovery plans are clear.

In the case of damage to your office, establish a rallying point. And, depending on your line of work, get a generator. Have call-forwarding protocols ready, and set up redundant backups of your data — both local and in the cloud.

Disaster will strike again, so make sure you are ready.

In closing, I would like to offer huge thanks to all of those who spent the holiday weekend helping others.

This Instagram post — from my friend Heather — sums it up nicely:

Dowling Hermine 09.06 2

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Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. His columns are publishing by several organizations. You can reach him at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com

Blake Dowling: Are your customer service skills ‘noble’?

Blake Dowling with Ashley Leggett of Capital City Bank at the Chamber Conference
Blake Dowling with Ashley Leggett of Capital City Bank

The annual Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce Conference was held at the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island this August; if you have never attended, it is a solid get-together of North Florida’s business, political, educational and health care leaders.

Master of ceremonies for the weekend, as in the 10 years that I been in attendance, was Gary Yordon. Gary oversees the agenda, sliding in a snarky joke or zinger at every twist and turn.

We get a well-deserved break from the world of academia bubbles, microaggressions, triggers and safe places, because when Yordan is behind the wheel, no one is safe, mainly elected officials.

Bravo, sir.

One panel, held by lobbyist Nick Iarossi of Capital City Consulting, weighed in on gaming in Florida, talking about what the future might look like. I noticed Nick likes to use the phrase “Class 3 gaming” a lot. By the end, Gary was giving him a good bit of hazing, calling Nick “pretty.” To his credit, Nick did not blink an eye. Both are cool customers.

I like to think of the Chamber conference as the wedding reception of business.

Eh? What is this Family Guy-type of analogy you speak of? Let me explain.

At a wedding reception, you have all of your family and friends in one place. For a single occasion/weekend, you get to hang out with all of them morning, noon and night. The same goes for the Chamber conference, with elected officials and other community leaders all in one place to network. You can’t escape.

That is the reason the Chamber leaves Tallahassee for the event. If we all stayed here, we would sneak back to our homes or offices.

Being out of town, everyone is together and focused, at least in theory. Now do you understand the reception analogy?

It’s that one weekend where one can have a very broad view into the inner workings of our community.

The Chamber does a nice job with the agenda, creating a diverse tapestry of learning opportunities.

The Dowlings with Maclay Head of School, James Milford
The Dowlings with Maclay Head of School, James Milford

From artists to politicos to Florida State University President John Thrasher, there was a lot of information to take in. As the weekend rolled on, one thing was hard to ignore: The level of service provided by the property, the Ritz-Carlton.

Brooke Hallock, my Leadership Tallahassee classmate, ordered a Coke Zero with lunch. I casually mentioned the hotel was a Pepsi property. The server, a young lady, did not blink, took Brooke’s order and — rather quickly — produced the requested Coke product, instead of something from Pepsi-land.

“After all, it is ‘the Ritz,’” Brooke chimed in.

One morning, I saw employees gather by the pool with their manager, who led them through a lively discussion of customer service and professionalism. They are truly 100 percent committed to delivering rock-solid customer experience to everyone visiting their property.

Taking with William Smith of Capital City Bank, he mentioned they perform a weekly stand-up at the bank similar to the Ritz. I thought that was cool.

At Aegis, we have a similar approach to meetings; making sure the lines of communication remain wide-open between clients and team members.

William also asked me if I noticed that the doors of the elevators are always open at the lobby level?

No, I did not notice until William said something. But isn’t that how it should be?

It’s the little things in life, ya’ know; they really do mean everything.

dowling 2 08.30
Blake and Jeanne Dowling with Jay and Bri Smith, the Smith Family owns Ajax Building Corporation

Another experience, this time in the restaurant, in which Mrs. Dowling was less-than-thrilled with her entrée.

The manager got down on one knee, eye-to-eye with us. She professed her most sincere apologies. As a manager, it honestly seemed as if she had let us down personally, taking the situation (perhaps a bit) too seriously.

We politely refused her offer of a complimentary dessert or beverage, which she took as a sign of our continued dissatisfaction — which was not the case. The fact was, we had been already overserved and overfed.

The manager followed up by wanting to comp the entrée, and later the director of catering called to offer additional niceties, which we humbly and respectfully declined.

The Ritz is a shiny (and hard-to-miss) reminder that we should always take first-class care of both clients and constituents, no matter what your business. If you fail to do so, someone else is out there ready to take up the slack.

Ritz Carlton’s logo is a lion and crown, representing elegance, refinement and nobility. Mission accomplished; thanks for a great and noble customer service experience.

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Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. His columns are publishing by several organizations. You can reach him at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

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