ATS designation – Auction Technology Specialist for auctioneers

The latest designation from the National Auctioneers Association (NAA) is Auction Technology Specialist (ATS). A course written by auctioneers for auctioneers, it offers a comprehensive education for all auctioneers, including those who are self-described as technology-challenged.

ATS in Overland Park

Students in the ATS course in Overland Park, April 2008

The biggest misconception about ATS is that it’s designed for operational staff instead of auctioneers. Unlike the Auction Administrator Certification Program, which is indeed targeted at support staff, the ATS course is intended to teach auctioneers to be competent using modern techniques to build their businesses, tap more potential sellers, gain exposure to more buyers and dissect the jargon used by technology vendors to find out what services they really provide and what those services will really cost.

Packing the wallop of 28 credit hours, the focus is not to teach auctioneers to become geeks. It’s clear that the best use of auctioneers’ time is marketing items and services, not writing lines of code. The focus instead is to help the auctioneers understand the purpose, not necessarily the mechanics, of modern gadgets, marketing avenues and website design theory and techniques.

Like most of the courses offered by the NAA, you must have your associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree or approved life equivalency and be 21 years of age or older. In addition to these common requirements, you must also complete two simple, straightforward and free courses offered by Microsoft.

  • The Internet and the World Wide Web
  • Digital Lifestyles

For an auctioneer with basic Internet knowledge, these courses take minutes to complete. If you’re an auctioneer who is new to technology, computers, Internet or email, these courses provide a great way to become familiar with the basics on your own time. These courses also give you an idea of the assumptions made by the course of the minimum level of understanding possessed by the students of the class. The live course builds on the materials covered in the two Internet courses.

As for the live class, the chapter list on the NAA ATS page is a little out of date. Here’s the list of the current course chapters in order.

Auction Technology Specialist

Auction Technology Specialist

  • Types of Auctions and Their Technology Needs
  • Digital Photography and Video
  • Image Hosting
  • Inventory Management
  • Lead Generation and Prospecting
  • Marketing Your Auctions
  • Payment Processing
  • Enterprise Integration
  • Websites
  • Company Marketing Strategy
  • Building an Online Community

The last day of the course is a hands-on exercise that builds on the skills learned during the first three days and demonstrates the listing of items for Internet bidding using multiple platforms as well as posting an item-level listing to the NAA’s state-of-the-art auction calendar.

Finally, after having taken the class, students must conduct an Internet only auction as well as a live auction with Internet bidding available before officially passing the course and gaining the ATS designation.

Here’s the class summary from the NAA website.

The Auction Technology Specialist ( ATS) program will help you understand today’s technology and how to use it to improve your business. ATS consists of two sections. The first section takes place online using the Microsoft eLearning Center. The second section is a live, four-day, classroom experience. To complete the designation, you must complete the four day class, pass the class exam, conduct a live and static auction, and submit the appropriate documentation.

In these scary economic times, many of us will find our businesses evolve. The one thing we cannot afford in this economic downturn is to become lax in our education. Maintaining a pulse on the industry and on technology will let us adjust quickly to these fast-changing times.

If you’re an auctioneer who hasn’t yet done many auctions while providing Internet bidding, you should take ATS. If you’re an auctioneer who doesn’t have a website or who wants to make your website better, you should take ATS. If you’re an auctioneer who is obsessed with auction tech and can’t wait to find out the latest and greatest techniques for improving your auctions, you should take ATS. If you’re an auctioneer looking to build your business using some of the newest social media and guerrilla Internet marketing, you should take ATS. If you’re an auctioneer who is looking to gain a competitive edge on your competition, you should take ATS. If you’re a programmer or the head of technology at your auction firm and are interested in technology and not so much interested in auctions or the auction method, ATS may not be right for you. ATS is for auctioneers.

In the interests of disclosure, I’ve personally been involved with the course for some time, along with several industry leaders in the field of auction tech. I’m quite happy with the way it was developed, the variety of views and materials presented in the coursework and the reception it has received so far from those auctioneers who have taken the course.

NAA LogoThe ATS designation, like all the designations from the NAA, tells customers – bidders, buyers and sellers – that you are recognized in the industry for having mastered a skill set. I’m not going to argue the merits of ATS against the other designations offered by the NAA as they’re all valuable. But no matter if you do estate auctions (CES), real estate auctions (AARE), benefit auctions (BAS) or all kinds of auctions, the beauty of ATS is that, regardless of your specialty, it will help you conduct better auctions and be a better auctioneer.

View more information about ATS in Baltimore on November 17 and submit your registration today.

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Auction website using wordpress

Benton County Auto Auction website screenshot

Benton County Auto Auction website screenshot

I theorized back at CAI in Bloomington, Indiana, last March that it would be possible to use WordPress to power a website for an auction company. WordPress is a remarkable, extensible and mostly standards-compliant website scripting engine that allows for very easy content generation without website coding experience. AuctioneerTech proudly uses WordPress, and I also use it for the Aaron Traffas Band website, as well as a more private website that I run for my family. I love its simplicity, customizability and expandability.

Today I came across a search engine for WordPress-powered websites. I punched up auction and found several websites for auction companies that were indeed using WordPress.

Here they are in the order I found them.

http://www.bentoncountyautoauction.com/
http://chevroletcarauctions.com/
http://laymanauction.com/
http://schultzauctioneerslandmarkrealty.com/
http://www.cloudsauctions.com/
http://www.chiswickauctions.co.uk/

Some of the sites listed above were customised to such an extent that there must be some developer actively involved in that customization. Some were not. Which are your favorites and why?

These auctioneers recognized the power and freedom of the WordPress system and have, to varying degrees, customized their sites to overcome some of the standard blog-with-menu-on-the-right-or-left design elements that come standard with most WordPress installations. Many website hosts such as LunarPages and GoDaddy offer the ability to install the basic WordPress system with a menu-driven control panel so that from the time you register and provide payment to the time you’re beginning to customise your installation, you’ve spent 5 minutes using your computer to register and install WordPress and a few hours waiting for the domain name to become active and never once touched an FTP client.

I’m not advocating the use of WordPress instead of a professionally-designed website. As an auctioneer, I’d rather have a great website than a working phone number. I’m merely pointing out that it’s an option for some auctioneers who can’t afford the hundreds – or sometimes thousands – of dollars that a real website costs.

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Auction Podcast Episode 6 – Internet bidding primer

In this episode, we’re going to cover the basics of Internet bidding including the different types of Internet bidding, or online bidding, and the different kinds of providers.

There are three main types of Internet bidding. Some Internet bidding providers allow some but not all of the types of auctions. I’ll cover some of the basics here, with future articles and podcasts building on these topics by discussing the combinations of the types of Internet bidding as well as going deeper into the benefits of certain types of auctions and providers.

Let’s begin by discussing the three main types of Internet bidding which are Internet only, pre-auction only Internet bidding, and real-time Internet bidding.

First, let’s address Internet only bidding. When the items sell based solely on the bids from the Internet, it’s an Internet only auction. Internet only auctions may have a bid caller and they may have a crowd, but when software is calculating the time remaining and the current and final bid prices, it’s an Internet only auction. Internet only bidding is sometimes referred to as an eBay-style or static auction, but those are horrific terms for it. Modern Internet only auctions have staggered endings and automatic extensions, more closely simulating a live auction. These modifications move the game so far away from eBay rules that there isn’t a legitimate comparison. The term static implies nothing changes. It’s very definition means fixed or motionless and the auction industry is doing itself an enormous disservice by using the word static to refer to this very active and exciting method of bidding. This method drastically lowers overhead, as well as provides a viable means of selling small groups of assets in multiple locations.

Second in our types of bidding is pre-auction bidding. Pre-auction bidding is the method of accepting Internet bids up to a point slightly before the auction begins to end and representing the Internet bids as absentee bids against the live crowd. This method offers the advantage of increased speed of the event as the auctioneer can see everyone who can possibly bid and doesn’t have to wait for an Internet bidder he can’t see. When the live crowd is done bidding he can sell the item and move on. It offers the convenience for buyers to place bids without having to attend the event or sit in front of a computer.

Finally, real-time bidding is probably the most common type of Internet bidding currently. The process involves an audio or perhaps video stream so that buyers can view the auction as it happens on their computers. They can place bids during the auction based on the audio and the display of the current bid price on their computers. This method has the advantage of allowing bids right up until the second the item closes, but forces users to wait in front of their computers until the items in which they’re interested sell. Many buyers no longer have that time available, or, when first seeing the auction, plan to sit in front of their computers during the event but forget by the time the auction starts to end.

Now let’s move on to the two classes of Internet bidding providers which are portal site solutions and integrated solutions.

When Internet bidding is offered but that bidding occurs on the website of a third party, that third party is a portal. That is, auctions from many auction firms are listed and the bidding is handled all within that site. This method offers the benefit of cross-promotion, where the customers driven to the site by one auctioneer may see the assets listed by another. The downside is that it makes brand-building very difficult and makes buyer retention next to impossible. This kind of solution is good for an auctioneer who needs results quickly. Examples of this kind of provider include Bidspotter, Proxibid, AuctionFLEX and NAA Live.

The concept of an integrated Internet bidding solution is less well-known in the industry. An integrated solution embeds the Internet bidding pages within the website of the auctioneer. The software may not reside physically on the auctioneers’ servers, but the website is built so that the buyer can’t tell the difference and never sees any logo or promotional materials of the provider. This method has the advantage of being excellent for brand building and buyer retention, but has the disadvantage of taking some time to build a buyer base. Examples of this kind of provider include JBS Software’s Maxanet and NextLot.

That’s it for episode six. I’m excited to announce that my friends Robert Mayo of Mayo Auction and Realty and Darron Meares of the Meares Auction Group have agreed to be the first two guests on the show, so look for those two interview episodes over the next two months.

You’ve been listening to the Auction Podcast from AuctioneerTech. If you have suggestions, questions or comments, or are interested in being a guest, please let me know by going to www.auctioneertech.com/feedback and leaving a message. You can also post public comments about this or any other episode, as well as find show transcripts, on the auction podcast page of auctioneertech.com.

Thank you for listening. Now go sell something.

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Synergy uses one keyboard and mouse for multiple computers, displays

Synergy logoI use several computers simultaneously during day-to-day operation. While it’s easy to connect multiple displays to one computer, the ability to use the best features of Windows XP, Windows Vista and Linux simultaneously is much more valuable than having additional screen area, or real estate, on one operating system.

While it’s possible, and certainly easier, to use a hardware KVM switch, that method defeats the value of having more screen real estate. You’re also relegated to having to hit a button to switch from one computer to another.

I used to have three sets of keyboards and mice, one for each of my three main workstations. Those three sets really consumed too much desktop real estate. It was clunky moving from typing on one keyboard to another, sometimes annoying as I would start typing on one keyboard when I should have been typing on another. Then I found Synergy and it changed everything.

Synergy is an cross-platform, open source utility that allows one computer to share its mouse and keyboard over a network with other computers. It simulates having multiple monitors connected to one machine, so your mouse moves seamlessly from one display on one computer to an adjoining display connected to another computer.

Synergy reduces desktop clutter for multiple computers

Synergy reduces desktop clutter by allowiong one mouse and keyboard to control multiple computers

Synergy comes in versions for Windows, Linux and Mac. My main computer is Linux, but there are still some programs such as Outlook and Zune that simply won’t run – without destructive hacking – on Linux. Synergy lets me simply drag my mouse from Linux to Windows to check my corporate email. I sometimes take my notebook home with me, so I have a fair amount of files on it. When I plug in my external monitor and launch Synergy, my notebook’s Vista OS becomes just another extension of my primary desktop.

Synergy does have some issues. While it’s crazy-easy to configure on Linux using the QuickSynergy configuration utility, the Windows version isn’t quite as intuitive. You have to specify exactly which computer is right and left of each display, but once it’s configured you don’t have to mess with it again.

Synergy can be configured to automatically start, and it’s easy on XP. Vista’s security enhancements pose some additional recommendations when running in that operating system. I start Synergy as administrator, but it still requires that you manually confirm the running of any administrative-level task by using the keyboard or mouse directly connected to the computer, so I simply reach over and hit alt+c or alt+a on my notebook’s keyboard to either confirm or allow the action requested. So long as Synergy is running as an administrator, it will let you use your main mouse and keyboard to proceed using that administrative task once it’s been authorized.

Lastly, I found that Synergy has trouble with Opera on Ubuntu 8.10, Hardy Heron. It may be a problem with Opera on all versions of Linux, but I haven’t found much information about any other versions. I’m looking for a way to synchronize my saved browser favorites among multiple operating systems. Mozilla Weave doesn’t support 64-bit Linux yet, and I really don’t want to mess with Foxmarks because I’d love to get away from Firefox. Last week I tried to switch to Opera, finding that it not only ran on all the operating systems I use but also facilitated browser settings synchronization through My Opera. Everything went well until my Synergy started crashing. It would simply stop working. It’s a very confining feeling when your mouse suddenly is confined to one monitor. I found little information regarding Linux, Opera and Synergy, so I’ve stopped using Opera temporarily until they fix the bug in either Opera or the next version of Ubuntu, Intrepid Ibex, the release schedule for which puts its release at the end this month.

Since I don’t have the ability to test or use Synergy with Mac, I have no experience in that regard. However, since Synergy hasn’t been updated since 2006 I’m going to assume that the stability on Mac is similar to Linux and Windows.

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Vista external monitor flash and flicker problem solved

Auctioneer and item display

auctioneer with display

One of the first pieces of auction technology adopted by an auctioneer augmenting his business processes is a projection system. I was at an auction in Denton, Texas, where there were more than 30 large plasma and LCD TVs – most to be sold that day – showing the same display of the item currently selling. The ability to make the crowd comfortable and more informed by providing chairs and a completely pre-lotted inventory is generating much greater returns for auctioneers who have it.

Whatever the display method, be it projection or TV or monitor, there is a computer driving it, usually with a cable connected from the VGA, or monitor, output to a VGA splitter. That splitter then amplifies the signal and offers two, four or more VGA outputs to run cables to all the display units.

One of the problems we’ve faced is an issue with Vista notebooks. We’ve noticed it with both ATI and NVidia graphics sets, so it doesn’t seem to be manufacturer specific. All of a sudden, seemingly without warning, the display will flicker or flash, almost as if the computer is re-detecting the external display. Most times, the flash is accompanied by the sound that Windows plays when it detects new hardware, confirming that this process is indeed what is occuring. This detection, refresh and re-detection can go on, sometimes in a continuous loop, until you unplug the external display’s cable from your notebook.

We’ve historically simply made sure that the computers we’ve used for digital projection were running Windows XP, but as this practice becomes an increasing security risk and as it becomes harder to find new laptops with XP, it’s simply both unwise and unpractical.

My recent purchase of an ATI-based notebook which exhibited the problem frequently both confirmed that the problem wasn’t specific to NVidia and made me determined to find the solution. I came across this thread in the vistax64 forums and the fix has been working great for me for the last 24 hours.

As it turns out, the problem in notebooks seems to be caused by a process called the Microsoft Transient Multi-Monitor Manager that is supposed to detect when you plug-in or unplug an external display. As it turns out, it is a little too sensitive, causing the system to think you’ve done this action when sometimes you haven’t. This errant re-detection causes the system to refresh its display settings which causes the flicker and flash. Here’s how to shut down the TMM.

  1. Run task scheduler by clicking start button and then typing “task scheduler”
  2. Browse to Task Scheduler Library > Microsoft > Windows > MobilePC
  3. Click TMM in the list at the top-center
  4. On the right pane click disable

After you reboot you should notice no more unexpected flashing. The solution, however, does have the side effect of requiring you to tell windows any time you connect an external monitor, but that’s easy and a small price to pay for the comfort of knowing that your auction display won’t start flickering on and off when you’re in the middle of an auction.

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