I'll take the chicken, the cornflakes, and an IP-PBX

Costco Wholesale CorporationImage via WikipediaNo, really. Read this:

"Microsoft Response Point Phone System Retails on Costco.com
Response Point small-business phone system from hardware manufacturer Quanta Computer is now available for purchase directly from Costco.com.

REDMOND, Wash. — May 28, 2008 — Microsoft Response Point, an easy-to-use voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) phone system designed uniquely for the needs of small businesses (one to 50 employees), is now available to purchase on Costco.com, a leading global retailer. Costco.com will now offer the award-winning Syspine Digital Operator Phone System from Quanta Computer Inc. featuring Microsoft Response Point phone system software.
“A small-business owner does a little of everything — CEO, accountant and IT trouble-shooter — all before lunch,” said Richard Sprague, senior director, Response Point at Microsoft Corp. “Costco.com’s easy online purchase process, combined with Response Point’s easy setup and intuitive magic blue button for voice dialing, gives the small-business owner another easy way to gain a powerful communications tool to help grow his or her business.”

You have GOT to be kidding me. I first thought that it was April 1st, but then, well... It's a good thing (TM) that IP is making its way into low-end telephony, but I would - and that's just me - have reservations buying my business critical hardware at Costco. Support, anyone?

It's probably too early to say - and, to be honest, I really want one of these to play around with - http://www.syspine.com/ - but I really, really hope that this will be marketed properly - as a small business or prosumer only system, with decent support and reliable and tested upgrades and replacement parts.

Otherwise, I'm afraid we'll just go back to the "IP telephony isn't ready for primetime" and "it has horrible voice quality" and "it keeps breaking up", and, and, and... Well, at least it's got G.711.


What's this "Zemified!" thing?

Notice the little orange button at the bottom of some posts here? It belongs to http://www.zemanta.com...

A long, long time ago... I knew a couple of people. Some of them decided to move to London and be cool (note: I moved to Budapest because I'm cheap! ;D). Well, they managed to create one of the coolest blogging tools around - Zemanta. To steal from them a bit - "We evolved from an enterprise, tailor-made product to generalized web service, from a two-men band to a 15 people venture-funded company, from Slovenia to the World. It’s not anything near final success yet, but it’s a nice start."

TechCruch had a nice review - "Start writing a blog post and Zemanta looks at it and then starts to add the most likely links to the text, which you can then edit (something a lot of bloggers would kill for no doubt). It also builds links to related stories. This kind of application exists a lot in academic and enterprise content management systems but hasn’t appeared on the Web very much to date as these tend to be very CPU/resource intense technologies.". Read the whole thing here.

You know what the best part is? It scans the web for Creative Commons content, so bloggers can post images without the fear of being sued by an angry photographer/artist (provided you link back that is - but it does it for you as well, so you'd need to manually delete the link).

The applications works on Wordpress, Blogger, Typepad, LiveJournal and MovableType (for now), and you can get it here.

Free alternatives to MS Project?

Microsoft Office Project 2007Image via Wikipedia
Let's face it, MS Project costs real money. If you're a small company, buying licenses for it will eat up your project margin faster than you can say - well, "margin". However, don't despair - there are free Project Management tools around!

One: OpenProj. Best free PM application ever.

OpenProj by Projity is a desktop replacement of Microsoft Project. OpenProj has equivalent functionality, a familiar user interface an even opens existing MSProject files. It does Gantt Charts, PERT charts etc. Available on Linux, Unix, Mac or Windows, and it's free - how much better does it get? Review here, Download here.

Second: Zoho Project.

The team at Zoho is one of the coolest "Web 2.0" companies out there. Their online office suite includes tools for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, databases, note-taking, wikis, CRM, project management, invoicing and other applications. Being web-native, all Zoho applications are operating system independent. It supports creating tasks, ownership, setting deadlines and tracking milestones; working with calendars, Gantt charts, reports, share supporting files—all the cool features expected in a project management package.

The major difference is that while one can debate the merits of online/offline for individual productivity applications, project management by definition is team-work and as such a natural fit for the Web. Zoho Projects is free for one project, and has a scaled price structure above. 12$ a month gives you 10 projects and 2gigs of file storage. And, even better - if you're running an open-source project - well, it's free. "Beer" free.

Third and last: Ganttproject

Another free alternative - a little less fully featured than the others, but from my experience, the developers take the time to listen to their users (heck, they've incorporated some of my suggestions!). On their website, they claim that "This set is enough for most people (remember that 80% of MSProject customers use 20% of it's numerous features)" - which is probably true, I know I might use 35%, and I'm a heavy user :). Your mileage may vary, of course.

Best news: platform independent(ish), works in Java (so you need a Java Runtime Enviroment if you're running Windows), and free for any kind of use.

More at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_project_management_software - but I've tried all of these, and wouldn't hesitate to recommend them!

Does your Contact Center work this way?

Shameless "share and reapply"* time.

"Companies don’t engage emotionally with their customers—people do. If you want to create a memorable company, you have to fill your company with memorable people. How are you making sure that you’re filling your organization with the right people? And how much are you willing to pay to find out?"

So true. Your customer - especially if you operate mostly in the metaverse - has his one and only contact with you over the phone, e-mail, your Voice Portal... Either a person he can't see on the other side of the line, or a "soulless" machine. He builds his impression based on his experience there, so you need to work really, really, really, reaaaaalllly hard to make sure it's one he remembers, finds "enjoyable" and leaves him satisfied.

Enter Zappos. They probably have the best Customer Service Agent training idea ever. After a week or so of their initial Agent Traigning,it’s time for what they call “The Offer.” The fast-growing company, which works hard to recruit people to join, says to its newest employees: “If you quit today, we will pay you for the amount of time you’ve worked, plus we will offer you a $1,000 bonus.”

Commitment? I has it.

More at Harvard Business Publishing.

* Share and Reapply: Procter and Gamble speak for "Steal something which another country already did and use it in your country."

The truth about consultants...

"... The best consultants are the ones who come with a portfolio of products and tools. Their trick is to have a really good portfolio of stuff that really works, is really good, and can be sold and implemented quickly in a very cost-effective way. So it isn't necessarily a bad thing at all when a consultant offers to sell you tools, as long as they are the right tools and the consultant really knows how to use them... "

I especially like the following points:

1) "This can only be accomplished through a large custom development project."

2) "Of course your data is safe."

3) "We'll need a day or two for optimization and debugging."

4) "Yes, we've done this before. There are several companies using this product (or technology). They really like it."

7) "The upgrade (or change) will be seamless and will not affect production."

9) "Yes, we tested this thoroughly before installing it."

Heard it. Might have (will never admit) said it. :)

More at "I, Cringley" (above part stolen from there as well)