A Business Technology Place

Why I’ve gone Google

I’ve gone Google.

Going Google is for individuals too.
I’m sure by now you have noticed Google’s campaign about “going Google”. It’s primarily targeted at businesses, schools, and governments to use the Google suite of productivity applications. That target list covers groups of people well. But what about individuals? Have you stopped and thought about how much of your life is run by Google these days?

There is a reason for it, and it’s not because for the free price tag.
OK. I admit it. The hook for me to try many of Google’s products and services is because most of them are free of charge. I don’t mind the ads displayed on some of the Google services, they don’t detract from the functional use of the product. I also don’t mind that they collect information about my usage habits. Just about every interaction I have in life is tracked by marketers. Google is not alone in this practice. As a business professional, I marvel at how Google has created a business model to give much of it’s software away for free while making revenue by serving ads.

But there’s more to product usage than a free price tag. Free products are great to try. But if they don’t solve problems and add value for people then nobody will continue to use them. As I look at all the Google products that I use each week, it’s amazing to think about the breadth of value they bring to my life. They are solving problems.

A list of how I’ve gone Google and why.

Google ProductHow it helps. Problems it solves.
GmailEmail anywhere I have a connection to the internet. I use a single sign-in to pull email messages from multiple accounts (2 of them not in gmail.com domain)
Google CalendarI share calendars with my wife for family and personal activities. It's easy for me to look on the calendar to see kid's activities and other family commitments.
Google VoiceA single phone number can find me at home, office, or on the go. I have custom groups of people to define specific rules for call forwarding. I can see a complete log of phone calls and voice messages online. Oh yeah, and it supports SMS text.
Google ChromeMy internet browser of choice. A simplified interface gets rid of all the clutter that began to fill other browsers. Under the hood it's built smarter. That's more for the geek in me. Bottom line, this browser is simple and fast.
PicasaOrganize pictures. Online photo albums. Ability to share some pictures while keeping others private.
Google ReaderA single source to aggregate content from news sites and blogs that I like to follow. I don't have to visit each site to see what content is new. Its shows in one place and bolds content I have not read or acknowledged.
Google DocsProductivity software for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and forms. It doesn't have near the features of the full MS Office. But it's ample for most of the work I do. Plus the files are accessible from anywhere I have an internet connection and shareable with others if I choose.
Google MapsResearch routes to unfamiliar destinations. Look for specific types of businesses on a map by typing a name (i.e. Chinese Food, Dry Cleaner, etc.)

Google services on my radar.
Google announced Chromebook with Chrome OS this week. Chromebook encompasses much of where computing has evolved in the past several years with availability of cloud computing. What I like most about it, is that it’s simple. The traditional PC model to computing is now complex. Maintaining operating system software and local installations of productivity software is expensive in both money and time. Chromebook promises to take that hassle out of consumer’s lives so they can focus on creating and consuming content rather than worrying about the uderlying machine.

Google TV is another service I would like to try. I haven’t purchased a device yet because I’m waiting for it to mature a little as well as gain greater adoption with content providers. The model of connecting the internet with video consumption is already here (YouTube, Hulu, etc.) and traditional media content providers must solve for that. Google is making it’s play with Google TV but I think they are after more.

Can Google stay relevant and liked by consumers?
I think about Microsoft and what that company has done for the advancement of technology and our culture. Despite what you many think about them, the Office suite is a powerful set of products that allows people to solve problems. Yet the company is often maligned in technology circles because their products are expensive and can sometimes fail. Will Google become like Microsoft? Or does the fact that consumers don’t pay for many of the products and services offered by Google change their proclivity to complain about it? Does Google fall into the “you get what you pay for” mode of thinking or will it thrive because it’s products continue to be relevant and solve consumer problems?

What do you think?

Reduce spam and cold-calls with a second email and phone number

It’s common practice to have multiple email accounts so that you can use one for personal contacts and one for registered sites and services. Let’s face it, when you register an account with your email address it’s not long before you start receiving emails not only from that merchant, but from other parties you’ve never contacted. Some of these emails you may want or don’t mind scanning because they contain information you deem valuable (coupons, special offers, etc.). Yet most of it seems to end up as spam from parties you really don’t know.The same thing happens in business when we sign-up online for services or trade-shows. Our email address and phone number are sold such that we begin to receive not only unsolicited emails, but cold-call sales calls as well.

Why don’t we use secondary email and phone numbers for our business contact information?

The concept seems so obvious, yet I’m not aware that anyone is doing it. Maybe people think it would be too much work to maintain. Maybe they don’t know it’s possible. Or maybe they enjoy all the spam email and cold-calls. I don’t receive an abundance of these types of messages, but they are certainly something I would rather not have to process each week. So I thought about this and came up with a few options to create a second business email and phone.

How to setup a second email address

There are multiple ways to create a second email address for your business use. If you want to keep the same domain name as your primary address then request a second mailbox from your mail administrator at work. If you primary email address is john.doe@company.com then request something like john.r.doe@company.com where you add your middle initial. I’d love to have john.doe.spam@company.com, but that seems a little obvious. Now, request that mail for this inbox be automatically routed to your primary inbox. Then setup a rule on your primary inbox to route all incoming mail from the second address to a mail folder that you create. That’s a one time setup and all email to that address will be available for viewing in a folder off your inbox should you choose to look at it.

Another way to do this is to create a new email address with one of the free mail services such as Yahoo!Mail, GMail, or HotMail. These services also allow you to setup automatic forwarding to another account. Again set this up to auto-forward to your primary work account and setup the rule to send mail from that address to a designated folder. The downside here is that the email you give won’t have your company domain. But how many people really look at that? If someone challenges you on it, just tell them it’s a cost cutting measure to use one of the free services. If you use Gmail then you could say your business is evaluating using Google Apps.

How to setup a second phone number

The basic premise is the same for this as with the email. One option is to contact your local phone administrator and ask for a second extension. Have that extension setup to ring on your phone but marked as the second extension (Most business phones support multiple extensions). Now when a phone call comes in you can see which line is calling and let the second phone line always roll to voice mail. This works well if you don’t have an administrative assistant to act as a gate keeper.

Another way to do this is to obtain a free Google Voice number. At it’s core, Google Voice is phone forwarding service. For your number you setup rules to forward that number to multiple other numbers (mobile, home, business, etc.) You can also setup Google Voice to screen callers or automatically send the call to your designated numbers. So the key function is to setup screening for numbers that are not know (in your address book). Screened calls ask the caller to identify their name. That name is announced to you when you pickup the call so you choose to either accept the call or let it roll to voice mail. If you already have a Google Voice number you can’t have more than one number for a Google account. So you would either use the method I mention above or setup a new Google account and define the number to forward to nowhere or always use screening.

This does require some thoughtful upfront planning

Certainly there are other logistics to consider when planning an approach like this. You would need a set of business cards that have your secondary contact information to use for registrations, drawings, and other types of vendor sites. There may be situations where you want to convert someone from using your second address to your primary addresses. You’ll need to always remember to use your second address when registering online for services and accounts.

The main idea though is to keep your inbox clean and your phone line free from cold-calls. What do you think? Do you have other ways to create a second email address and phone number for business?

Learnings and Takeaways from Product Camp Atlanta 2010

I attended Product Camp Atlanta last weekend hosted at the Georgia Tech Research Institute Conference Center. Product Camp AtlantaIt was my first product camp, so the only knowledge of format and content I had going in was from the description on the web site. The topics of the conference focused on product management and marketing which are the two primary areas of my career experience and interests.

Overall I was pleased with my decision to go to the all-day camp. Time was given to the sponsors to introduce themselves since they provided the financial backing to make the event possible. However, it was very non-intrusive to the day and didn’t come off as a sales pitch.  Participants voted on a list of possible break-out session subjects that were submitted by other participants.  This allowed the group to discuss a variety of topics over the course of the day.  Each hour there were four choices so that participants could pick a session that matched their interests.  In my opinion, the best sessions were those where the speakers facilitated a discussion rather than giving a presentation.  I say this because my understanding and expectation in attending the conference was that the sessions would be more collaborative and discussion oriented. For the most part, I felt speakers honored this conference format.

Here are four random takeaways that I recorded during the sessions:

1. Value of business cases

  • Removes pet features
  • Keeps discussions on merits of the features
  • Removes emotion

I liked this thought because typically businesses case development gets a lot of groans and whining when people mention the topic. It’s not easy to complete a business case, but it does provide and important function for the business to adequately allocate resources to work. This bullet list provides a quick and easy-to-understand value for the effort expended on the business case.

2.  The voice of the customer is more relevant than your individual job tenure, experience, or credentials

The context of this quote came in a discussion about how a cultural shift is needed to take learnings from the classroom to the operations of a business. When we attend conferences, take classes, or receive training we often come back to our organizations with great ideas and learnings. But implementing these ideas is another story, especially if we are the only member of our business to receive the new knowledge.  It requires a cultural shift to implement learnings.  Tools that give us an insight into the voice of the customer are readily available, but often overlooked.

3. Google Wave was not in use by most of the attendees

Well, at least for those attending a break out session on this topic. The tool holds promise as a format for real time collaboration but needs to overcome concerns related to security of information to gain wide acceptance in a corporate environment. It should be noted that the product is still in Beta at Google and it hasn’t been publicized widely. Google is using a viral marketing technique to create awareness about wave. You have to be invited by an existing participant to join.

4. Solve for competing priorities by using a percentage based resource allocation strategy

In one session we discussed various methods and techniques for resource allocation and project prioritization. One way to complete development team resource allocation is by dividing the time against development areas on a percentage basis:

  • x% new development
  • y% architecture
  • z% support/defects
I liked this thought because its easy to overlook the need for architectural updates and support items in favor of new development. This is especially true for mature software products where the architecture may no longer be new or the list of defects may have grown with the passing of time.
I’m looking forward to the next Product Camp in Atlanta.  It’s a great time for sharing, learning, and networking.

Uses for Google Voice

Update: 11.26.09 – I have added an update to the original post. It is found at the end and notated by gray font.

I signed-up for Google Voice thinking that it was intended as a tool for consumers to consolidate multiple phone lines into a single number. I was also lured by concept of having Google Voice serve as a conduit for mobile phone calls to avoid the rules and restrictions that mobile phone carriers place on ‘out of network’ calls. After spending some time with Google Voice, I’ve come to the conclusion that the best use of this application is for business and not personal use. Some individuals may still find good utility with Google Voice, but I think it’s real value-add is for business.

For individuals, the idea of consolidating multiple phone lines is becoming a problem of the past. Many from the Gen Y or Millennial generations will never pay for a home phone line. A mobile device may become their only number. With the FCC’s Local Number Portability rules, many people may never need to change numbers either. For the Boomers and Gen X individuals,  Google Voice may be either too geeky or just not worth the time to bother. Who wants to tell others they have a new phone number unless they have to. While it’s not overly difficult, it just creates a “to-do” that you can avoid. It recently took me three tries to get my mom and dad to update their cell phone address book with a new number I gave them. Giving them a new number and trying to explain Google Voice to them would require a lot explaining.

It could lead also lead to phone number confusion. Think about this scenario: You give your Google Voice number to your mom. She updates it in her mobile device address book. Then you call her from mobile device, not using the Google Voice dialer. She doesn’t answer the phone because now the number on her caller ID is unknown to her. I know that mobile devices can store multiple phone numbers for each entry. But I’m not sure I want to take 10 minutes to explain it to my mom. Besides, I know she’d end the conversation with ‘Why did you do this again?’.

But….

Not all is lost with Google Voice. In fact, I think this service has tremendous potential for a few business processes:

  1. Customer service organizations for businesses that use a remote work force. Setup a Google Voice number that will ring the customer service agent that is actively on duty. As a shift changes, update the profile of downstream numbers that Google Voice will ring.
  2. Business users that split time between the field and office. In this case, the field personnel could list both their mobile and office direct line behind the Google Voice number. The clients then only need to call one number to find their assigned agent. This could have application in the construction, insurance, or real-estate industries.
  3. On-call staff such as IT support or medical professionals. If each on-call team member has their own mobile device then you can manage where a central numbers forwards to by managing the downstream Google Voice call list.  This process removes the requirement to rotate an on-call device or for a central call center to look-up a phone number for the person on call. They can always use the same number.

What would be a great new feature for Google Voice? To control the order in which downstream numbers are dialed. In the current setup, all downstream numbers are tried simultaneously. If you could control the order of ringing, then this would allow for further business process features related to on-call or customer service numbers.

I did check the Google Voice terms of service related to commercial use and did not see that commercial use, such as the ideas I listed above, is prohibited. It should be open to help some organizations with call management as-is. So if you’re in a line of work that requires you splitting time between the office and field or if you operate in an on-call group, think about getting a Google Voice number.

I’m still playing with this application, thinking it might have application for me. I may even give my number to my mom. Maybe she’ll like the idea of dialing a single number to locate me.

Do you see application in other ways than what I have listed?

Update 11.26.09 – After I wrote this article,  I setup my Google Voice account in the following arrangement:

– A business group for my co-workers and office numbers.

– All other groups for personal contacts.

Google Voice allows you to setup a distinct voice mail and ring sequence for each of the groups. This worked really well for me because I defined three phone numbers within my main setup (Home, Mobile, Office). So my the numbers in my address book associated to business will ring the mobile and office numbers while other numbers will ring the mobile and home numbers. This is an extremely useful feature because it allows me to segment calls based on the source.

The other nice surprise was that my mom liked it.  She liked the concept because she no longer has to dial multiple numbers looking for me. That’s a good thing. When mamma’s happy, everyone is happy.  Smile…..

Share your Google Voice story

I put my name on the Google Voice list today. I’m intrigued with the idea of having a single number that can stay with me and that can work with multiple devices. I’d also like to see how Google Voice can create the mobile phone unlimited called effect for all numbers as written about on fiercewireless.com. Are you using Google Voice already or have you put your name on the list? Share your story.