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0 comments | Posted by: Terri on November 5, 2012 | Categories:
AnswerConnect has a very clear idea of what we want out of our tools. The apps we use, whether it be our live chat support, our customer relationship management system or our appointment-scheduling software, need to be fluid in order to both meet our constantly-improving standards and adapt to our clients’ changing needs. Rather than search for software that met this criteria, we came up with a better solution. Build our own.
Meet Maha. As a Technical Architect, Maha mentors the team of developers responsible for the innovative software behind our mobile apps, CRM, appointment-scheduler and several other utilities. Below, Maha answers some questions about the tools that keep AnswerConnect, and our clients, connected:
What are the advantages to AnswerConnect’s software being primarily cloud-based?
There are several advantages to using the cloud to power our software services. Our cloud-based solution is cost effective. Our customers can use our software without any upfront investment; there’s no hardware to buy or licensing fees to pay. Another advantage is less maintenance than local applications. With cloud services, there’s no need to maintain your software or download updates. We take care of all that! This frees our clients to focus on doing what they love.
It is becoming more and more important to be mobile, and our software lets clients use our services from just about anywhere. The flexibility allows our clients to think and work outside the traditional cubicle. Finally, cloud services are extremely scalable. Our products serve clients of all sizes very well.
How do you get feedback on your software?
We thrive on feedback! We use our feedback/task manager Looptodo to closely interact with the customers to make sure the products we deliver reach their needs. It’s an application enabled in all of our products to gather feedback from our customers. It’s made my life alot easier when it comes to meeting our customers’ needs!
What’s your favorite part of your job?
AnswerConnect is more than just an answering service! We’ve developed solutions for small- and medium-sized businesses with the goal of making work-life easier and more efficient. We offer appointment scheduling through SetMore, lead and customer management through our CRM solution, Distributed Source, and web chat with the help of Conversion Support. We would love to talk with you about how these products could help streamline your business!
Fact: one in five Americans have no idea what they’re talking about when discussing the cloud. Of those, 17% have gone so far as to lie on a first date. Fifty-one percent of over 1,000 adults surveyed by Wakefield Research associate the cloud with weather. Stop lying to your dates! We’re writing this blog to give you a general overview of the cloud and how you use it in everyday life.
Since the days computers were invented, data security was miles away from what we have today. Photos, documents, files – everything was stored in your computer. Data backup, security, accessibility, ease of use, sharing – these concepts were slowly evolving and nobody had a full-proof solution for protecting the data from intrusion, hardware or software failures, theft and other natural or digital threats.
Keeping all the technical talk aside, let’s try to understand what this “cloud” thing really is.
There are no shutterbugs quite as passionate as first-time parents. Every moment of a child’s life, from first breath to first day of school, is documented, curated and shared with the zeal of a new convert. Rather than store these pictures, videos, documents and files in a hard drive subject to viruses or degradation, parents have the option to use the Internet-based cloud as storage.
You may already be using cloud computing without realizing it. If you’ve ever uploaded a photo to Facebook or Flickr, posted a video on YouTube, or archived an email in Google, you’ve used the cloud. These files are accessible from any computer or smartphone with Internet access because they’re actually stored in a computer warehouse, technically called “data centers”. Inside one of these computer warehouses, there are hundreds of computers that are way more powerful than your computer and can store a behemoth of information and files.
Specifically, your files are stored and saved in multiple warehouses across the globe. The owner of every warehouse ensures that your files, documents, photos and videos are kept safe. If one warehouse is burned, all the data is available from another warehouse or data center, so the risk of losing your important files, photos and videos is reduced by a great extent.
So who is managing all these warehouses?
Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo – these are some, if not all of the Internet companies that provide services and cloud-based applications, mostly for free. For example, Google lets you store documents in Google Drive, photos in Picasa, videos in YouTube and emails in your Gmail account. Facebook lets you store photos and videos and makes sharing super easy, you can also play games on your web browser, video chat with friends and send virtual gifts to anyone.
To use all these services, you don’t have to download anything on your computer, and you’re not limited to a single computer. You don’t have to buy software or worry about upgrades and routine maintenance. They do all the “geek stuff” on your behalf while you just use the cloud and spend time doing things you really love.
0 comments | Posted by: Terri on July 2, 2012 | Categories:
While the rest of us were just discovering the World Wide Web, Jim Bolain saw the business potential of shared networks and started up Sun Digital Inc. Since 1996, he’s been providing information technology services to small- and medium-sized businesses in the Central Florida area. Along the way, he came across a unique problem, “We would sell and deploy new solutions and products, and clients would ask, ‘What do I do with all this old equipment?’” Sun Digital Inc. now has the only certified Green IT consultants in their area.
Jim talks about the rapid development of information technology, the importance of being environmentally responsible and his predictions for the future of IT.
In the mid-’90s, small-office networking was still in its infancy. Having a passion for information technology, I could see the changes taking place, especially with the evolution of the Internet. I began working with a few clients and developed a network infrastructure allowing them to easily access and share information within the office, without having to print everything or leave their desks. Now, with a staff of ten, we continue to take those same clients to newer levels by showing them fresh technology that continues to improve efficiency and reduce cost.
What are some of the most significant changes you’ve seen in the IT world?
Technology development in the cloud and utilization of non-Windows based devices (iPads, iPods, etc.), along with the utilization of the Internet for just about everything—from banking to streaming movies and music. This continues to develop at an exceptional rate.
What are some of the biggest advantages to moving into the cloud?
Data unification, secure ease of access, redundancy and no need for expensive hardware or software make the cloud very appealing.
Between your Green IT certification and being the sole provider of electronic equipment recycling, you seem to be pretty environmentally-focused. Why is this an important issue to you?
We would sell and deploy new solutions and products, and clients would ask, “What do I do with all this old equipment?” They wanted to properly dispose of these items but just didn’t know how. For a long time we had no answers and realized, at some point, these items were being put in our trash. We began to research the options for recycling equipment and discovered how much harm this equipment can cause to the environment. It was eye-opening. Green IT expanded from there. We decided to make it part of our development lifecycle to help clients properly recycle, so it wouldn’t end up in our landfill. We also help them find other ways to “go green” with their technology. Our clients are thankful for this service. Ultimately, this allows us as a company to complete a circle from new product, to used product, to recycled product and back to new product again. Yes, we feel very good about this!
I’ve noticed you partner with a lot of volunteer organizations. What motivates you to be such an active presence in your community?
Our electronic recycle events have been able to raise money, and what better way to “give back” to our community than by donating to local charities who need it most! It’s good to see something that was trash turn into gold!
From a business point of view, where do you see information technology fifteen years from now?
The cloud! Clients will begin to use more appliances and hand-held devices that link to a central source for work and social interaction. They’ll be smaller and easier to use, with a move away from the traditional desktop or laptop. After all, look at cell phones and where they’ve come in fifteen years! From a brick phone to a hand-held device with apps, email and social networking built in. Think big for tomorrow!
As a cloud-based, environmentally-conscious company, AnswerConnect loves getting the chance to partner with like-minded businesses, especially one as forward-thinking as Sun Digital Inc. Their exploration of cloud computing and green technology fits seamlessly with our own values and business practices. We’re excited to watch them continue to innovate and grow.
0 comments | Posted by: Spencer on June 13, 2012 | Categories:
Charles Kanavel founded The Kanavel Group one year ago; his consulting company implements IT systems and virtualization for government and educational organizations. Kanavel speaks with such passion about his work—and how technology is changing education—that you can’t help wishing you were a student in one of his client districts. “You’re seeing good for communities, good for the organizations,” he says. “To make something work for kids and change the way they learn, that’s fun. It’s got to be fun. If it’s not fun, why do it?”
What challenges do you face, implementing cloud-based solutions for the government/ education sectors?
Education is its own culture. I came originally from finance; I worked on Wall Street for 12 years before starting several software companies. My wife worked in education, and after we had a daughter, I went into education for about three years as Director of Technology at Campbell Union High School District. That was an interesting, eye-opening experience: While you can look on the outside of education and say “Well, they should do this” and “They should do this,” it doesn’t work that way.
School districts, as opposed to businesses, are largely consensus-driven organizations, so you have to navigate political and technical challenges. The smallest school districts in the Bay Area is as large or larger in total system users than those in Silicon Valley. At Campbell, we had 10,000 students and 700 staff. We calculated that 35,000 people each day touched the system we operated. Every kid a has two parents, and they’re emailing teachers, getting on School Loop, looking at our website, applying online—there’s a ton of things going on on any given day, and we had 500 programs that we maintained with a staff of six IT people.
From there, I started this company with the mindset of helping state and local government organizations, and large-scale private organizations, implement this technology. If you’re trying to do this, it’s difficult if you don’t know how. You can see the need there.
What concerns do you frequently address with your clients?
Most of their concerns revolve around the proper use of technology. That’s the big one.
If I were to sit down and tell you “This is how the world’s going to work 65 years from now,” you’d laugh at me. You’d say, “You’re making that up. You’re purely guessing.” But if you think of the professional life of an educator, that’s exactly what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to predict what’ll happen 5, 10 years down the line and educate our kids based on that. They’re trying to find out the best way to give kids the best educational experience possible. They know they have to integrate all this technology into their teaching, yet they don’t know the best way to do it. They’re educators. Consider the average lifestyle of a teacher or a public official—everybody in an organization has multiple degrees. They went to K-12, then college, then teaching college; then out of college, they went to work at a school district. When did they stop to learn how IT works?
Getting them to understand “I see your problem and what you need,” and then letting us address that need, you have to understand their language before you can recommend anything that they should do. That’s how my time working with school districts has been invaluable.
What kind of security concerns do many of your education clients have?
A lot of school districts are moving to Google Docs. But there’ve been articles saying that Google’s security has been penetrated multiple times. Do you really want your kids’ stuff—or your students’ stuff—out there on the Internet for all the world to see? What if it’s a personal essay? What if they’re a special needs student? Now all their information is on the web because your IT guy wanted to use Google Docs. You have to think through the ramifications—what if that IT guy’s laptop gets lost at Starbucks?—and then build the appropriate technological barriers around that.
Part of your Philosophy statement says “With the rate at which the world is changing daily, it is often difficult to know where the boundaries lie.” What boundaries do you mean?
If you go back seven years ago, and I showed you an iPad, you’d freak out. Nobody predicted it. If you go back five years ago, who could’ve predicted the iPhone would change the entire world? Now it’s a commodity, not a luxury.
Think of technology as a process. You can watch it and look at it, and you can predict long-terms patterns. Moving from smartphone to iPad to laptop, it’s easy to see that the laptop won’t be around much longer. Everyone over 25 likes the laptop. Everyone under 25 likes smartphones and tablets. The laptop trend will end.
Whatever will displace that divide, that displacement will create more need. …With the cloud, you can work anywhere in the world you want. Physical boundaries don’t matter anymore. What needs will be driven out of that? Does that mean, eventually, that schools will start changing their [educational] model? Is there a reason to be at school at 7:00 in the morning if a teacher can teach at 8:00 at night? If the expectation is to “get students to prepare for college,” you can’t ignore that you have to get beyond teaching. You have to immerse students and get them functionally ready to operate in a college environment.
I do a lot of that; 50% of my job is getting people’s minds around that. We do technical consulting. We offer solutions, but before offering a solution, you’ve got to articulate how their vision matches your solution. We have three- to five-year contracts. It’s like building a car. You can’t say “We’ve got the parts. We’re going to build it in a day.” You have to build structural waypoints into the plan. To help our customers execute that vision, we have to break it down backwards. Some of that is a funding challenge; maybe they don’t have all the money. Some is a political challenge, getting people’s minds around it.
In 2009, we were the first district in the U.S. to offer our students e-readers in place of textbooks. Some teachers fought me. Others said “This makes sense.” People inherently resist change, especially when they have to change their behavior. You have to say “I can show you how this affects you.” When I’m putting in a piece of technology that changes how you operate on a daily basis, I’d better explain to you.
And that’s where it gets hard. That’s what we excel at.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
It would be really easy to say “I love money” or “I love helping people,” but that’s glib answer.
Part of it is, if you’re an entrepreneur, is building. It’s the challenge of building something. You can’t ignore that as an answer. That’s almost a separate desire than whatever it is your business is a whole. True entrepreneurs are serial entrepreneurs. The challenge of building is palpable. But that’s one part of the answer.
The other part of why I like what I do is because it’s challenging. I like seeing my clients succeed, because I know what we do, they don’t do inherently. Every organization struggles with technology. Is that a fair expectation, especially with schools? The point of schools is to educate kids, and they do that exceedingly well. All these kids graduate knowing how to read and work with numbers and become functioning members of society. But now they’re saddled with the expectations that they have to do that while preparing students with the best technology, the best classes, and “My kid better go off and become the President.” How do you do that? Educators can get sucked into technology like it’s quicksand, and they’ll never really succeed because they’re not of the IT world.
That’s what I love. We say “We’ll handle that for you.” That’s fun. That’s challenging. You’re seeing good for communities, good for the organizations. To make something work for kids and change the way they learn, that’s fun.
It’s got to be fun. If it’s not fun, why do it?
0 comments | Posted by: Spencer on June 4, 2012 | Categories:
Jake Kushner founded Kinetix seven years ago to bring web design, online marketing and IT services to small businesses, keeping their own operations lean through a distributed work model and smart online tools. When I asked Jake “Why small businesses?” he replied without hesitation. “It comes with being a small business yourself,” he says. “We really do what we can to help a start-up grow, rather than do a one-time, go-through-your-website-and-leave thing.”
Tell me about Kinetix’s background.
Kinetix has been around for about seven years. We’re actually a student-run company. I have a partner who goes to Michigan State; I’m a Carnegie Mellon student.
We have developers who work for us remotely. We’re unique in that our workforce is distributed among a variety of cities around the country. We do web design, e-commerce design, and IT services (which is more for local business in our home area of southern Michigan).
Why have you chosen to focus on small businesses?
It comes with being a small business yourself. Being a small business, you have unique financial, time and capital constraints to run your company and to get your mission done. We understand it’s difficult as a small business to find affordable marketing solutions. We believe we can deliver at a price point that’s reasonably within their budget. We try to make our packages affordable. We really do what we can to help a start-up grow, rather than do a one-time, build-your-site-and-ditch kind of thing.
How do you manage your own distributed workforce?
Besides email, we use different in-house programs, some specific to our industry, that allow us to post information and share documents and files—internally, between our staff, through an Internet-based website—and then externally with our customers. When we’re working on a website with our customers, they can log into a special portal online and send over photos of their merchandise, Word documents with, say, the history of their company, and all their content. It sits in a giant folder, so when we go to build the website, we can access it all at once. Whenever a customer emails me photos, I upload them directly to this system, so it doesn’t get lost or fall through the cracks.
We use Basecamp and similar tools. Basecamp is well-known in the design industry, and there’s applications like it all over that are good to know about, even if you’re not in design. It’s always helpful to keep track of all your communication with a client.
How much does your design process incorporate ongoing marketing strategies for small businesses?
In terms of ongoing strategies for our clients, we do Internet marketing, like email newsletters—that’s one strategy we have. We also do search engine optimization, which is big. That’s an ongoing struggle to keep clients’ businesses at the top of Google’s results or whatever category they’re targeting. We also help with social networking, integrating Facebook fan pages with your website, email blasts, and setting up Twitter and blog pages for our clients, so they can share and build a sense of community with their customers.
Is it difficult for some clients to accept social media’s transparency?
Typically we feel that the more transparency, the better. With social media, you can show your customers that there’s a team of passionate and interested individuals behind your product or service, whether it’s clothing or jewelry or a law practice. If you can show the personal interest and dedication that your team has, then it doesn’t matter if you have a relatively small team.
How much does your Detroit location affect Kinetix’s philosophy toward innovation?
With our business model, we don’t have an on-site staff here. We do a lot of business in web design with clients around the country, whether they’re in New York City or Atlanta or Pittsburgh. We have clients from all over.
Being in Detroit, we don’t have the best economic status right now. But there are always small businesses in the area that are looking to grow, and we’re looking to help them and revive the economy in any way we can.
Where will Kinetix be five years from now?
We envision Kinetix to be similar to today, but hopefully larger. We’re very much dedicated to small business, even as we grow. I see us doing similar marketing services and expanding our company to IT services, managing computers and IT equipment in offices and retail stores. We find that that’s always a challenge: A small business doesn’t have an IT professional on-staff, so they can’t call anyone if they’re dealing with a computer problem. Often we get calls from our marketing clients, asking to help them with this or that. As we get more and more requests, we’re seeing that we need to deliver this as a service.
What about mobile solutions?
Actually, we’re doing mobile web development now. It’s a relatively new offering of ours, though we have experience with it. Right now, one cool thing we’re working on is for our e-commerce clients. When they build an online store, they can go in and add products without calling us. They can run their own shop. We now can automatically display a mobile-friendly store for anyone who goes to their site and looks to make a purchase. If they go on to the shop with their iPhone or Android, it just works seamlessly for them. It displays perfectly on their iPhone screen, and it’s tested to be bug-free. It does all the same things the full website does.
That’s now included in all of our e-commerce sites. In this day and age, more and more users are going mobile and using that as their primary source of Internet access, more than their computers. If we’re trying to help our clients, we’re not helping them out very much if we’re limiting their customer demographic. We try to make sure they reach all their customers, regardless of what device they’re shopping with. It’s just silly to lose a sales opportunity because someone’s using a phone or device that’s not compatible with your site.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Other than the alarm clock? It’s the passion and excitement. I know that’s something a lot of businesses say, but it hits home for us; we’re a small team, but we’re all passionate. I’m personally a designer at heart. I find my work to be very enjoyable. That’s probably the most important thing for all of us. Also being able to help clients and get real feedback from them: hearing how we’ve helped their business to grow, how easy we are to work with, how flexible we are with pricing. Feedback is always a good motivator for us.
We work with customers who don’t have a marketing director or PR department. So we work with the owner and act as their marketing department. It’s cool to work with clients who’ve spent many years of their life on their company, and they’re passionate and have great ideas. We help them bring their idea to the public eye and expose it to the world.