Itï¿½s called geocaching
or GPS stashing and itï¿½s a new form of high-tech treasure hunting allowing
those so inclined to find (using GPS of course) buried treasure in over
73,000 global hiding spaces spread out over 188 countries. There is even one
in Afghanistan, which was last found three days before I wrote this article.
There are six of these caches just five miles from my ZIP code and if I were
to acquire a portable GPS receiver, I would be well on way to finding hidden
treasure, which could consist of anything from toys to CDs to other knick
knacks. If you locate one, you are supposed to put something in and take
This geocaching craze reminded me a bit of the latest
INTERNET TELEPHONY Conference & EXPO in
Long Beach, CA. This was without a doubt the busiest show I have seen since
Y2K. Attendees were searching booth by booth for IP telephony products that
would allow them to do things that traditional telecom just canï¿½t match.
AltiGen Communications was one of the
companies that ï¿½stole the show.ï¿½ Their booth was swamped with lines
virtually the whole show. Tens of thousands of people subscribe to this
magazine and with pass-along and online distribution that figure is far
north of 100,000 readers. Not every reader made it to the show so I figured
it would be a great idea to ask Jim Puchbauer, AltiGenï¿½s director of
marketing about his views on selecting a telephony system. Perhaps this way
you too can have that ï¿½I made it to the showï¿½ feeling without even having
left your desks.
A bit of history on AltiGen Communicationsï¿½ They were one of the first
companies to develop a PC-based PBX system in the late 1990s and over time
they have put the latest technology into their solutions and they can now
rival the offerings from just about any vendor in the market.
RT: What do you think about product demonstrations?
JP: Answering the question ï¿½When are you ready to see a product
demonstration?ï¿½ can often yield insight into your technology evaluation
process. There is a lot of pressure to push the demonstration far too early
in the purchasing cycle, not the least of which comes from the vendor sales
reps themselves. Many buyers misuse the demonstration process, thinking it
will give them insight into current market and product capabilities. While
this is somewhat true, what actually happens is that businesses miss the
best opportunity to test the fit of a solution for their company.
RT: How can you ensure satisfaction when purchasing the latest
JP: Before you see a vendor demonstrate that ï¿½silver bulletï¿½ product
for you, I would like to recommend seven tips to creating your own success
story. We have found that our happiest customers have used the following
steps as part of a well-ordered and strategic evaluation process.
1. Whatï¿½s the first step in selecting a new telephony system for small
Step one is prepare to ï¿½write your own success story.ï¿½ To do this,
businesses need to really understand what they are trying to accomplish and
what the necessary returns are. I always recommend the exercise of
projecting themselves forward as if the purchase were complete and then
metaphorically looking back.
For example, You currently frustrate your customers because every time they
call, you treat them like you have never heard of them (ï¿½who are youï¿½what is
your account numberï¿½.oh, you need to talk to Mary <transfer> Hello this is
Maryï¿½. who are youï¿½what is your account numberï¿½ï¿½)
Your success story should include the following: When your customers call,
they are routed to the right person on the first try and their customer
records are automatically delivered to the service representativeï¿½s PC when
they call. In other words, the telephone system is helping to improve your
customer relationship by integrating with systems and technology you already
have implemented such as your customer database. There are infinite
examples. The point is that in order to write your success story later, you
must identify the goals the telephone system must solve and the problems it
2. How can you determine your strategic goals?
One good place to look is your stated business practice, company tag line
and/or slogan. Does your company ï¿½earn trust the old-fashioned wayï¿½ or
ï¿½treat customers like family?ï¿½ Then your strategic business decision and
technology purchases should support doing business with these company
3. What perspective should you include for evaluating technology?
At a minimum, I recommend solving the underlying business issues from these
ï¿½ Your Customerï¿½s perspective (who is exposed to it).
ï¿½ Your Employeeï¿½s perspective (who will be using it).
ï¿½ Your Managementï¿½s perspective (who manages the process).
ï¿½ Your Support teamï¿½s perspective (who supports the technology).
Here you visualize your business and the different departments and
individuals. Make sure the solution meets the needs of all your users and
business centers. This is not a topology decision initially. First solve the
business process, customer relationship and system management needs, and
then implement that solution on the topology that makes sense for your
4. How can you anticipate your needs beyond todayï¿½s requirements?
Fortunately, seeing into the future is not a requirement to successfully
prepare for future needs. One of the best ways to future-proof your
strategic assets -- in this example your telephone system -- is to assess a
few basic potentials:
ï¿½ Potential growth -- How do vendors handle growth of an individual system
or adding additional sites or locations?
ï¿½ Potential remote employees -- How could you handle business expansion or
new business ventures with employees in new markets?
ï¿½ Potential new businesses applications -- How could your system integrate
with customer relationship management systems or customer databases?
ï¿½ Potential emerging technologies -- What are the new emerging technologies
and how has the vendorï¿½s equipment handled keeping up with the new
technology in the past?
What you can guarantee is that things will change, so the easier your system
makes it to manage the moves, adds, and changes, the better you will be able
to handle the inevitable. And if you can do it yourself, it costs you
5. How do you set up the evaluation process?
The first rule is: Donï¿½t let vendors sell you what their product does.
Instead, prepare them to sell you what you need! This involves agreeing on a
process that every vendor must follow. The process needs to set a common
framework and expectations for the vendors. You must require every vendor to
do a business analysis. This necessitates giving vendors access to all key
user groups. Minimally, the four mentioned in tip number three. This is
where you uncover issues from perspectives beyond that of the executive
management team (and the sales rep).
6. How can you compare apples to apples and get a meaningful proposal?
Ask for an official conclusion and agree on the findings. Require your
vendor to submit a needs analysis. It will invariably go something like
thisï¿½ Upon evaluating your business environment we found that we can solve
your ï¿½Xsï¿½ and give you ï¿½Y.ï¿½ You must agree that their conclusions are
accurate and relevant and that they address and solve your most critical
7. What influence should you exert on the demonstration phase?
Finally, you are ready to make that all important request -- show me how
you can help me. You must require the vendor to demo only the results of the
analysis that you have agreed are relevant to your business first. The first
five steps will allow you to avoid multiple vendors coming in and ï¿½machine
gunningï¿½ you with every feature they have. These feature firefights are
unproductive and confusing. After a few demonstrations, you wonï¿½t remember
one system from another and you have lost sight of the original purpose of
RT: Please elaborate on this final point a bit.
JP: Well, if you and your vendors have followed this basic process,
the outcome should yield very targeted solutions to your core business
issues. By accepting a proposal only from vendors that you have allowed to
complete the first six steps, the proposal can pass the ï¿½meaningful and
relevantï¿½ test and the vendor has had a full opportunity to uncover unique
areas where they can impact your business. Good luck! You are well on your
way to implementing strategic technology with maximum benefit to your
RT: Now for the fun stuff... What will you be showing at the
next Internet Telephony show this February in Miami?
JP: We will have a number of exciting new products to display
including demonstrations of our tight integration with Microsoft CRM. We
have eight levels of integration at the moment which is the deepest
integration anyone has done to date. Our integration is done with .NET tools
making it much tighter than traditional CTI tools. We will also show our new
H-PBX which is the first affordable hosted IP PBX for multi-tenant
organizations. This product can also be used to provide IP Centrex as well.
To The December 2003 Table Of Contents ]