Voice is the future of the internet (VOIP)

If somebody took away your web connection, you’d moan a bit, but you’d get on with your life. Lose your email connection, and those nice people in tech support better sort it out, and fast!

Voice over the internet (VOIP) is a similar ‘killer application’. You may have heard of it during the ‘EBay buys Skype for $2.6bn’ deal. One of the best introductory articles on the subject is on O’Reilly
(Slightly Technical).

Even if you don’t have access billons of Euro, here’s a list of things that it can do for your business:

  • Free calls between employees.
  • Reduced cost calls to ‘normal’ telephone numbers.
  • Give your UK and Irish Telephone numbers, diverted to your mobile , at minimum cost.
  • Low cost link in for teleworkers call centres , instead of being in the one building, can be distributed into employees homes.
  • Telephone and Video conferences at a fraction of the cost of specialised equipment.

Do you think Eircom can match 2c a minute calls, not just to Ireland, but most international destinations? Calls to mobiles are currently about 22c, but this is cheaper than many of mobile-to-mobile rates currently on offer. All this for one (very easy to use download) from Skype. There are other products, but this is the easiest to use.

On a more sophisticated level, products like Asterix give you a mini telephone exchange running on your PC. Normally you wouldn’t get too excited about this, but if your telephone system is just another web application, then you could customise it almost as easily as you do your web site. Some of the ideas that the being dreamt up are:

  • Combine it with Voice Recognition software (IBM has a good package) so that users could ‘talk’ to your website.
  • Interactive games, with users phoning in answers
  • Low cost Data Capture (e.g. Sales reps phone in orders direct to SAP, no need for expensive laptops)
  • Outbound calling with premium info – e.g. Horoscopes or Weather forecasts (be careful with this one, or your customers will not thank you for it)

How do you plan to use Voice over the internet?

Why IT Projects fail – mastering the monster

The UK based IT Architect site is running a series of articles on why IT Projects fail.

IT Architect Logo

(Part 1) suggests what is obvious (that there are different types of projects), but more usefully classifies them into two types. Type 1 are those that deliver concrete goods (like roads, bridges and office blocks). Type 2 are fuzzier projects aiming to change things, such as a process or organisational culture. It’s much harder to determine success in this second set, as they tend to deliver intangible results (i.e. you can’t drop them on your foot) . They also tend to suffer greater rates of failure. IT projects tend to be Type 2.

Some depressing statistics that if you’re lucky have only read about , or if you’re unlucky, know from personal experience. According to the Standish group, 31% of IT projects are cancelled outright, and over half have such serious performance issues that they were fortunate to escape the same fate. In contrast, a 3% overrun on a construction project is often the trigger for a public enquiry.

While there are many ‘excuses’ given for project failure, the author suggests that often the root cause is over-optimism and ‘biting off more than you can chew’. Symptoms of this over-optimism include projects started without any tolerances set, no change control and without proper reporting structures in place.

The 2nd Part of the article , is a bit more optimisitc, in that starts to tell you what you can do to improve the rates of project success. Broadly speaking , there are two areas suggested for this:

    • Make Type 2 (IT) Projects more like Type 1 (Construction) – remove the fuzziness of success , so that you see the outputs of your project. This often comes down to metrics on the basis of ‘you get what you measure).
      Understand the level of success that you are aiming for. This can range from a simple level 1 (did the project do what was asked of it) , to Level 4 ( did the project have a positive impact on our business strategy). In between are Level 2 (Was this project success a once-off, or do *all* our projects suceed) and Level 3 (our projects may be successful, but are we working on the right ones).
  • For more details , here are links to part 1 and part 2 of the article.

    Innovation Relay Center – Enterprise Ireland

    If you are working in IT , then you are probably part of the knowledge economy. It is probably work your while checking out the Innovation Relay Centre Website, supported by Enterprise Ireland.

    The centre acts as a clearing house, matching people how have patents and technology available for licence, and those that are looking to use it. As such is a good snapshot of the technologies that are up and coming in the medium term 12-36 months out).

    Up and coming Web 2.0 Companies

    Quote from Wired Magazine “Web 1.0 was about commerce, Web 2.0 is about people”

    What does this mean for your business? At the ‘endless possbilities’ end of the scale Tim O’Reilly has a good diagram outlining what you can do with the possibilities Ajax, frequent releases, standard interfaces and interaction with your community (all features of Web 2.0) can give you.

    What Web 2.0 can do for your business

    On the other end of the scale, what are companies actually doing with the new possibilities? Since we tend to be about 6 months behind the curve here in Dublin, a couple of examples from the Bay area in the US are:

    • Rollyo.com – choose which sites you want to search (built on top of Yahoo)
    • Zimba – a web based collaboration suite in the same spaces as Microsoft Outlook and Exchange
    • Upcoming.org – a user driven event site
    • What all of these have in common is that they have both a community (free version to get people on board) and Enterprise (additional features worth paying for) editions. The Community edition acts as marketing and a driver for the Enterprise edition through what economists call ‘Network effects’ – the more people that use a tool , the more useful it is.

    Ease the pain of project delivery

    Many people I talk to still seem to regard delivering IT projects on time as something of a ‘black art’. No matter (or perhaps because of) how many Microsoft Project plans and Gant charts they have, they get stuck in the illusion of paper over reality where the project must being going well because the plan tells them so. Add to these unknown quantity of new (or new to the business) technologies and it seems only a matter of time before things go out of control.

    Agile techniques are one response to this, but projects still need to be managed, hence the need for metrics – cold hard numbers that lets the big boss know that things are going ok. The Agile Blog has a good section on getting started with these metrics.

    This topic also fits neatly with the news that the presentation slides for NoUnit at Fosdem are now live on the site.

    NoUnit, an extension to JUnit the Java Unit testing tool, gives one of the key metrics that project managers need to see . These include

    • How many pieces of functionality have been delivered (as demonstrated by automated Unit test).
    • How many of the automated tests are working (should be 100%)
    • Are the important parts of your project being tested (this is where NoUnit steps in)
    • What is the quality of your project? (e.g. Sun Javadoc Quality Checker)

    How to talk to your boss about Ajax

    So you know what Ajax is and you need to convince your boss of the benefits that it would bring to your web project?

    I’ve just put online two new whitepapers explaining what Ajax is, how to use it within your existing project and how to talk to your boss about it.

    The first is in the current (December / January) edition of Business Plus Magazine, but for non Irish readers, is available for download here. It’s aimed at business readers and gives examples of a travel websites that are already using Ajax and Web 2.0 to increase Sales to customers.

    The 2nd Article is more technical, and was previously published on Sun’s Java Website. It introduces Ajax and shows how to integrate it with older ‘legacy’ applications. In this case the ‘legacy’ technology is Java and the Struts web framework, but it would work equally well for PHP, ASP, .Net , Visual Basic and other technologies. This article is available for download on the main FirstPartners.net website.