Archive for January, 2010

Some Powerful Online Tools: Best of all, most are FREE

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Now that we are past 2010 New Year celebrations and are approaching end of January, it is time to take a pause and ask an important question: am I using all the FREE tools to my advantage? If the answer is no, or maybe, then read on. In this short blog, we discuss some of the simple, yet powerful tools, that when used properly can give you a competitive edge. Let’s start with a few that have proven their worth.

LiveZilla Live Chat Support

If you are running an online business and do not have live chat support then you are losing an important channel to connect to potential customer and, thus, are losing sales. LiveZilla live chat support tool offers great value – its FREE! It is a solid tool with good number of options and, best of all, it’s an open source application that can be easily customized and branded to fit your requirements. Research consistently shows that if the visitor has a question when visiting your website then he or she is likely to ask it to your chat support – assuming of course that it is available. Bottom line, chat support increases your probability of generating sales. Some technical expertise is required to install and configure the tool but its well worth the effort.

Google Analytics

The saying goes something like this – “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” For an online business, the ability to gather and analyze relevant sales and marketing data, is a must. Google Analytics enables you to understand website traffic sources, keywords used, and a whole range of data about your website visitors. The tool is FREE and provides intermediate level analytical information that can enable you to fine tune your marketing efforts. The cost to you is only few hours of setup time.

Skype

Skype is probably one of the best voice calling tool available in the online market place. Skype-to-Skype calls are FREE and now include video calls as well. With a large user following, this tool offers a great way for businesses and individuals to connect with each other and to potential customers. Skype also advertises reasonably priced plans which allow the users to place calls to land lines and offers other great features such as voice mails, ability to send SMS messages, and Call Forwarding. Skype is also available on popular Smart phones which is very useful for cost conscious businesses and users.

Twiddla

There are quite a few popular desktop sharing and meeting tools such as WebEx.com, GoToMeeting.com, and LogMeIn.com to name a few. Another interesting tool that is very useful for one time use or single session is Twiddla. Say you are working with a vendor to update your website and you quickly need to point out a required change. Simply go to Twiddla, generate a meeting session (with one click), and pull up your website. Send the meeting link to the other party and now both parties can mark up the site together. Once the meeting is done you can save the edited file. This tool is very useful for one-off online meetings. And best of all, its FREE.

Google Docs

This is another powerful and FREE tool available from Google. Lets say you do not have Microsoft Word installed on your PC. You receive a Word document from a potential client and need to edit it and send it back. You can go to Google Docs, upload the document, make the edits, save it as a Word document, and send it back to your client. This is very useful for SMEs who do not want to install Microsoft Office, for cost or other reasons, on some or all of their PCs. Google Docs does lot more than just editing of common document formats. Other benefits include ease of sharing and collaboration. For example, you can setup a spreadsheet and other individuals, who are authorized, can update that on a daily or weekly basis. The document can be saved in Excel, OpenOffice, or PDF format. All you need to access and start using Google Docs is a Gmail account.

Stixy Bulletin Board

This is a web-based bulletin board that can be shared with friends, family, and colleagues. On this board you can put widgets; a widget could be a note, task, appointment, photo, to-do item, or a document. There are no rules on how you can arrange your bulletin board. Its completely up to you. We found the tool interesting to use. However, this is a not a formal project management tool but a casual sharing platform. So far Stixyboards are FREE or at least we couldn’t find any pricing structure given.

Gliffy Diagram Creator

Gliffy is an online diagram creating software tool. You can draw up professional quality flow charts, diagrams, floor plans, technical drawings, and more. Moreover, you can collaborate and share diagrams with your team. The tool has a good size object library that should fulfill most, if not all, of your requirements. The basic version of the plan is FREE with certain limitations, but if creating diagrams is important to you then a single seat license for $5/month might be worth the cost.

IDrive

This is an online backup tool for your PC data. The key benefit is the ability to restore you data from anywhere. If you are an entrepreneur or a small business whose employees are on the move then this is definitely worth a look. The IDrive basic plan allows only 2 GB of FREE space but this should be enough to back up your important mission critical data. The tool has a number of features that allow you to pick and choose when and what data you want to back up on regular basis. Features include True Archiving/Sync, Continuous Data Protection, Mapped Drive Backup, Versioning, Timeline Restore, and many more. It also offers personal, family, and business plans. The paid plans are reasonably priced.

Disclaimer: Our endorsements are based on our experience in using the above tools. If you decide to use any of the above tools it is your responsibility to review its terms and conditions as Kaya Systems, its management, and affiliates will not be held responsible in any event since we have no control over any of these tools.

The world is flat: Even for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs)

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Thomas Friedman in his book, The World is Flat, describes how faster and more reliable internet connections spawned an era of flatness in which companies reached across the borders and started using vast manpower pool that became available to them. The big companies were the first to take advantage of this flatness. They had the scale, risk tolerance, economies of scale, and financial muscle to setup those global information supply chains that Thomas Friedman talked about in this book. The workflow software and processes brought together work done by people in different countries, streamlined it, and truly created a global knowledge supply chain – similar to global manufacturing supply chains that started getting setup decades ago.

This global integration of manpower into companies’ every day operations is not restricted to large organizations anymore. In this second phase of flat world, SMEs (Small and Midsize Enterprises) are getting in the act and starting to reap the same benefits that compelled global larger companies to take risk on this novel concept in late 90s. This was a predictable trend. In early 80s as personal computers were introduced, initially they were mainly used in the large organizations because of their cost. However, as they became cheaper, they became available for SMEs to own and improve their productivity. The business process innovations brought by this flat world have also tricked down to SMEs which are increasingly looking beyond their borders to collaborate and improve their operations.

One of the biggest reasons why SMEs are successfully taking advantage of this flat world is that in past few years, a new crop of smaller SME focused providers have come in the marketplace. Their services are specifically tailored to SMEs and they have kept their cost structure low and thus can offer services that are affordable to SMEs. The better known and bigger outsourcing providers have primarily targeted large Fortune 500 type companies and their engagements have involved hundreds, if not thousands, of employees of the outsourcing company forming a team to service the needs of a given client. This structure does not map to the requirements of SMEs which may range any where from a single person to a team of few dozen people. The flexible outsourcing plans, that these new smaller providers offer, have targeted the sweet spot of SME outsourcing.

While the larger outsourcing providers have a bigger proportion of their workforce in cheaper locales, they still have priced themselves out of the SME outsourcing market. SMEs are very price conscious and the service cost has to be attractive enough for them to take the plunge. To keep themselves competitive for SMEs, these smaller outsourcing players, in some cases, have opened offices in other South Asian or African locations which are cheaper than India or Russia but still provide educated and well-trained workforce. The internet connectivity has vastly improved in these newer outsourcing locations and can support the activities of these companies.

The end result has been emergence of these smaller and more nimble outsourcing providers who have placed themselves well to target the under served SME outsourcing market. They have been continuously amassing experience working with SMEs in areas of Business Process Outsourcing and other more advanced areas such as Market

Research, Web 2.0 services, Virtual Assistance, Bookkeeping, and Equity and Financial Analysis. With these lower barriers to setup their own mini global information supply chains, the world has indeed become more flat for these SMEs.