Author Archives: Alon Cohen

About Alon Cohen

Alon Cohen is Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for Phone.com.

Choose Your Business Tools and Procedures with Care – and Know When to Use Them

by Alon Cohen

Tools Isolated on a White BackgroundI was raised in a family that was passionate about using the right tool for the job. My parents have enough vintage tools and early tech gadgets at their home to fill a museum. One-of-a-kind hammers, saws and pliers. Unusual generators, power supplies and oscilloscopes. Not to mention all the old computers—our obsession with tech and tools spans four generations!

Over time I came to understand that each tool has a purpose, and using it incorrectly can have negative consequences—injury, inefficiency or permanently damaging a good tool. Try using a screwdriver as a chisel by hitting the handle with a hammer. The result is damaged handle that can injure your hand or a damaged tip that makes the tool no good for chiseling.

The Danger of SOPs in Aviation

In a similar way, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in organizations are really tools. Using them ensures the reliable achievement of a desired outcome, assuming they match the task at hand. If a process does not match the task it supports well, it’ll result in inefficiency, poor performance and low morale. It will act as a weight on the business instead of giving it wings to take off.

In fact, in the world of aviation, there are documented cases where strict adherence to SOPs led to disaster. The aviation industry has a multitude of carefully devised procedures, designed to keep us safe. In the nineties, an ELAL Boeing 747-cargo flight crashed over the Netherlands after two of its engines detached from the wings. The pilots could have saved the airplane; however, the crew followed the emergency protocol to the letter. Unfortunately, the plane’s instrumentation, no longer connected to the detached engines, gave the pilots false readings. The procedure no longer matched the situation, and the plane eventually lost the ability to control systems and crashed, killing 43 people.

Learning from this tragedy, airlines now train pilots to ignore SOPs in certain emergency situations. They are trained to trust their instincts instead and just land the plane. The landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in 2009 is a perfect example, where instinctive thinking led Captain Sully to make the right decision not to try landing at a nearby airport, but instead ditch the plane into the Hudson River close to an active boat route that could evacuate passengers. Airlines frequently learn from accidents, building those scenarios into their flight simulators. Much like the use of duct tape to save Apollo 13, thinking outside of the box can save lives. While policies and procedures are essential in routine, stable situations, SOPs may be just the wrong tool in a dynamic situation.

SOPs in a SAAS Environment 

I’ve spent much of my professional life building software, not working in aviation, but allow me to translate. In a Software as a Service (SAAS) environment, processes like Kanban and Scrum are essential to delivering projects on time and to specification. However, once your software service is running, bugs inevitably pop up, and servers and Internet connections fail, resulting in unexpected situations for the code. These events require prompt attention, and ignoring them or building a queue to fix them one by one, is like employing the wrong tool. You run the risk of a service meltdown and possibly even worse consequences—imagine the phone system for a 911 service failing.

Developing SOPs for the myriad of dynamic situations that can arise in a SAAS environment is impossible and in many cases, a waste of time. If you fix a software bug properly, the likelihood that you’ll need a standard procedure a second time is slim. You’re better served spending the time training people (your most effective tools) to think and respond creatively.

At Phone.com, we’re constantly working to strike the balance between creating effective procedures to ensure quality, while at the same time responding quickly when an unforeseen issue arises. Here is my advice. The next time you think you need to add a process in your organization consider the age-old acronym KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid. Ask yourself if you will ever need this procedure again and how frequently. If the answer is no, use the time saved to evolve your tools and people by sharing information among the group. Evolution does not happen in one day, but as your team knowledge grows, the performance, efficiency and job satisfaction will build exponentially.

Phone.com University

Phone.com University – Implementing an “Exit” Option from a Voicemail

by Alon Cohen

In a recent webinar, one of our agents asked how to create an “exit” from leaving a voicemail message. This would be useful when callers don’t want to leave a message but rather want to reach someone else in your organization.

Normally, when a caller reaches voicemail they have just one option—to leave a message and/or hang up. If the caller wants to try another extension, the voicemail system typically does not offer an exit.

With Phone.com’s simple but powerful call handling rules, it is possible to create an exit path from voicemail so that your callers don’t have to hang up and call back.

Accomplishing this requires three simple steps:

  1. Creating a greeting with the re-direct options stated.
  2. Creating a menu and configuring the re-direct selections.
  3. Forwarding to your menu in your call handling rules.

Creating Your Greeting

  1. Mouse over Configure and select Add a Greeting.
  2. Enter a name for your greeting in the Nickname: field.
  3. Select a method to record your greeting and record the message.
  4. Select Save Greeting.

Example: You have reached Alon Cohen’s voicemail. To leave a message, press 1. To go back to the main menu, press 2. If you want another extension, please dial it now.

greeting

 Creating Your Menu

  1. Mouse over Configure and select Add a Menu.
  2. Select the greeting you made in the steps above for the Outgoing Message.
  3. Select Continue.

Configuring Your Menu Options

You are now on the Edit Menu screen where you will configure two options:

  • Option 1 will direct callers to the voicemail you specified in your greeting.
  • Option 2 will allow callers to get back to your main menu.

Option 1

  1. Select Edit for Option 1.
  2. Change Select Operation to Leave Voicemail.
  3. Choose the extension you want voicemails left in.
  4. Select Save Rule Settings.

Option 2

  1. Select Edit for Option 2.
  2. Change Select Operation to Goto Menu.
  3. Choose your main menu in the drop-down box.
  4. Select Save Rule Settings.

menu

Forwarding to Your Menu

Navigating to your call handling rules will differ depending on your unique setup. We will assume that you are already at this section in your account.

  1. Select Add Next Action at the bottom of your call handling rules.
  2. Change Select Operation to GotoMenu.
  3. Select the menu you made in the steps above.
  4. Select Save Rule Settings.

chr

In the example above, if the extension does not pick up within 20 seconds, the rule will engage action B, which will direct the caller to the Exit menu.

Exit achieved! That’s it for today, see you next Monday for some more Phone.com knowledge.

Phone.com University

Phone.com University – Porting a Phone Number Seamlessly to Phone.com

by Alon Cohen

Phone.com has a dedicated team of service agents trained to support our more complicated deployments. When these agents configure a new account, they typically port the customer’s original phone number over to Phone.com without any interruption to their existing phone service.

This article is primarily written for our agents who are assisting their customers however, all customers can benefit from this bit of knowledge regarding our porting process.  It offers guidelines on how to maintain phone service during the porting process and highlights common issues that may arise.

Tasks Outside of the Phone.com System

Before porting the number to Phone.com, be aware of the following points:

  • Prior to porting any numbers, check for contractual obligations or pending orders with the prospect’s current phone provider. Some companies will not release numbers, claiming that they own the number or that the customer’s contractual obligations do not allow porting at that time.
  • Make sure the number that you want to port is currently active. Inactive numbers cannot be ported.
  • Never try to close an existing account with any phone company before porting the number over. If you close the account before porting, you run the risk of losing the phone number.
  • Always forward the original number to Phone.com before starting the porting process. Some companies may not let you set up call forwarding once you’ve started the porting process.

On the Phone.com Side

Before porting the number, be sure to consider the following when configuring the customer’s Phone.com account.

  • When setting up the Phone.com trial account, create a virtual extension and place all your call handling rules on that extension. We call this a Mezzanine Extension, as it sits between the phone number and the rest of your menus, IP Phones and so on.
  • Do not set any call handling rules on Phone.com temporary numbers, other than simple forwarding to the Mezzanine Extension. If you eventually delete a temporary number, you will lose the rules associated with it.
  • Use call handling rules presets. When deleting an extension or number that has call handling rules on it, the rules will be deleted also. However, if you stored them as a preset, they will be saved on the account under the Presets list.
  • When porting the original business number to Phone.com, the process creates an additional temporary number that will be replaced by the incoming business number. Be sure to forward that temporary number to the Mezzanine Extension you created.

diagram

Once the number is ported over, it will replace the temporary number. All calls will be routed to the Mezzanine Extension and all phone functions will continue to work flawlessly.

Once you confirm that porting is complete, delete the original trial phone number from the account and place a test call to the ported number to make sure everything is working properly. Also be sure to call the other phone company and tell them to close the account. Many companies will continue to charge the customer every month, even if the customer has no phone numbers with them.

NJ Startup Weekend – A Hackathon for Entrepreneurs

by Alon Cohen

New Jersey Startup Weekend

While HackPrinceton was going on at the Princeton University campus, New Jersey hosted another large meetup for developing great ideas, the NJ Startup Weekend.

What Is Startup Weekend?

Part of a series powered by Google for Entrepreneurs, Startup Weekend focuses on entrepreneurs, developers and designers hacking together concepts for new products in under 72 hours! The goal is to come up with a complete proof of concept, with a simple working model for the product.

Startup Weekend

Last weekend’s event took place at the co-working space JuiceTank in Somerset, NJ, the perfect location for a large collaborative gathering like Startup Weekend. Open work areas, breakout rooms and personal workspaces abounded.

JuiceTank1

Everyone gathered Friday evening for an introduction and a couple of icebreakers, followed by the entrepreneurs presenting pitches for ideas to the group. Participants then voted on the concepts presented, and working teams formed around the different ideas.

Twenty teams were originally formed, but several merged due to lack of specific skills needed to get a concept off the ground. When the dust finally settled, the real fun began. Teams worked until JuiceTank closed both nights of the event, and many continued to work through the night outside of the venue.

JuiceTank2

Innovation Under Pressure 

A number of fantastic product ideas were pitched at Startup Weekend. Kwick was an application that used SMS messaging to facilitate financial transactions among users, similar to Venmo, but without the need for a smartphone application.

Plenty of Cats took a novel approach to helping animal shelters save cats by gamifying the process with their game “Meow or Hiss”, similar to Hot or Not. Using the Petfinder API, this group gained a lot of traction on Facebook over the weekend.

Winner! Winner!

The winners of the event, however, were clear favorites among everyone at the event!

The first spot went to Waddle, an app that integrates with social platforms, displaying a map of where the subscriber has traveled, based on posts to FourSquare, Facebook, Twitter and the like. By using date filtering to figure out when these events occur, the app lets users recall events by location, as opposed to having to sift through a timeline.

The second winner was Shop Smart, a tablet platform that can be mounted on shopping carts, providing consumers with their shopping lists as they travel through a store. Users can add items to their shopping lists before entering the store, and the same shopping list appears when they log in on the shopping-cart tablets. Location services in the store notify shoppers when they approach items they need and check the item off their lists by scanning the item using a barcode scanner attached to the device. In addition, the app could give users reminders about items they purchased before and may need to pick up, suggestions for recipes, and notifications of special promotions. This product really could revolutionize how consumers shop in supermarkets!

As winners, Waddle and Shop Smart will receive free co-working space at JuiceTank and were also made semi-finalists in the technology accelerator group TechLaunch. Both apps certainly promise to become much more with support from their teams and the generous support of sponsors.

Charging Station

Phone.com Supports Startup Weekend!

As a sponsor of the event, Phone.com offered both advice and support. Our popular device-charging station provided power for participants’ phones while they focused on honing their  concepts. I also threw my hat into the ring as a mentor for teams, to help with any unified communication questions or other technical questions team members may have had.

I strongly encourage anyone who has a  Startup Weekend going on in their area to participate and be inspired. Whether your team wins or loses, the relationships, ideas, skills and camaraderie built is well worth your time, sweat, and money. I’m looking forward to the next Startup Weekend myself, if only so that I can participate!

I’d also like to give a shout out to everyone who was involved in the sponsorship and organization of last weekend’s event, especially JuiceTank members Charlie Patel, Mason Carter, and Zion Kim. They and their team really delivered an excellent event in a wonderful space. Kudos to all!

Kindling New Ideas: NJ Spark Summit 2014

by Alon Cohen

CEO Ari Rabban speaking at the NJ Spark Summit

CEO Ari Rabban speaking at the NJ Spark Summit

The brainchild of Aaron Price of the NJ Tech Meetup, Amit Baria of the new-tech school Fuel.am, and Bret Morgan of the Jersey Shore Tech Meetup, NJ Spark Summit hosted prominent speakers discussing strategies for building successful startups.

The conference covered many topics, including a discussion on the future of data security by Dr. Ed Amoroso of AT&T, entrepreneurial advice from attorney David Sorin, and information on entrepreneurial opportunities in the city of Hoboken by Mayor Dawn Zimmer.

Sessions addressed effective crowd funding, offered fundraising strategies from major seed investors and venture capital groups, and discussed upcoming trends for marketing, promotion, public relations and media. Panel members included legal and funding specialists, as well as technologists from Indiegogo, TechCrunch, StartupValley, Techstars NYC and VentureBeat.

Personally, I enjoyed hearing Brett Martin’s experiences working through his failed startup Sonar Media, as well as discussions on how to effectively crowdfund, by Stantt co-founder Matt Hornbuckle, and on the gamification of products by Gabe Zichermann.

Building Engagement Though LiveCube

A truly galvanizing element of Spark Summit was the LiveCube app, co-created by event host Aaron Price, speaker Gabe Zichermann and Justin Schier. Used as the social media aggregator for the event, the big benefit of LiveCube was that it allowed attendees to post and then return later to monitor and engage with content created that day.

Gamifying engagement and offering prizes from sponsors and speakers strongly encouraged NJ Spark Summit attendees to use LiveCube and delivered a memorable meta-experience on top of the conference talk. An added bonus for attendees is LiveCube’s persistence after the event, letting them engage with speakers they did not have time to speak to during the conference.

Plugging Into Phone.com

As a sponsor, Phone.com provided a much-needed service at Spark Summit—a device charging station! Manned by Aaron Rosenthal and myself of Phone.com’s upcoming API, the stylized idea box held USB, Apple and AC charging units to let attendees recharge the devices they were using at the event.

Phone.com CEO Ari Rabban also spoke briefly about the boost that Phone.com provides to startups with our professional, low-cost business phone service. Phone.com also offered a free year of service for attendees of the conference!

Overall, I think NJ Spark Summit was well executed and gave startups, investors and developers the chance to engage with the New Jersey business community. As a young business, we at Phone.com love it when startups reach out and promote each others’ services, thereby encouraging those partners to return the favor down the road. Paying it forward was never so much fun!