Tech Talk From Silicon Valley

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff | Posted May 01, 2001
by Mike Langberg

Divine Customer Relationship
What are your customers saying about you, and are they willing to say it to your face? One way to keep tabs is through Web sites like UGetHeard.com, EComplaints.com, and PlanetFeedback.com, which provide the public with an easy way to submit complaints, suggestions, compliments, or questions. Free to customers, the sites generate income by selling the information and related services to the businesses in question. PlanetFeedback, for example, launched in early 2000 and received about 220,000 letters in its first year. Businesses can purchase two services from them: Data analysis about customer feedback regarding your company and how you rank against competitors, and automatic transfer of feedback forms into your customer support network.

Stirring Up a Brew
San Diego-based Qualcomm pioneered the CDMA technology that now runs much of the nation's wireless phones. Now, the company has intro-duced a software standard called Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless. BREW is essentially a programming language that makes it easy to create custom applications for BREW-enabled wireless phones. Businesses could use it to provide roaming employees with access to company sales or support data, without having to worry what make or model of phone the employees are carrying. The BREW software developers kit is due to be released this month.

Staking New Claims
Small businesses will benefit as big telecommunications equipment makers continue invading each other's turf. Nortel Networks, originally a supplier of telephone switching gear, is busy re-positioning itself as a source of Internet hardware. "Personal Internet," the newest marketing initiative from Nortel, is a collection of hardware and software tools for Web site operators and Internet service providers to create a smarter, faster Internet. One piece of the package, called Personal Content Portal, allows ISPs to track subscribers and deliver directly relevant information. An ISP could direct banner ads to specific ZIP codes, making Internet advertising more practical for companies serving a defined geographic area. Personal Content Portal also can tell how the Web is being accessed, and could deliver greatly simplified pages to subscribers using a wireless phone or organizer, while subscribers using a computer would see full pages. Nortel has also joined with Novell and the consulting firm Accenture to form a joint venture called Volera that sells "caching" technology, which accelerates the flow of data from a business Web site to customers.

Businesses could use BREW to provide roaming employees with access to company sales or support data, without having to worry what make or model of phone their employees are carrying.

Net Unification
Cisco Systems, originally a supplier of Internet switching gear, is devising ways for the Net to replace the phone system. In partnership with Openwave Systems, a smaller Silicon Valley software developer, Cisco is offering "unified messaging" based on a standard called VoiceXML. Translated into plain English, this means phone calls, electronic mail, and faxes can go to a single electronic inbox, where they can be retrieved by almost any kind of communications device, including wired phones, computers, wireless phones, pagers, or wireless organizers. Although unified messaging systems have been around for several years, the Cisco-Openwave alliance aims to make it easier to implement the service on existing computer networks. Field tests begin later this year, the two companies say, with commercial availability early next year.

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