The Human Touch

23 07 2007

Monopoly

(Source: Wikipedia)

Remember playing Monopoly – the capitalistic real estate game continuously popular for over three generations around the world? Who was the designated banker when you played? Who hid a stash of money under the board for the big reveal when bankruptcy loomed? Did house rules allow inside trading? Every deal was a cash deal, sealed with a handshake. Nina Smith of blogher (the community for women who blog) says: …the good ‘ole fashioned board games (think Monopoly) that taught us as a kids that cash is king. How’s that for personification?

 

Fish

A great article from Chaya Brian Carvalho earlier this year featured her company bcwebwise and enumerated the strategyto give the internet the power of the human touch – and from the looks of it, it is turning into more than just Monopoly money for her and her team. Here’s more from the article but you will want to read the whole piece yourself:

 

Community building generates more interest than just normal promotional campaigns. A community appeals to users and, hence, makes sense to marketers for two main reasons:

1. It entertains and emotes. When done properly, the space is an interesting experience for the user and generates some kind of reaction.

2. It allows users some level of control. Community allows users to control the experience. They can view only what they want and also get to know more about the product in an unobtrusive manner, in fact they are there out of their own choice.

Community networks will be measured by the pass-along rate or “ripples”. Impressions versus ripples? The choice for the savvy and ROI-focused brand manager will be easy. It’s not about how many rocks you throw in the pond, but how many ripples you create, how many people you involve, how much of human interaction there is.

 

Carvalho Carvalho calls the Internet high-speed access to another soul. In my previous post, I compared two very popular communities – Netscape and Digg. Social Media is changing the way we look at things.

Simplicity. Social Media and Web 2.0 have a common thread to revolutionize the internet beyond technology. Certainly they look to simplify through the use of more intuitive, clean technology, and minimalist design. Together they change customer service as well- for the customer and for the provider. Web2.0 is all about simplicity. Flattening layers within these companies show the world that very popular sites can be run by a handful of people. Next we see a new social customer service climate. You can think of your customer service as a chat session with the owner of the company or the manufacturer of your purchase.

NowSourcingNowSourcing is one such company. The original concept of NowSourcing was to outsource IT deliverables with efficiency, simplicity – without borders and crossing time zones as needed. The emphasis is on loyalty – not brand loyalty when we recommend a suite of services to a client. The concept has been branded NowSourcing. We now see that this new form of social media includes community involvement – the human touch. The work we do is what the client would do for herself if she could. With our help, she can.

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Chipin.com – Interesting Way to Raise Money

13 07 2007

Chipin.com

Chipin.com is becoming more and more popular lately. This neat web 2.0 site is tearing up the donations track.

What’s that you say? Donations don’t sound exciting? The only news that you want to hear about has something to do with the Bush Administration or the iPhone? Guess again.

Yes, Chipin is making it easy for the world to donate money to your cause right from your website. And they make you look good:

Sample chipin

Very simple interface. NowSourcing was impressed by the ease of use. Simply register, enter your campaign, how much you want to raise, when you need it by, and your PayPal email account. After that, you have a very slick flash widget that you can put right on your site. They also just released widgets for your Facebook profile (note: Facebook account required to view), allowing you to raise money for the groups you’re a part of on Facebook.

With me so far? Instead of having a boring, old little donate button, you get a sweet looking Chipin badge for your cause. What’s more is that these guys are hard at work on making a non-profit fundraising badge that includes the non-profit logo, integrated video, custom design, and messaging. The best part is that you can make your non-profit badge available to other bloggers that support your cause as well.

Currently, Chipin plans to release these special non-profit badges in August 2007. Read more about it here.

Thank you for reading my review – if you’re in the giving mood, do get a chance to check out my cause that I’m trying to raise money for. It is a children’s playground fund (look under the left nav). Thanks for stopping by!





Trading stuff for free vs. Free stuff

10 07 2007

Trading Stuff for Free

Swaptree

Swaptree is a great service that I came across recently. It lets you trade books, music, movies, and games with others for free. You tell the system what you have, and it figures out what you can get in exchange. Note that it supports one-for-one item trades only.

How it works

How Swaptree works

Swaptree does a good job laying out the ground rules simply and clearly. There is also a wonderful walkthrough here. Ebay users will find a similar buyer/seller rating system that they are accustomed to.

The site has been out of public beta since July 4th (so it’s no longer invite only) and seems to be gaining steam. Way to go, guys!


Free Stuff

Freecycle

Freecycle would be a good alternative if you were looking for an item outside of books, music, movies, and games – such as apparel, computers, and furniture. The concept is that someone wants to get rid of something, while another person want s the same item. Rather than throwing the item away or trying to sell for a minimal amount, the item is given away, provided that a local person comes to pick it up.

Freecycle animationHere is a short animation showing what it’s all about.

At the time of this posting, there are a total of 4,041 Freecycle communities throughout the world. Chances are, you are either in or near one of them.





SaaS / Software-as-a-Service

5 07 2007

Service with a smile - from Russia

SaaS / Software-as-a-Service

When I buy a plane ticket, I buy a ride, not the whole airplane. This is an economic axiom, and, at business school, I learned this concept as a First Cause. We are thankful that, yes, the analogy breaks down: Software-as-a-Service is most certainly not beset by the problem of unrecoverable revenue like seats on an airplane after it takes off. Quite the contrary.

And to my pleasure I learn I can still use software without ever having to pirate buy it.

Allow me to indulge my need to fill in some knowledge gaps that have opened since my ’02 B-school graduation date. (That’s equivalent to 25 years ago in tech-years.)


Introduction

Succinctly, customers pay – not for owning the software itself – but for using it. Source
This is where commodification takes place. The intrinsic value of the software (regardless of its function) becomes its use, rather than in its ownership. An esoteric concept no longer, because in our post-post-modern society we finally understand that using (not storing), sharing (not hording), mentoring (not training), supporting (not rewarding) is the real business of business.


Dilbert The idea of Software-as-a-Service ostensibly lies in its perception by the PTB that SaaS is cheap and easy. Not to say it isn’t cheap and easy. It is for the buyer. This attitude sticks Management firmly back in the 20th Century – the Age of Modernity where dollars were different from information and work was different from the workers.
feather I’m adding to this idea by suggesting that software as a service is becoming an equation that is greater than the sum of its parts. Proof of this is that SaaS applications usually deliver a one-to-many model with recurring billing. The 21st Century is proving to be more tribal and traditional, where connectivity and time contain value, and virtural innovations are actual folklife.


News

1 – SAN MATEO, Calif. – April 18, 2007 – SuccessFactors, the global leader in on-demand performance and talent management solutions, today announced that Wachovia Bank has over 85,000 employees actively utilizing the SuccessFactors Performance and Talent Management Suite, making it one of if not the largest enterprise Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) deployments ever.

“Our mission is to significantly improve the way companies measure and motivate people across the globe, giving them instant gratification in people management,” said SuccessFactors’ CEO Lars Dalgaard. Article

However, in reference to the news shown above, the question is begged, “Can the Fortune 500 Achieve Efficiency through Intra-enterprise SaaS?” So asks SaaSBlogs. The opinion is yes, citing it is also well understood that the provider generates certain efficiencies via the centralization of the technical burden associated with the application.

2 – Chicopee, MA (PRWEB) June 28, 2007 – Apatar to Officially Launch World’s First Open Source Software as a Service (SaaS) Data Integration Company

Apatar, Inc., today announced Apatar Enterprise Data Mashups™, the world’s first open source on-demand data integration software tools and services at the Red Herring East Conference, being held June 26-28, 2007, in Boston, MA.

Apatar is the leading provider of open source software tools for the data integration market.

I note that this innovation toward open source confirms my belief in the traditions of the tribe. As long as one user is without access (a condition corrected by open source software), the connections are left incomplete, a status virtually intolerable (pun intended!)

3 – Wednesday, 04 July 2007 – OpSource™, SaaS delivery experts, today announced a partnership with MarketShare, a specialist in SaaS software pricing, to better serve the needs of new and existing software vendors transitioning to the software as a service (SaaS) business model.

Jim Geisman Jim Geisman, principal and founder, MarketShare said, “In addition to facing the challenges of pricing a SaaS solution, some of our prospects and customers underestimate what it takes to deliver a SaaS application. OpSource’s complete, end-to-end SaaS delivery environment and value-added services, such as billing, coupled with its success-based business model, provides tremendous value to SaaS vendors and their customers.”

I hear, when I read what Mr. Geisman said, is that value is derived when the software is used/evolves/becomes a useable, helpful service for the end user.


Conclusion

NowSourcingWe know that the world is changing. Outsourcing has become an overused buzzword, coupled with the backlash that may come along with it. Our team of experts here at NowSourcing come from a variety of backgrounds, experience, and left-brain / right-brain specialties. We are different, as we analyze your company’s needs from top to bottom. We aren’t just a coding house – we look to find any systemic issues with the way you do business today.





Health Insurance for small businesses: HDHP, HSA and more

28 06 2007

Baby and mother

A month ago, Jenny Thomas checked into her local hospital to deliver her first child. Unanticipated complications necessitated an emergency surgery. Fortunately both she and the baby were fine. But if it hadn’t been for her family’s health savings account (HSA), she could have ended up owing the hospital tens of thousands of dollars. (full article)

I know that most of my readers come here to either see the latest that NowSourcing is up to, or the latest in tech news, but now it’s time to think about health insurance. I remember the w-2 days: a big piece of your check was your (after tax) insurance premium. The big decisions were made for you. When you own your own business (as I do), it’s a whole other ball of wax. Since a small business (and by the way, if you’re bringing in less than $10 million a year, yeah – you’re one of us) does not have the collective buying clout as a major world corporation, premiums “feel” generally higher. Notice that Alan Feigenbaum, CFP -as seen on Forbes.com– has something to say about that:

Such high-deductible (often $5,000 or $10,000) policies have much lower premiums, because the typical enrollees never have covered claims.

So, it’s on to reading up on the subject and deep diving into the healthcare bag of tricks. Let’s talk about a few of them here:

1 – Health Savings Accounts (HSA’s). This has been a fantastic advent of the IRS. Starting in 2004, HSA’s gave individuals a greater freedom than the ability to not just put in pre-tax dollars to help fund their healthcare expenses. Rather, they now were able to rollover money from year to year. HSA’s have also been increasing in the total amount that individuals can contribute – up to $2,850 individual and $5,650 family in 2007, an increase over IRS guidelines of $2,700 for individual plans and $5,450 for family plans in 2006.

2 – High Deductible Health Plans (HDHP’s). HDHP’s are actually a requirement for having an HSA (in most states). There are minimum and maximum deductible levels set in order to qualify for HSA’s.

In order to open an HSA account, an individual must first have an HDHP.

Part of the beauty of the HDHP / HSA system is that you have tremendous opportunity to make over the counter purchases, have a debit card directly in to your account, and even to earn interest by investing your HSA in mutual funds. Some have even called the HSA a “medical IRA”.

Investopedia fills in our knowledge gaps with alacrity:

What is a High-Deductible Health Plan – HDHP? A health insurance plan that has a high minimum deductible, which does not cover the initial costs or all of the costs of medical expenses. The deductible forces the insurance holder to pay the first portion of a medical expense before the insurance coverage kicks in. The minimum deductible for a plan to fall into the category of an HDHP varies each year. These high-deductible health plans are thought to lower overall healthcare costs by forcing individuals to be more conscious of medical expenses. The higher deductible also lowers insurance premiums, making health coverage more affordable.


Straight to the source: IRS Publication 969, Health Savings Accounts and Other Tax-Favored Health Plans. This 19 page PDF introduces the taxpayer to various programs designed to give individuals tax advantages to offset health care costs including HSA’s. (See bullet points below.) IRS Publication 553, Highlights of 2006 Tax Changes. I searched this document and found information on our topic on page 8 (of 32). In short summary, COL changes have taken place for both the minimums and maximums relative to HSA’s.

  • No permission or authorization from the IRS is necessary to establish an HSA. When you set up an HSA, you will need to work with a trustee. A qualified HSA trustee can be a bank, an insurance company, or anyone already approved by the IRS to be a trustee of individual retirement arrangements (IRAs).
  • An HSA is “portable” so it stays with you if you change employers or leave the work force.
  • An HSA is generally exempt from tax. You are permitted to take a distribution from your HSA at any time; however, amounts that remain at the end of the year are generally carried over to the next year.
  • Earnings on amounts in an HSA are not included in your income while held in the HSA.