October 2009

A very close friend of mine recently blogged about one’s inclination to phrase everything as absolutes in a post titled “Relative to What?”. Take “I am successful.”

It is always refreshing to be reminded about my proclivity to yield to groupthink and my myopic definition of life. I tend to think like those around me at that time. For instance, historically, my definition of success has patterned itself on my surroundings. When I lived and worked in rural upstate NY in a small town called Houghton, success was how much free time I had to go creek-walking or doing stupid human tricks on the floor of my apartment with close friends. When I moved to Buffalo and started commuting to Boston once a month, success was the next big contract.

Today, I am involved in an IVR company at a time when telephony is seeing a paradigm shift and success, suddenly, isn’t our recent CBS and WebMD contracts, but rather how successful we are in pioneering new frontiers in VoIP application delivery.

Why is it that that which was once good enough, no longer is?

My wife always tells me, “You’re never content because you shift your frame of reference all the time.” It’s hard to not scratch your competitive itch when a 30 year-old is doing cooler stuff than you or the suits you hang out with are making more money than you. You get caught up; myopia sets in; you stand patterned.

That’s when, like Akshay states in his blog, “Information exposure alone is…powerful.” Powerful in letting you see past yourself. You take stock of those who are not in the group you model yourself after. I think about my good friends living good lives that are (in their own right) patterned differently. I realize they too struggle with defining life and success. And I realize their journey of definition is alien to me as will be their destination.

What you do, what makes you happy, what gets you going - it’s all relative to your reference point. I breathe deep and remind myself to not take things in my life too seriously. What is success? You have nothing to prove to yourself because nothing, after all, can be proven. What’s more, I smirk knowing that if I encounter failure, I always have the option to redefine what my success is about on-the-fly and (by deft slight of hand) my failure is no more a failure!

Defining what you’re about is arbitrary and pegged to an arbitrary standard - both controlled by you. And only you measure yourself. So, am I successful? Don’t know - relative to what?

The concept of the cloud is gaining momentum - increasingly we play and work using web applications hosted “out there somewhere”. The Google cloud, for instance, hosts our email, files our documents, and helps us search. Facebook manages our social life. The cloud is also becoming a buzzword in telephony and rightly so. Until recently, phone application development had a high barrier to entry - creating IVR applications to perform business functions either meant getting your PBX to do it (good luck), purchasing an add-on from your phone system vendor (expensive), or getting an IVR custom development shop to create and host it (not bad, but you lose control and it’s still not cheap). Provisioning the bandwidth, phone numbers, and a reliable infrastructure were no small task either. With the onset of VoIP and introduction of protocols such as SIP on the one hand and open source activity on communication platforms (like Freeswitch) and PBXes (like Asterisk) on the other, it has finally become conceivable to deliver voice applications from anywhere.

At IVR Technology Group, this paradigm shift excites us and we talk of how we can deliver not just phone applications but an open telephony platform. Since we run operations out of three datacenters geographically dispersed and over a handful of major carriers, we have an infrastructure that can be described as a humble cloud (against the backdrop of cloud Goliaths like Google and Amazon!). Our recent thinking has been, “Why not empower developers of software to voice enable their applications by giving them access to our voice platform with simple APIs?”

As such, our first foray is going to be what we’re calling Telecast - an outbound calling engine that developers can integrate with to deliver calls ranging from event-driven notification calls (eg. reminder calls based on calendar events at the most basic) to high-volume voiceblasts (eg. community emergency notification systems needing to dial 20,000 people in 10 minutes for example).

Now, a non-profit community organization can quickly power a pledge drive by queuing up calls from its CRM or an indie game developer can set up her e-commerce website to call her with a victory song every time 100 game purchases are made. No T1s to provision, no carrier contracts to hassle with, no datacenter required. Sweet!

If anyone knows of any companies or developers wanting to beta Telecast when the API is released next month, give me a shout!