RackNine Network unveils new website

RackNine Inc. has set up a new website located at http://www.racknine.net/, in which we intend to cover news, reviews and best practices related to web applications, mostly Open Source software based on the PHP-MySQL duo and designed to simplify the process of creating and maintaining web spaces and communities.

The website is divided into 3 main sections:

Content Management Systems (CMSs): Used to manage content and work-flow by a single person or in a collaborative environment. Content can be simple text, photos, music, video, documents, or just about any material that can be stored digitally.

The CMSs we currently offer require almost no technical skills or special knowledge to manage. A person with just enough technical abilities to create a Word document could easily create an edit pages with these CMSs listed below.


WordPress is a semantic personal publishing platform with a focus on aesthetics, Web standards, and usability. It supports multiple users, categories, comments, bookmarklets, RSS syndication, several APIs, and weblogs.

The core software is built by hundreds of community volunteers, and when you’re ready for more there are thousands of plugins and themes available to transform your site into almost anything you can imagine. Over 60 million people have chosen WordPress to power their websites.

Learn more…


With millions of websites running on Joomla!, the software is used by individuals, small and medium-sized businesses, and large organizations worldwide to easily create and build a variety of websites & web-enabled applications.

Since Joomla! is so easy to use, anybody with a minimal amount of instruction can easily manage their own sites themselves. Nonetheless, if you need specialized functionality, Joomla! is highly extensible and thousands of extensions (most for free under the GPL license) are available in the Joomla Extensions Directory.

Learn more…


Drupal is highly advanced Open Source software that allows an individual or a community of users to easily publish, manage and organize a great variety of content on a website.

Drupal is optimized for high volume traffic and its platform is currently powering millions of websites and applications, from personal websites to enterprise applications. It’s built, used, and supported by a very active and diverse community of professionals around the world.

Learn more…



 

Customer Relationship Management (CRM): Applications that allows for a large number of users to contribute to and share stored data, improving communication between employees of an organization and their customers, as well as potential clients, and members of sales prospects.

This easy-to-use CRM software will allow you to consolidate all your customers’ contact details and history in one place, helping you remember when you should follow-up with current contacts and prospects, which translate into increasing sales and profit margins.


vTiger CRM is an open source CRM application that was forked from SugarCRM with the intention of being a fully open source CRM application with comparable functionality to SugarCRM and Salesforce.com.

vTiger CRM offers reporting, a customer portal and an Outlook plugin in its free edition, whereas those functions are in paid versions of the other CRM applications.

Learn more…


CiviCRM is a web-based, internationalized suite of computer software for constituency relationship management, that falls under the broad rubric of customer relationship management. It is specifically designed for the needs of non-profit, non-governmental, and advocacy groups, and serves as an association management system.

CiviCRM is designed to manage information about an organization’s donors, members, event registrants, subscribers, grant application seekers and funders, and case contacts. Volunteers, activists, voters as well as more general sorts of business contacts such as employees, clients, or vendors can be managed using CiviCRM.

Learn more…


Kayako is a developer and vendor of proprietary help desk and customer support software. Kayako’s products are available either as a SaaS (Software as a Service) or as licensed, downloadable products hosted on your own web server.

Kayako offers some of the world’s leading helpdesk and customer engagement solutions, such as Kayako Fusion Help Desk Software that delivers customer support over email, tickets, live chat, remote desktop support, VoIP and self-help.

Learn more…



e-Commerce Software: Makes it incredibly simple to create a professional-looking store that accepts different payment systems and credit cards, integrates with Google, eBay or Amazon and offers multiple shipping options.

Customer registration and checkout are securely delegated to third-party organizations for a modest fee, so your customers can buy with confidence. Never before has been this easy to create your own Online Store with integrated Shopping Cart, for a lot less than you think.


osCommerce stands for “Open Source Commerce”, an online store-management software program that can be used on any web server capable of running PHP and MySQL.

Being one of the most veteran packages of its kind, osCommerce has spawned a number of forks over ten years of operation, including the widely popular Zen Cart.

Learn more…


Magento was built using the Zend Framework by Varien, a company that formerly worked with osCommerce, but later decided to rewrite the software from scratch.

Magento uses the Entity-attribute-value (EAV) database model to store data, offering merchants complete flexibility and control over the presentation, content, and functionality of their online outlets.

Learn more…


VirtueMart can extend the functionality of Joomla! that can be run as a Shopping Cart, or in Catalog mode. You need to install Joomla! first as the Framework, and then install and configure VirtueMart on top of it.

Despite being Open Source Software VirtueMart is capable of powering large Online Shops providing the type of performance, usability and security you’d expect from professional Software.

Learn more…



For more information please visit our sister website at: http://www.racknine.net/

Social Media Software for the Extended Enterprise

Enterprise Social Media could be loosely be defined as a system of web-based technologies that focus on collaboration, information sharing, and integration within the enterprise environment. In contrast to traditional enterprise software, which imposes structure prior to use, enterprise social software tends to encourage use before providing structure.

Latest bunch of Social Media Enterprise Software focuses mainly on integration, agility, and speed by implementing user-friendly technology that is compatible across all kinds of devices with an emphasis on the mobile platform. Enterprises are now able to collaborate, share, and organize information across all levels using Social Media Enterprise Software, and this trend that can only grow even stronger during the coming years, as confirmed by a recent study from Forrester Research that concludes that Social Media Enterprise Software, which mimics the kind of  functionality present on social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, will be increasingly adapted for workplaces. According to the study organizations will increase their spending on Social Media Enterprise Software at a compound annual growth rate of 61 percent through 2016, a year in which the market for these products will reach US$6.4 billion, compared with $600 million. Forrester’s report entitled “Social Enterprise Apps Redefine Collaboration” also predicts that by creating a social layer between information workers and the applications and communications infrastructure, social enterprise apps will finally overcome the adoption issues that have prevented the effective implementation of unified communications and collaboration in the workplace.

There are many flavors of Social Software for Enterprises, and competition for a share of this very lucrative market is becoming fiercer by the day. Among the big contenders are names like Oracle Social CRM, Cisco Quad, IBM Lotus Connections, Microsoft SharePoint, BroadVision Clearvale, Neudesic Pulse, Yammer, Jive SBS, Ideaplane Kinetic, or MindShare. However different they may appear to be, at their core all their software share some common functionality like search facilities, categorized content, authoring modules, comments systems and syndication channels. All these modules can bring added value to business because by focusing on users needs and ergonomics they will bring about tremendous time savings. Often overlooked features such as comprehensible navigation more suited to the user, RSS feeds to keep employees informed of events, blogs and wikis for company documentation and others improve the collaborative operation as a whole and remove some traditional boundaries of hierarchy and organization, leading to increased interaction with customers and simplified integration with partners.

Corporate blogs for example take advantage of blogging technologies to broadcast leadership messages and publish daily activities. Corporate blogs are becoming a part of the standard set of corporate communication tools and the emerging portfolio of social-media tools. Features like tags and rating help corporate employees find content and make judgements about policies or procedures. And corporate wikis provide an easy-to-use environment for subject-matter experts to publish their interpretation on any subject. By creating a wiki individual divisions are now able to add items to the system and make a decision on which items should roll up to the corporate level.

Additionally, expertise-location capability provides corporations with the ability to solve business problems that are difficult to articulate or communicate explicitly and that involve highly skilled professionals. Dynamic people-profiles and searches are increasingly seen as integral components of a support environment that encourages unplanned collaboration and informal interactions as effective ways to solve business problems. Expertise location increases productivity and organizational success by identifying the status and location of human expertise in globally dispersed and increasingly virtual organizations. Publishing of employee profiles and searches against those profiles are increasingly seen by strategists as integral components of a business process that encourages unplanned collaboration and informal interactions as effective ways to solve business problems. Social network tools help managers find the right person or group for the appropriate task.

Last but not least, by implementing Social Media Software companies make it so much easier to collect and incubate innovative ideas that can be nurtured with community participation. Every company has people whose talents fall outside their jobs descriptions and therefore remain hidden most of the time. These employees can now make very important contributions to the idea generation process that will help fuel the product pipeline.

Implementing CRM 2.0

Chances are that if you are working in a company that faces the public in one way or another, you’ve already heard about CRM 2.0 and chances are that you were afraid to ask. In fact, if you belong to the largest percentage of the workforce, you might even have been afraid of asking what CRM is.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a widely used term that defines a set of procedures used in managing a company’s relationships with customers. The term has evolved over the years and nowadays it usually refers to the technology used in aiding to organize customer-related business processes, such as sales, marketing, customer support, etc.

The software used in these processes has also improved over the years and its ease of use has led businesses to lose sight of what really matters in a customer relationship, such as high rates of customer satisfaction that lead to sustainability and profit. Without a loyal customer base no business can exist and that’s why new technology should always be accompanied by careful strategic and operational planning.

Things start to get complicated as more layers of technology are deployed between a business and its customers. Although technological advances have brought the customer close to business representatives in terms of being just a click away, however the average customer today feels more neglected than ever. When efforts are limited to just choosing and deploying software, the best it can be hoped for is to simply automate customer relationship processes, instead of improving them according to best practices.

Customer satisfaction, which can be defined as “the number of customers, or percentage of total customers, whose reported experience with a firm, its products, or its services exceeds specified satisfaction goals”, is seen as a key performance indicator within a competitive marketplace where businesses compete for customers. Consider for example that there are many reasons why “The Customer Is Always Right”  is wrong, but none of them should prevent your company from putting “The Customer” always first. No one ever intended to have that old adagio taken literally, anyway. The idea was to focus employees on the importance of fulfilling customers’ expectations by inculcating the disposition to behave as if customers were always right, even at those times when they weren’t. Old-school CRM thinking, if you wish, but as effective back then as it is now.

Fast-forward to the twenty-first century and enter CRM 2.0 into the equation. CRM 2.0 can be defined as the space where Web 2.0 meets CRM, and in theory it’s a dream come true for marketing people, allowing them to interact with customers directly, without moving away from the workspace where all company information and technological aids are just a few clicks away. However, in practice its implementation is far from seamless. As we detailed in a previous post, enough issues arise when trying to implement a “traditional” CRM system, and if the implementation process is not accompanied by some kind of rationale, that number of issues only get to increase exponentially, specially when trying to hook that CRM system into social media outlets. For a marketing campaign to be successful in the realm of social media arena it needs to make sure response rates and sales conversions are high enough to improve return on investment (ROI), something that can hardly be achieved with just soulless automated database marketing.

CRM 2.0 is not only a philosophy, it’s a business strategy supported by a technology platform designed for customer interaction in order to provide mutually beneficial value. Customers now want to make their own choices about how they interact with companies they do business with. That means that not only does the company need to provide goods and services, but also engage with its customer base using the available social channels. What needs to be understood is that in today’s competitive market, CRM 1.0 is no longer a viable option.

The table below, courtesy of the Social CRM Wiki illustrates the main differences. Getting to acknowledge them is a sure step towards business success. Failing to do so will irremediably see your business overtaken by the competition.

CRM 1.0 v. CRM 2.0: A Comparative Table
CRM 1.0 Features/Functions CRM 2.0 Features/Functions

Definition: CRM is a philosophy & a business strategy, supported by a system and a technology, designed to improve human interactions in a business environment

Definition: CRM 2.0 is a philosophy & a business strategy, supported by a system and a technology, designed to engage the customer in a collaborative interaction that provides mutually beneficial value in a trusted & transparent business environment

Tactical and operational:

Customer strategy is part of corporate strategy

Strategic: Customer strategy IS corporate strategy

Relationship between the company and the customer was seen as enterprise managing customer – parent to child to a large extent

 

Relationship between the company and the customer are seen as a collaborative effort. And yet, the company must still be an enterprise in all other aspects

Focus on Company <> Customer Relationship

 

Focus on all iterations of the relationships (among company, business partners, customers) and specifically focus on identifying, engaging and enabling the “influential” nodes

The company seeks to lead and shape customer opinions about products, services, and the company-customer relationship.

The customer is seen as a partner from the beginning in the development and improvement of products, services, and the company-customer relationship

Business focus on products and services that satisfy customers

 

Business focus on environments & experiences that engage customer

Customer facing features – sales, marketing & support.

 

Customer facing both features and the people who’s in charge of developing and delivering those features

Marketing focused on processes that sent improved, targeted, highly specific corporate messages to customer

Marketing focused on building relationship with customer – engaging customer in activity and discussion, observing and re-directing conversations and activities among customers

 

Intellectual Property protected with all legal might available

Intellectual property created and owned together with the customer, partner, supplier, problem solver

 

Insights and effectiveness were optimally achieved by the single view of the customer (data) across all channels by those who needed to know. Based on “complete” customer record and data integration

Insights are a considerably more dynamic issue and are based on 1) customer data 2) customer personal profiles on the web and the social characteristics associated with them 3) customer participation in the activity acquisition of those insights

Resided in a customer-focused business ecosystem

Resides in a customer ecosystem 

 

Technology focused around operational aspects of sales, marketing, support

Technology focused on both the operational and social aspects of the interaction

Tools are associated with automating functions

Integrates social media tools into apps/services: blogs, wikis, podcasts, social networking tools, content sharing tools, user communities, tools are associated with communicating

Utilitarian, functional, operational style and design also matter
mostly uni-directional always bi-directional
Based on a toolset (software) Based on a strategy (corporate culture)
Consumers are clearly indicating that the option to respond online, appropriate timing and accurate personalisation are very important to them

Virtualization for Small Businesses

What at first appeared to be a technology that was meant to be deployed only in large corporations, is starting to take hold in the realm of small businesses, although at a much lower rate. Virtualization appears to be a very attractive solution for small businesses, but many of them are put off by what they perceive to be high licensing costs, high investment in time, or the lack of technical know-how.

However, requirements for virtualization have changed a lot since the times of massive data centers and huge IT budgets. Today, virtual operating systems allow companies of any size to utilize the kind of hardware and software that was reserved for large enterprises not so long ago. Virtual servers can also be used to eliminate the costs of managing and upgrading legacy hardware by migrating older applications onto virtual machines running on newer and tested hardware. They can also consolidate much of the hardware onto a single physical server to decrease management complexity.

VMware, leader in virtualization and cloud infrastructure, points out that  most computers today operate at a mere 10-15% of their total computing capacity, leaving vast IT resources untapped and unusable. Virtualization increases utilization to as much as 85% by running multiple operating systems on a single computer. According to their survey of 309 senior business and IT managers at companies with 20 to 1,000 employees in the United States and Canada, The Benefits of Virtualization for Small and Medium Businesses, by using virtualization these range of businesses are reducing the time spent on routine IT administrative tasks, such as adding and managing new server workloads, adding new employees or developing and launching new applications, and they are also becoming more responsive to business needs, while at the same time reducing the very real risks of IT outages and data loss.

“SMBs are adopting virtualization for a variety of reasons. The number one reason cited is to improve server utilization; 72% of SMBs chose virtualization for this reason. But that’s not the only benefit: 57% sought to reduce or contain the number of servers, 49% to improve security, 48% to improve availability and uptime, 47% to improve server and application management, and 47% to improve data backup and protection.”

As told by Joe Andrews, VMware’s  group manager of product marketing at the The Register, “What we have seen is that the smaller the company, the faster they will go 100% for virtualization. It takes smaller companies more time to adopt virtualization, but once they start, they go in for it in a big way.”  Going the “big way” was how he described the other complementary services that virtualization also offers SMBs, such as integrated backups, business continuity, high availability, reduced downtime and reduced data loss.

Although VMware’s solutions can be outside the technical capabilities and surpass the budget of many businesses, they are not the only option available in the market, not by far. In fact, the choice today can be so overwhelming, that you could end up spending more time finding and testing the right solution for your business than doing the actual final deployment. In any case, the bottom line is that virtualization is a very capable tool that will effectively lower costs and raise productivity while reducing risk for businesses of any size and bringing real, measurable value. For many small businesses virtualization is the kind of technology that they have always dreamed of, available today.


RackNine can help you find the right virtualization solution for your business, hosted on our own servers or the Cloud Computing network of your choice.

 

For more information, please Contact Us.

Collaborative Environments in Web 2.0

It goes without saying that the ability to manage the information available within a company is essential to ensure competitiveness. However, according to analysts, today less than 40% of that information is ever put to good use. The lack of cooperation and participation among employees is in fact producing economic losses, generated by the failure to access and share the expertise that corporate users have about their own business, the competition, the customers and the market.

Collaborative Environments in Web 2.0 platforms could be the answer to many of those shortcomings, provided we can correctly asses the type of users, their motivations and other non-technical variables. In the online world, Facebook or Twitter are examples of applications that have managed to capitalize on the personal data of its users. Can those procedures be implemented into the corporate environment?

In order to implement a collaborative environment such as a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, that we can use to manage a company’s interactions with customers, clients and sales prospects, first of all we need to evaluate the different user groups in our company and the ways in which they will most likely deal with changes arising from these new areas of collaboration. Today, the typical employee research pattern is based on just 3 clicks on a search engine. If the information required is not found quick, typically the employee will quickly turn to telephone or email. The concept of collaboration and negotiation skills is closely linked to interactions face to face.

In this sense Web 2.0 collaborative tools are real time savers. Some estimates put the costs of finding information within a company at about $ 14,000 per worker a year, and if we add to this figure the difficulty to find the right data, the additional cost may rise to 6 million annually for a company with 1,000 employees. With a collaborative structure reinforced by tags and folksonomies that categorize content and reflect the way of thinking of the company’s human assets more faithfully, those costs can be greatly reduced.

Experts estimate that on average workers waste at least 3 hours a week redoing existing enterprise content and that only 10% of corporate information is shared spontaneously. In order to succeed with a Web 2.0 venture is critical to capitalize on the content generated by the marketing or communication departments. In recent years, organizations have realized the value of having Web 2.0 tools to make better use of collective intelligence, enhance the overall experience of the organization and foster collaboration among its members to increase their productivity and motivation.

But any organization that chooses to incorporate Web 2.0 applications into the daily workflow in order to boost productivity and encourage participation, must always keep in mind that all those Web 2.0 tools that facilitate change and create collaborative spaces are only useful if the employees do make a proper use of them. We must empower and motivate knowledge workers to capitalize on their experience in a way that benefits the whole of the organization and its own objectives. Only then can we speak of Collaborative Environments and Enterprise 2.0.