On August 20, 2004 Tom Salonek, Intertech CEO, authors "IT for Free" for the Business Journal Twin Cities
IT for Free
By Tom Salonek
Looking for ways to leverage technology without blowing your budget? Believe it or not, it’s possible to take advantage of a wide variety of technology services -- from phone conferencing to Internet-based meetings -- for little or no cost. My companies save thousands of dollars per year using free services from legitimate Internet-based software companies or service providers. What’s the catch? Only the hope that after using the “basic” freebees you’ll get hooked and upgrade to fee-based services.
Do I now have your attention?
Great. You’re now ready for a journey to the land of IT for Free. Think of it as the technology Yellow Brick Road for the budget minded.
First stop as we leave Kansas: free phone conferencing. It’s available through Free Conference (www.freeconference.com), which allows you to schedule your conference call through the Internet. Beyond the normal long-distance charges you pay your phone provider, there are no surcharges, additional fees or commitments. We’ve been using this service for a couple of years. I can tell you from personal experience, if you use conferencing frequently this service will save you thousands of dollars per year.
For live meetings over the Internet, explore your options by using limited-time versions of Internet-based meeting software. Microsoft Office Live Meeting (www.livemeeting.com) offers a 30-day trial of its product. In addition to Live Meeting, other vendors such as WebEx (www.webex.com) offer a 14-day trial version of its product. But don’t make it a major event: both Live Meeting and WebEx limit the number of meeting attendees.
Up next: online surveys. From surveying munchkins on how to do away with the Wicked Witch of the West to surveying customers on new product questions, online surveys make messy and cumbersome paper surveys a quaint business artifact. Online surveys provide an easy way for the participant to provide data. And, because the survey is online, with each completed survey, the results are tallied automatically allowing you to view them in real-time. Zoomerang (www.zoomerang.com) provides an easy-to-use, free online survey. The free version does have limits – no more than 30 questions, no more than 100 participants, and the data is kept online for 10 days. For us, and for our customers, online surveys are an effective way to conduct employee satisfaction surveys.
The only thing scarier than a flying monkey is being in Kansas on business without a fax machine nearby. Have no fear. With a free service from eFax (www.efax.com), faxes are sent to your e-mail address. At the eFax website, you sign up and receive a fax number. Faxes sent to your eFax fax number are forwarded to your e-mail address. The free version has limits. You can only receive faxes, the phone number assigned is a not local number, and you have a limited amount of faxes you can receive. While a regular fax is still your best option for a work fax, eFax allows fax receipt at home or anywhere else the Yellow Brick Road may take you.
If you belong to a networking group and you are trying to coordinate a get together, eVite (www.evite.com) is an interesting option. (It could also work for gathering the Emerald City Guard for a water attack on the Wicked Witch of the West). eVite lets you share information about your event, such as the time, location, and a description of the get together. You also must include a list of e-mail addresses for the people you are inviting to your event. After sending out your invitation, you and others can see who’s coming, who isn’t, and read comments or messages from anyone that chooses to provide them.
We’re definitely getting closer to the Emerald City now. Do I see free web sites in the distance? That’s no mirage. Companies like Lycos do offer Internet web site hosting with tools for creating a website for no cost. Lycos’ offering is AngelFire (www.angelfire.lycos.com). While these build-your-own websites don’t have the finish of a professionally created site, they can be used by an independent business person looking to post their company vitals, a department that operates across multiple facilities to share information on critical numbers, or a cash-strapped customer service area to create a log of frequently asked questions. Your Internet Service Provider also may provide free hosting as part of your monthly fee.
These products represent just of sampling of the many IT freebees currently available. Many other vendors offer “basic” versions of their service or limited use versions. If you’re not sure, take the time to ask. Using these limited software versions may be all you need to solve a current need. With all the money you save, you can trade in those ruby slippers for a cool flat computer screen.