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Making $135,000 On Your Next Software Project

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supermike's picture
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Joined: 2006-02-17

Are you a programmer? Then this is the note for you.

Get this. In my employer's call center, we have an annoying call center manager who thinks he knows it all. Instead of getting with the director of IT (my boss) in our division to help make wise software decisions, he googles for it, makes some calls to the telecom mgmt guys above my boss's head, and then recommends all this to my boss's boss. Then, these software guys drive in and my boss has to play along with it or he could be seen as not being a team player, I guess. Of course, he throws up criticism where criticism is due. In the end, that's how some lousy call center people scheduling software has been approved, call stat software, and IVR software has gotten in the door. All of these tie into Avaya PBX. Avaya, as you know, is the renaming of Lucent. Lucent, as you know, is the old Bell Labs spun off of AT&T (aka "Ma Bell").

Well, today my boss tells me that his boss approved some eavesdropping software for the call center supervisors. He said he saw the presentation from a company. He swears these guys are good, but they're hacks. He swears that the company must be only 2 or 3 people.

The cost? $135,000!!! And guess what. My employer is going to pay it without even batting an eye. (Different topic -- Ask me some other time about the fact that they paid $20K for something else that's far cheaper than they paid -- 12 security cameras, DVR, multiplexer, monitor, and installation.)

The software lets the supervisors listen in and record a call, along with watching what's going on with the call taker's screen.

The software basically uses a licensed, OEM ActiveX control that goes beyond Remote Desktop in Windows XP. It permits one to not only see the screen, but record the images in some format like MPEG.

Then, the software somehow dials through a modem to have an agent that bridges (conferences) in with the PBX. From that, it permits you to hear this anywhere in the office through a fat client app and your PC speakers. It can also record the call.

To boot, they then have call recording scheduling added on so that you can schedule either a certain time to automatically switch over to watch and/or record someone, or to schedule a trigger for when a certain phone number comes in.

The PBX API on Avaya is probably not too easy to understand, but there's probably this information listed on the web. Then, a Java applet could probably be hunted down on the web to permit you to do the screen viewing/recording. If you combine the two with Linux and web pages, you could probably build this fairly cheaply and sell the first few copies for something like $20K a piece. Later on, as you polish this, you could probably walk in, give a presentation, and walk out with a $135K check just like these guys.

The key point here is that if you know how to do web pages and can interface and license (or download free) stuff on the web, then aggregate it all into a well-made product for an underserved market, you might do well. For instance, you might not know how to do the API with the PBX, or you might not know how to do remote screen viewing and recording, but someone probably does and you might be able to license this stuff for free or in a cost-effective manner. I would reason to bet that what keeps most of us from making it rich in the software industry as programmers is that we rarely think about aggregating stuff that's already written and combining it into a wonderful interface.

a thing's picture
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Joined: 2005-12-20

IANAL, but wouldn't that be violating the Fourth Amendment?

supermike's picture
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Joined: 2006-02-17
"a thing" wrote:

IANAL, but wouldn't that be violating the Fourth Amendment?

Translation - I am not a lawyer (IANAL). Had to look that one up, BTW.

Good point. It's not in particular that I was saying programmers should go out and write eavesdropping software. It's about -sometimes- resigning some control over a little and thinking of themselves as aggregators of smaller projects into large projects in order to do some amazing software that they cannot do on their own.

Now, back to this Fourth Amendment business and the piece of software my employer had purchased. If it were me, I wouldn't be purchasing this because I think it's uncool. (My goof -- I should have stated that!) I also wouldn't be desiring to build this particular kind of software for the same reason. I guess it's possible that one of these call takers could get a lawyer and argue Fourth Amendment rights. I guess that when you read the US Constitution, you have to compare it with previous court cases and how decisions were doled out. Unless a lawyer is armed to fight all the arguments that have lost against the Fourth, and wants to ride this out all the way with an employee that earns the entry-level pay of a call taker, then I doubt it will have much weight. Looks like quite a lot of Pro Bono work. However, you are right -- I don't think it's completely untenable if taken to the Supreme Court and people are willing to go the whole nine yards.

I think the way HR gets around the Fourth is through an employment contract. You sign a waiver to searches as part of the binding employment contract. Unless in case of a theft (of any type, including intellectual property), employers may not be able to sue one for his/her actions that they discover during the searches, but they sure as heck probably can fire him/her based on this. They also tell you that they *WILL* search you at any time they see fit and explain why. That gets them around the "unreasonable search" part because they have just reasoned it.

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Joined: 2005-12-20

hehe, it's a good idea from the companies viewpoint, but it could lead to further problems, i.e suing, because people are going to want privacy.

libervisco's picture
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Joined: 2006-05-04
"supermike" wrote:

It's about -sometimes- resigning some control over a little and thinking of themselves as aggregators of smaller projects into large projects in order to do some amazing software that they cannot do on their own.

I'd say thats the best point of this idea. The evergrowing pool of Free Software is making this possible more than anything else, building and building upon, while noone gets unfairly controlled by noone (i.e. loosing certain essential computing rights).

I think it is always a great idea for a programmer who wants to also do business to go and just browse through all the stuff that's available in the Free Software pool and think how he could combine this into something unique that he can then offer as a service and charge for support (the two would actually be inseparable).

In the process he would have to give programmers of components he used credit, giving them some fame, while he wouldn't attempt (and if it's GPLed would't be allowed) to profit by taking someones rights. So everyone's happy. If he succeeds at making a good product and a good deal, people will want it and he'll profit from that interest while the whole community will benefit of the value that was added.

Then, someone may walk in and see what he is doing and combine that to make something even better for a certain group of people. And that's what free market is all about. It is constant innovation, free competition enabled by cooperation on other levels and quick evolution unencumbered by restrictive copyright, patents and other such nonsense for the digital age we're living in.

Thanks

supermike's picture
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Joined: 2006-02-17

Libervisco, you state it far better than I. Thanks for the post.

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Joined: 2006-03-06
You really could make more

Mike,

I work as a consutlant in the call center industry, and I've worked with these guys before. I've also come across a lot of the other software vendors that do the same thing, and they cost A LOT more. Based on what I've seen, a $135,000 system from them would probably cost $200,000 from the other companies. These guys are kind of small, but they are definitely not hacks. As far as the different options go for this type of software, theirs is the most IT friendly. Other systems like NICE, Witness, and etalk have been around a lot longer but they are a bear to install, and they don't interface well with other systems (unless you pay them another $25K). At least CallCopy was developed by actual programmers that have worked in call centers and not just some people fooling around with .NET, or someone who had a business plan and wanted to make a quick buck. They even wrote the screen capture part themselves, where most of the other guys do license it from some thrid-party.

As for the legality of it, it's not a big deal. Just about every call center claims to record you calls "for quality and training purposes." State laws are slightly different, the difference being that either one or both of the parties has to agree to be recorded. If it's only one party, no issue as long as the call center rep knows they may be recorded...and most call centers have some form of employment agreement to cover that. In the two-party states, if that reocrding we've all heard is played before we are connected to a person, then we are aware of the chance of being recorded and I guess we could hang up if it's an issue. I don't know if anyone ever took that one to court.

There are actually some good things that can come out of it. Sure, it's got a Big Brother aspect to it, but if your ops managers have any kind of head on their shoulders, they actually will use it for training and quality. I don't know if you ever get past the data center, the life on a call center floor can be pretty dismal. They usually give 4 days of training when you really need 10. You get hammered on your quality and productivity but you never get any real feedbackl on what you really should be doing. Systems like CallCopy, when used properly, are actually pretty good for coaching and training. Try talking to the ops managers sometime and get a perspective on their world, if you are up to feeling their pain. Dealing with the customers (and