Demo Report: Slick Services Ease Real-World Communications

SAN DIEGO — While technology advances have made it easier than ever to connect to anyone in the world, too often the stuff just doesn’t work, or not as well as we’d like. Several companies showed off new services here at the Demo conference designed to simplify, improve and ensure routine communications come off with nary a hitch.

MyVello seemed to resonate well with the show’s audience of techies and investors looking for the next great idea. The startup aims to make conference calls more effective by eliminating the need for participants to dial in and by abolishing the dreaded (and often lengthy) access code.

Vello’s service automatically calls the people scheduled to be on a conference call and patches them in. The leader or administrator of the call can manage the participant list from an on-screen dashboard capable of importing contacts from Outlook.

If a participant misses the start of a call, they receive a voicemail reminder to join by dialing 1888-MYVELLO. Calling that number automatically routes the tardy individual into the call based on their Caller ID information. If they’re phoning in from a different phone number than the system expects, they can gain access to the call merely by typing in the phone number the system had been expecting.

The company relies on a scalable audio server used by global telecommunications companies, according to Vello president and chief operating officer Mark Dzwonczyk. In an interview with, Dzwonczyk said the real “A-ha!” advantage of Vello is that its conference call meetings have a far better chance of starting on time than current alternatives.

He added that Vello plans to add other features, such as a Do Not Disturb function.

Vello is 12 cents per minute per user, though it offers a trial version with up to 200 free minutes of use.

Fix that smartphone

At the show, LogMeIn announced it plans to build on its Rescue remote helpdesk and IT support service for PCs by extending it to smartphones, like the Palm Treo and Research-in-Motion’s Blackberry line. LogMeIn’s products are already used by some 10,000 IT organizations, including Best Buy’s GeekSquad, and have supported over 25 million PCs. But they don’t help to manage some of the newer communication devices to make their way into the corporate world.

“Support of these smartphones is a growing problem for IT,” said Michael Simon, LogMeIn’s CEO.

With the assistance of a small Rescue applet on a smartphone, a tech support person can take control of a troublesome device to remotely diagnose problems and engage in an on-screen chat session with the user for support. An additional whiteboard feature lets technicians more easily walk users through how to use specific features of the device.

And here’s your thank-you gift

The presenters at Demo all strive to carve out their own niche in the computing universe. Apprema’s claim is that it’s introducing the first collaborative e-mail and relationship management platform for existing e-mail, sales force automation (SFA), customer relationship management (CRM) and Web 2.0 business applications.

That lengthy raison d’être initially may seem at odds with what Apprema actually does: Electronic thank-you notes and gift cards.

The company’s StarMail product offers a hosted series of templates, like fancy stationary, designed to jazz up e-mails sent via Outlook. The sender also can embed one of the company’s StarGift digital gift certificates, available from the Apprema Web site’s Business Gift Marketplace. StarGifts, which resemble a real-world gift card, are supported at present by a number of large retailers including Starbucks, iTunes, SpaFinder, Sharper Image, Home Depot and Sports Authority.

The services, targeted at corporate users, add a few twists to the time-honored thank-you note and customer appreciation gift, however. Users can easily select colleagues or other collaborators to review and approve the message. Pre-scanned custom signatures and company logos are automatically added. And when the recipient goes to cash in the gift card at Apprema, they have choices not available in the real world: They can swap it out for a different retailer or donate the funds to a charity.

“E-mail is the application we use to manage business relationships, but it doesn’t allow you to build strong relationships with partners,” said Toby Apprema’s co-founder and chief marketing officer.

Apprema’s services are currently in beta for corporate customers, and should become available to consumers later this fall.

One early user joined Apprema onstage to give it a thumbs-up.

“StarMail connects your entire organization directly to your most valued company asset, your customer base,” said Eileen Brooker, vice president of North American sales for Extreme Networks. She said using Apprema has been a competitive advantage for her company, enabling it to become more proactive in managing its customer relationships.

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