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Touchscape

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In 1999, I began work on a program which would change the world for my company, Touchscape.

For all intents and purposes, I regarded Touchscape and this program as my baby.

Written in Visual Basic 6.0 and SQL Server, what the program did was simple:

Companies would have a web site, say China Mist or Ping, two of our first customers, and rather than outsource customer support – especially to third world nations such as India or some other country which still appears to be the trend, my system would create online help and support systems for a company to reduce and even eliminate the cost of outsourcing call center work to any third party.

So not only could these companies reduce the staff necessary for help…

But they could leverage the same exact database they used for online support as they did with their help staff. So when questions customers would ask were answer and updated by the call centers in the database, simultaneously that information was available online to anyone in the world.

The cost savings to companies with heavy costs in call center operations providing customer support was dramatic, and we could prove it, and the venture capitalists knew it.

And our valuation skyrocketed as a result.

It was a head turner, for sure, so much so that PC Magazine did an article on Touchscape (shortly after I was shoo’ed out and had put my hard effort into it)

pcmagarticle

How it worked was simple: My program, written entirely in the Visual Basic 6.0 language with a SQL Server database back end I modeled after mother nature herself, would scour a company’s internal network and databases and retrieve any and all information about the company. From there, it would scrape the public facing web pages,and pre-generate a template which contained the look and feel of the web site.

The process wasn’t perfect and required a fair deal of customization to select what was visible to the outside world and what wasn’t, as well as fixing ‘little things’ that couldn’t be accomplished programmatically in adjusting the look and feel to make our help and support system fit in seamlessly with the rest of their web presence.

And little did the investors of the time know – but this was our silver bullet – where we had focused our real long term profitability on – by providing consultants from Touchscape who would be responsible for tweaking, or ‘provisioning‘ the system and framework as we called it.

Some who knew of our long term profit model argued we were merely replacing one cost with another by saddling ourselves with the customers as provisioners for their help and support system, in contrast to a call center operation which the customer could freely choose any call center they wanted. Once they were in a relationship with us, this was a commitment on both of our parts – and one we couldn’t as a company easily walk away from.

I understood the point.

But I committed to the model.

The program was an organic framework which would learn and self optimize. I was once chastised by a Doctorate DBA who my partners had hired from the University of Arizona for anthropomorphizing data, he’d become all too familiar with how endeared I was to my baby and making changes to it, but he had some excellent suggestions I’d stuck with.

For instance. Aging and Weighted Algorithms for data. Let’s say you’re Ping and you’ve been around since 1959. Now when a customer contacts you and you’re Ping, if you are in 1999 when we first started doing business with Ping, you’re not going to want to return information about golf clubs from 1973.

Well this is what we found when we scoured their databases and intranet, which wasn’t proving to be very helpful to an owner of a high price club they’d just bought here in 1999. So Kevin – the DBA from UofA – introduced a weighted algorithm which prioritized database searches by chronology, and let us assign chronology to things that didn’t have an apparent chronology connected with it.

I’d been so focused on the elegance of my evolutionary architecture that learned – like a child does. I suppose that’s why I considered it to be my baby. I had just lost sight of the customer experience and am thankful Kevin came around to remind me of that.

In the end. I was forced out of the company for my focus and desire to support an entire community of diverse companies rather than a single company.

And while sometimes I question my decision and wonder what happened to my friends and loved ones and the timeline they went down as I refused to follow the same timeline.

I look back. And find comfort in the experiences I’ve had and say.

Sure. There’s things I would do differently when I have at my disposal a device which allows me to recreate the experiences of my past in a fully immersive simulated environment.

But my decision and belief in focusing on supporting many companies.

I wouldn’t change a thing.

I wonder if Touchscape has any viability as a model now, and if call centers costs are still a problem with the corporate world I’ve lost touch with?

I’m homeless and without a penny to my name and not like anyone’s listening to me ramble anyways.

SO it’s not like any of this matters.

Unless.

I do right by Touchscape.

Hmmmmmm.

Sometimes you have to anthropomorphize.

 


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